As the final week before Election Tuesday begins, nobody seems to have any answers as to just who or who may not hold the lead in this year’s presidential election. As more and more politicos seem to agree that the House may yet again remain in control of the Republicans, the White House race seems just too close to call. In fact, the word “chaos” seems as apt as a descriptor as any. Charlie Cook, of the highly respected Cook Political Report has suggested that for the second time since the 2000 election, the winner of the popular vote might not be the winner of the Electoral College vote. This scenario was of course thought to be highly improbable, and had been a rare occurrence in American presidential politics. Then came the presidential election of 2000, an election still studied as an anomaly, a once in a thousand years occurrence. The idea that it could happen again, as improbable as it may seem now, is not impossible.
If there is one thing that this election cycle has proven, it is that there are still plenty of factors that could turn this race at any moment. Before Denver, there were few that thought much could hurt the Democratic incumbent in the race. Since his lackluster debate and the Republican candidate’s stellar performance in that first encounter, the race has tightened considerable, despite two other debates since then.
It would be foolish to downplay the possibility that something could, even at this late stage in the race, upset the race in favor of one candidate or the other. One wild card that could have an influence might be the recently passed Hurricane Sandy, which is even now continuing to cause problems up and down the Eastern seaboard. From New York to North Carolina, millions have been devastated. The next few days will be crucial for the current incumbent. All eyes will be on the White House to gauge his response to the latest natural disaster to strike the U.S., and the President is acutely aware of this.
But when it’s all said and done, will Sandy really have an impact on the race? It’s too early to tell, but with Katrina still on the minds of many around the country, a repeat of 2005 would almost certainly spell disaster for the President. Mr. Romney, on the other hands, has had to answer to some inquiries of his own, as many have taken a second look at his stances on disaster relief, which include giving more autonomy to the states or the private sector in times of crises. Rhetoric or not, it has raised questions about how the challenger would respond to a crisis of this scale. For anyone still undecided this late in the race, there is certainly no shortage of information of advertisements coming from both sides of the aisle, but ultimately what could decide this race could be out of the hands of either party.
Today marked the beginning of the Democratic National Convention, the Democratic Party’s response to the Republican National Convention, held last week in Tampa, Florida. This, of course, is an American tradition that dates back to the early 19th century. The political convention allowed for the nation’s delegates to hammer our agreements on who would next run for president on behalf of a given party. The process was often contentious, uncertain, and confusing. Today, the nomination process lacks the wheeling and dealing of bygone conventions. Or rather, as a cynic might choose to believe, much of the wheeling and dealing is done long before the convention ever begins. What is left is a political convention that rarely contains upsets. A convention that is scripted down to the minute, spewing out endless pandering easily converted into a cable news sound bite.
There are those who believe this system is archaic, expensive, and outdated. Those that believe the conventions have outlived their purpose, that the conventions are little more than expensive excuses for politicians to celebrate themselves. And to be frank, there is a fair amount of pomp and circumstance to be found at these conventions. But there is another side, another purpose besides stroking the egos of politicians. The conventions are no longer important in deciding a party’s candidate. They do, however, allow the parties to present themselves to the American people, to put their best foot forward and to showcase the best and brightest each party has to offer. It is through these conventions fresh faces are introduced to the American public. Barack Obama first came to prominence this way in 2004. This year it is congressional candidate Mia Love and San Antonio mayor Julian Castro. And while the names change, the message does not; these are tomorrow’s political superstars.
But perhaps even more important than a wide-eyed politician’s five minutes in the spotlight is the opportunity for Americans to discuss what matters to them. This, of course, does not take place anywhere near the convention floor. The conventions are much too scripted to allow that to happen. But walking the streets of Charlotte, I spoke with fervent supporters of Barack Obama. I spoke with those who felt disenchanted with the president. I spoke with those who felt the entire Democratic Party was a joke. I spoke with immigration activists, Occupy Wall Street protestors, and pro-life activists. And all of these people could be found within four blocks of the Charlotte Convention Center. It doesn’t matter which party is celebrating itself inside the convention. Outside, supporters and detractors alike are deciding for themselves who will be the next president. And that’s why we need these political conventions.
Jake Langlois in Charlotte, North Carolina