By Karin Caifa, in Rapid City, South Dakota
June 4, 2008
It's been historic, enlightening, unpredictable, and - at times - absolutely maddening. Since January, Americans have decisively crowned an American Idol and a Dancing With the Stars champion, but in that same span they just couldn't agree on a Democratic presidential candidate.
Even the final two states in the long battle rendered a split decision: Montana backing Obama, and South Dakota - despite pushing the senator from Illinois over the top in the delegate count - going to Hillary Clinton. And although Barack Obama clinched enough delegates to claim the nomination, indecision still looms, as Clinton did not make a concession.
For me, the primary season ends much the way it started: bleary-eyed and on an airplane. Hours after ushering in 2008 in Times Square, I boarded a plane to Des Moines, where the giddy New Year's buzz stretched through January 3rd, when exuberant Iowa voters engaged in their quadrennial kickoff caucuses. Democrats there vaulted Obama to his first victory on the national stage, and Republicans defied pundits and pollsters by giving Mike Huckabee the win in the first GOP match-up of the campaign. Now, without a contest in sight until the big day in November, I can use the flight from South Dakota to Washington to reflect upon the many, many, many voters we've encountered since that first contest in January.
Our perch at Mount Rushmore last night gave us access to a pretty broad representation of American voters eager to weigh in on the grand finale of the long Democratic battle. Curious tourists stopped often to ask if we had the latest numbers on the race for delegates. In return, many of them gave us unvarnished, unsolicited political analysis.
A farmer from Nebraska stopped to tell me that he just couldn't comprehend why the Democrats wouldn't put Obama and Clinton on the same ticket. "That would be unbeatable," he gushed. "And I'm a Republican!"
"If the Democratic party doesn't see that that ticket is the way to win, they just don't want to win," he said. "I'm telling you, Obama and Clinton. They will be the winning team in November."
(He also warned me that clouds above indicated rain was due within minutes. But the downpour didn't come for hours, so I somewhat question his powers of prognostication.)
In terms of that "dream ticket," that is now being advocated by some advisers and supporters of Hillary Clinton (as well as farmers from Nebraska), the reaction from voters was mixed. We all knew the Democratic party stands divided between Obama and Clinton (and if we didn't, Clinton reminded us last night of the 18 million or so people who voted for her in this primary process.) But there are factions forming within those factions, as supporters of both candidates ponder that question: To veep or not to veep?
Two middle-aged women, the kind that gave Clinton a solid base in so many of her primary wins, disagreed on whether their candidate should accept the number two slot on the Democratic ticket.
"Oh, that's good," said the first. "It's better to have her as the number two than to not have her at all!"
"No," her friend protested. "She's a chief and a chief needs to be number one, not number two!"
An Obama supporter from the Boston area was also opposed to the idea. "It doesn't make any sense, when you think about it. It undermines his whole message of change," he said. "How can you change if you bring back the Clintons?"
"I say Clintons, not just Hillary," he continued. "Because you know Bill will be right there. And we saw that's not such a great idea," he said, alluding to some of the former president's verbal gaffes on the campaign trail this year.
"But if it's going to help us win in November," he added, "We may not have a choice from the looks of things now. I don't know where else we go from here."
So where do we go from here? Last night we got a preview of where the general election campaign is headed, as Obama and McCain delivered speeches laced with sharp jabs. Obama made that argument that he is the candidate of change. McCain retorted that Obama advocates the wrong kind of change. It is a debate that will extend through November. As for Clinton, it doesn't look like she's ready to exit just yet, indicating that the battle that captivated American voters through the winter and spring just might make it to summer.