Presidential Race

Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Steve Ember. And I'm Phoebe Zimmermann. This week, we examine the events ahead in the race for the presidential election in the United States.

Americans elect a president every four years. Election Day this year is November second.

Republicans will gather in New York City at the end of August to nominate President Bush for a second term. Two terms is the limit under the Constitution.

Democrats will hold their convention at the end of July in Boston, Massachusetts. Howard Dean has been leading the candidates for the Democratic nomination. But the former governor of Vermont has eight opponents -- most notably, Wesley Clark, who has been gaining support. The candidates have campaigned for months. But the nominating process is just beginning. What happens this month is important.

On January nineteenth, party meetings called caucuses will take place in Iowa. People will gather in homes and public buildings all over the state to choose the person they want to lead the country. But they do not vote for a candidate like in a primary election.

Instead, they elect local delegates. Each delegate elected represents a percentage of support from their local area for a presidential candidate. As the process continues, delegates elect other delegates to represent them. Those chosen at state conventions in Iowa then attend the national nominating convention of their party.

For years, party leaders decided the nominees at the national conventions. But now the events are largely ceremonial. Votes at the state level decide who will compete for president long before the conventions begin.

In each election year, the Iowa caucuses are a first test of public approval for a candidate. But some political experts criticize the Iowa caucuses. They call them strange and indirect.

This year, two of the nine Democratic candidates are not competing in Iowa. They are retired Army General Wesley Clark and Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman. They are saving their money and energy for later events.

Iowa public opinion changes from day to day. But Howard Dean, Congressman Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts all have strong support.

Public opinion research shows that Senator John Edwards of North Carolina and Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio have little chance to win in Iowa. The same can be said for the Reverend Al Sharpton of New York and former Senator Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois.

Still, these candidates for the Democratic nomination have chosen to compete in Iowa. They remember that in nineteen-seventy-six, a little-known candidate, the former governor of Georgia, won the Iowa caucuses. Jimmy Carter went on to become the thirty-ninth president of the United States.

After Iowa, people will look to see who wins the New Hampshire primary. New Hampshire holds its primary election on January twenty-seventh. Some say the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary may decide the Democratic nomination. They say that if Howard Dean wins both events, he could soon have enough delegates to secure the nomination.

Other states and territories will hold their own nominating events in the coming weeks and months. But candidates who do poorly this month may leave the race before long. They will find it difficult to raise enough money to continue their campaigns.

Howard Dean is a medical doctor. He served in the Vermont House of Representatives and later as lieutenant governor. He became governor in nineteen-ninety-one. In two-thousand he signed a bill to make Vermont the only state to permit civil unions between people of the same sex. Civil unions offer the same legal protections as marriage.

Doctor Dean served as governor of the small state in the Northeast until January of last year. As a presidential candidate, he strongly opposed the war in Iraq.

Since he opened his campaign, supporters have provided him with large amounts of money through the Internet. He raised at least fifteen-million dollars in the last three months alone.

Wesley Clark entered the competition several months after the other candidates. But some political experts believe he has the best chance against Doctor Dean. Wesley Clark earned military honors in the Vietnam War. And he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in England.

General Clark rose in leadership positions in the Army. Before retiring, he served as NATO commander. He led NATO troops during the operations against Serbian forces in Kosovo.

Like Howard Dean, Wesley Clark has also proven his ability to raise money. He collected at least ten-million dollars during the last three months.

John Kerry received many honors for his military service during the Vietnam War. But later he opposed that war. He is now serving his fourth term in the Senate.

As president, he says he would try to reduce American dependence on oil from the Middle East. He says his plan also would create a half-million jobs in new energy industries.

Dick Gephardt is the former Democratic Party leader in the House of Representatives. He has served twenty-six years in the House. Over the years he has won major labor-union support for his efforts to defend American workers.

Mr. Gephardt sought the Democratic presidential nomination in nineteen-eighty-eight. At that time, he won the Iowa caucuses.

Candidates for the presidential nomination of the two major parties have mainly been white, male and Protestant Christian. This year two of the candidates are African American: Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton. And Joe Lieberman is the first Jewish candidate. John Kerry and Dennis Kucinich are both Roman Catholic.

Mr. Lieberman has served more than fourteen years in the Senate. Many say he is the candidate whose policies are closest to those of former President Bill Clinton. He was the vice presidential candidate of Al Gore in the election of two-thousand. But, in this election, Mr. Gore has given his support to Howard Dean.

Carol Moseley Braun was the first black woman in the Senate. Later President Clinton appointed her ambassador to New Zealand.

Al Sharpton campaigned several times for public office in New York, but was never elected. He established a civil rights group in nineteen-ninety-one.

John Edwards is the youngest candidate for the Democratic nomination. He is fifty years old. The former trial lawyer is serving his first term as a senator from North Carolina.

In nineteen-seventy-seven, Dennis Kucinich became mayor of Cleveland, Ohio, at the age of thirty one. He was the youngest mayor ever elected in a large American city. Today, the congressman opposes the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement. That agreement is ten years old this month.

Mr. Kucinich also opposed the war in Iraq, as did Howard Dean, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton. Wesley Clark says President Bush involved the United States in unnecessary conflict. But at one time he also said he would have voted for the war. Representative Gephardt and Senators Lieberman, Edwards and Kerry all did so.

All the candidates have criticized the Bush administration for its handling of Iraq since the end of major fighting there.

But right now President Bush is not the only target for criticism. So is Howard Dean as the other Democrats compete against his popularity for the nomination in July.

Then will come the campaign for Election Day in November. Generally speaking, experts describe America as equally divided on major political issues. As evidence they point, for example, to the close results in the two-thousand election.

Public opinion research shows that a majority of Americans approve of the job George W. Bush is doing as president. Political experts note that the improving economy and the capture of Saddam Hussein have helped those approval ratings. There have also been recent gains in Mr. Bush's lead among likely voters over Howard Dean and the other Democratic candidates.

Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. I’m Steve Ember. And I'm Phoebe Zimmermann. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.