Competitive Exams: Miscellaneous Affairs 2009

Current Affairs 2009: US Presidenial Elections

Current Affairs 2009: US Presidential Elections

The United States presidential election of 2008 was held on Tuesday, November 4, 2008. It was the 56th consecutive quadrennial United States presidential election. Outgoing incumbent Republican President George W. Bush's policies and actions and the American public's desire for change were key issues throughout the campaign, and during the general election campaign, both major party candidates ran on a platform of change and reform in Washington. Domestic policy and the economy eventually emerged as the main themes in the last few months of the election campaign, particularly after the onset of the 2008 economic crisis.

Democrat Barack Obama, then-junior United States Senator from Illinois, defeated Republican John McCain, the senior United States Senator from Arizona. Nine states changed allegiance from the 2004 election. Each had voted for the Republican nominee in 2004 and contributed to Obama's sizable Electoral College victory. The selected electors from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia voted for President and Vice President of the United States on December 15, 2008. Those votes were tallied before a joint session of Congress on January 8, 2009. Obama received 365 electoral votes, and McCain 173.

There were several unique aspects of the 2008 election. The election was the first in which an African American was elected President, and the first time a Roman Catholic was elected Vice President. It was also the first time two sitting senators ran against each other. It was the first election in 56 years in which neither an incumbent president (Bush was barred from seeking a third term by the Twenty-second Amendment) nor a vice president (Dick Cheney did not seek the presidency) ran. Also, voter turnout for the 2008 election was the highest in at least 40 years.

In 2004, President George W. Bush won reelection, defeating the Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry. After Republican pickups in the House and Senate in the 2004 elections, Republicans maintained control of both the executive and legislative branches of the federal government.

Bush's approval ratings had been slowly declining from their high point of almost 90% after 9/11, and they were barely 50% after his reelection. Although Bush was reelected with a larger Electoral College margin than in 2000 and an absolute majority (50.7%) of the popular vote, during his second term, Bush's approval rating dropped more quickly, with the Iraq War and the federal response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 being most detrimental to the public's perception of his job performance.

By September 2006, Bush's approval rating was below 40%, and the Democratic party appeared to have a clear advantage in the upcoming Congressional elections. Additionally, Democrats pulled out several surprise victories in Congress and gained the majority in both houses. Bush's approval ratings continued to drop steadily throughout the rest of his term.

Democratic Party nomination Candidates

  • Barack Obama, USA Senator from Illinois
  • Hillary Clinton, USA Senator from New York
  • John Edwards, former USA Senator from North Carolina
  • Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico
  • Dennis Kucinich, USA Representative from Ohio
  • Joe Biden, USA Senator from Delaware
  • Mike Gravel, former USA Senator from Alaska
  • Christopher Dodd, USA Senator from Connecticut
  • Tom Vilsack, former Governor of Iowa

Republican Party nomination Candidates

  • John McCain, USA Senator from Arizona
  • Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas
  • Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts
  • Ron Paul, USA Representative from Texas
  • Fred Thompson, former USA Senator from Tennessee
  • Duncan Hunter, USA Representative from California
  • Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York City
  • Alan Keyes, former USA Ambassador from Maryland
  • Sam Brownback, USA Senator from Kansas
  • Jim Gilmore, former Governor of Virginia
  • Tom Tancredo, former USA Representative from Colorado
  • Tommy Thompson, former Governor of Wisconsin

Presidential and vice-presidential debates

Four debates were announced by the Commission on Presidential Debates:

September 26: The first presidential debate took place at the University of Mississippi. The central issues debated were supposed to be foreign policy and national security. However, due to the economic climate, some questions appeared on this topic. The debate was formatted into nine nine-minute segments, and the moderator (Jim Lehrer) introduced the topics.

October 2: The vice-presidential debate was hosted at Washington University in St. Louis, and was moderated by Gwen Ifill of PBS.

October 7: The second presidential debate took place at Belmont University. It was a town meeting format debate moderated by NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, and addressed issues raised by members of the audience, particularly the economy.

October 15: The third and final presidential debate was hosted at Hofstra University. It focused on domestic and economic policy. Like the first presidential debate, it was formatted into a number of segments, with moderator Bob Schieffer introducing the topics.

Another debate was sponsored by the Columbia University political union and took place there on October 19. All candidates who could theoretically win the 270 electoral votes needed to win the election were invited, and Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, and Chuck Baldwin agreed to attend. Amy Goodman, principal host of Democracy Now! moderated. It was broadcast on cable by C-SPAN and on the Internet by Break-the-Matrix.

Campaign costs

The reported cost of campaigning for President has increased significantly in recent years. One source reported that if the costs for both Democratic and Republican campaigns are added together (for the Presidential primary election, general election, and the political conventions) the costs have more than doubled in only eight years ($448.9 million in 1996, $649.5 million in 2000, and $1.01 billion in 2004). In January 2007, Federal Election Commission Chairman Michael E. Toner estimated the 2008 race will be a $1 billion election, and that to be taken seriously, a candidate needed to raise at least $100 million by the end of 2007.

Although he had said he would not be running for president, published reports indicated that billionaire and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg had been considering a presidential bid as an independent with up to $1 billion of his own fortune to finance it. Bloomberg ultimately ended this speculation by unequivocally stating that he would not run. Had Bloomberg decided to run, he would not have needed to campaign in the primary elections or participate in the conventions, greatly reducing both the necessary length and cost of his campaign, but perhaps also its exposure.

With the increase in money, the public financing system funded by the presidential election campaign fund checkoff has not been used by many candidates. John McCain, Tom Tancredo, John Edwards, Chris Dodd, and Joe Biden qualified for and elected to take public funds in the primary. Other major candidates eschewed the low amount of spending permitted, or gave other reasons as in the case of Barack Obama, and chose not to participate.