Only in America, The Nelson Mail

"The next general election in New Zealand is still more than a year away, even if, especially since John Key took over the leadership of the National Party, it seems as if the two main parties already have their eyes on the prize in word and deed, the Nelson Mail said in an editorial on Thursday.

Even so, national political campaigning in New Zealand pales in comparison, thankfully, to the political process in the US to just elect presidential candidates. The next US presidential election is November 4, 2008, but the horse race of aspiring presidential candidates has already begun; indeed, in the race for either the Democrat or Republican nomination, decided at conventions in late August and early September next year, the candidates are heading down the back straight. Labour Day in the US, the first Monday in September, traditionally marks the beginning of the presidential nomination campaign before an election year, but most candidates have been campaigning for the past six months.

Such campaigning is foreign to New Zealand. The battle to win a party's presidential nomination is a public display of internecine warfare, in which members of the same party suddenly treat colleagues as enemies - just ask John McCain who suffered at the hands of George W Bush's campaign crew in 2000. The process is a complicated one, but basically candidates try to win support through a series of state primaries and caucuses. Traditionally, New Hampshire holds the first state primary and Iowa the first state caucus, but several states are now jockeying to be the first primary/caucus, or among the first ones, in order to attract more attention and be more influential. The Wyoming Republican caucus has leapfrogged the pack to January 5, making it likely that the organisers of the Iowa caucus (January 14) and the New Hampshire primary (January 22) will move their dates in front of Wyoming.

The result is the longest general election campaign in US history - and the likely winners of each party's nomination should be known earlier than ever before, unless a contest is so tight that no single candidate emerges until the party's nominating convention. At this stage, however, most political pundits see the Democrats winning the White House in November 2008. In four of the five times since World War 2, the party having held power for two consecutive terms, as Republicans have since 2000, has failed to win a third. Add to that the plummeting public approval ratings for the war in Iraq, plus the results of the 2006 mid-term Congressional elections (won by the Democrats). The only question is who will be the party's candidate.

In polls matching leading candidates from each party against the others, the Democrats win each time. However, the Democratic favourite at the moment, Hillary Rodham Clinton, fares the worst, making former Bush administration strategist Karl Rove's stated belief that she is the inevitable Democrat candidate an interesting remark. Does he want Clinton to be chosen because she tends to polarise voters and he sees her as being the most vulnerable to a Republican victory? Or does he hope Barack Obama, her closest challenger, or John Edwards, who was John Kerry's running mate for the presidency in 2004, is chosen because the Republicans have a better chance against them than Clinton?

The saga that is the race for victory in the 2008 US presidency election will once again be about money (the first $1 billion election) and power brokerage in the hands of a few. But the stakes are high, the international consequences significant and the outcome still unpredictable. However, the battle between Clinton and Obama is the one to watch."