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UMaine Today Magazine

Historic High Stakes
Back to Election 2008-]

Mark Brewer, Assistant Professor of Political Science

The 2008 presidential election promises to be historic in a wide variety of ways. In perhaps the most obvious example of historical significance, the victory of any of the three remaining viable presidential hopefuls will represent some form of presidential first or record. A win by Illinois Senator Barack Obama will of course result in the first African American president in American history, no small matter in a nation with such a ignominious history on issues of race. If New York Senator Hillary Clinton should somehow manage to claim the Democratic presidential nomination and then emerge victorious in the November general election the United States will have its first female president. This too is an historic development in a country that prevented women in most states from even voting until 1920. While the most attention has been focused on Obama and Clinton, we should not forget that a win by Arizona Senator John McCain would be historic as well. He would be the oldest person ever inaugurated as President of the United States, a development that may tell us something about the changing nature of age in American society. The 2008 presidential will also be by far the most expensive race in American history, and there is a strong possibility that we will see voter turnout higher than it has been in decades.

The stakes are high in the 2008 presidential election. Unlike some elections where it seems that it might not matter much who wins (1952 perhaps), there is a good deal riding on the outcome of the 2008 contest. Whoever takes the oath of office in January 2009 will be facing some incredibly important and complicated issues. The American economy is facing some difficult times, and this likely will continue. The new president will be expected to act. American military actions continue in both Iraq and Afghanistan, with the former extremely unpopular among the American public. The nation is in the midst of an energy crisis the likes of which we have never seen, and short term solutions are unlikely to be an option for the new chief executive. Environmental concerns seemingly mount be the day, and immigration did not go away as an important issue just because the current Congress and President Bush could not agree on proper public policy. Americans have been clamoring for health care reform seemingly for decades, and the explosion in health care costs combined with the rapidly accelerating graying of American society means the time is soon approaching when the American healthcare system will have to change whether we like it or not. And finally, somewhere on the far backburner but capable of taking center stage at a moment's notice is the issue of terrorism. September 11, 2001 is not that long ago.

So how will the 2008 presidential election play out? There are simply too many variables involved to make a solid prediction. If, as appears now to be all but a done deal, Barack Obama gets the Democratic nomination, will he be able to maintain his mobilization of perhaps millions of new voters through until Election Day? How many votes will Obama because of his race? We know he will lose some votes here, but I suspect that the figure will be much higher than we would like to believe. And what if Hillary Clinton somehow manages to claim the Democratic nomination? Will she be able to convince Obama's supporters to back her campaign? The same question, of course, can be asked of Obama's campaign in terms of Clinton's supporters. And let's not forget John McCain's questions. McCain is not terribly popular among a key element of the Republican baseóreligious conservatives. How he does among these voters will likely go a long way toward determining his fate on Election Day.

Elections that dramatically change American politics, and thus American society, are few and far between. The 1932 presidential election was one such election, and the 1980 contest was another. One gets the feeling that the 2008 contest could join that exclusive club.


UMaine Today Magazine
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