UK professor: Presidential race still uncertain

By Juliann Vachon

Democratic candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton squeezed past Sen. Barack Obama while Republican candidate Sen. John McCain pulled ahead early last night for victories in the New Hampshire primaries, a traditionally key early contest for the presidential nomination.

Clinton held 39 percent of the votes to Obama’s 36 percent at the time of publication in the Granite State after falling an average of eight points below Obama in polls, according to Real Clear Politics, a Web site that averages poll results.

The unpredictable nature of this year’s Democratic and Republican primaries and caucuses are making the party nominations too hard to predict at this point, said Donald Gross, chair of UK’s political science department, on Monday.

The competition is not over, he said, but it could be by the time Kentuckians head to the polls on May 20 for the state’s primary elections, which are some of the last in the country.

Strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire are enough to give a candidate momentum — and funding — for upcoming primaries, especially “Super Tuesday” on Feb. 5, when more than 20 states will participate in primary elections, Gross said.

Clinton won New Hampshire after falling to Obama in the Iowa caucuses last week. Huckabee’s loss in New Hampshire after a victory in Iowa highlights how open the Republican race still is, Gross said.

High voter turnout in Iowa added to the uncertainty, Gross said. More people are coming out and making it hard to predict who will take home party nominations, he said. The increase also signaled an increased interest in the 2008 presidential election.

More than 225,000 voters came out for the Democratic caucuses in Iowa, up from 124,000 in 2004. The Republican caucuses also saw an increase from 87,000 voters in 2000 to about 120,000 last week, according to the Iowa Secretary of State Web site.

About 500,000 voters were expected to participate in the New Hampshire primaries, according to predictions by New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner on Monday. Official voter statistics were not available by press time last night.

UK College Democrats and College Republicans are both encouraging students to get involved on an individual basis if they are interested in supporting a candidate during statewide primaries and caucuses.

“In Kentucky, we don’t really have much of a choice who gets picked,” said Robert Kahne, UK College Democrats president and political science and economics junior. “If you’re really interested in getting involved in a particular candidate’s campaign, contacting the campaign directly is the best way to do that.”

UK College Republicans President Thomas Roberts agreed, saying students who want to actively support a specific candidate should focus on upcoming state primaries.

“I’ve encouraged people if they support a particular candidate to call the campaign or get in touch with a grassroots organization and get involved,” Roberts said.

Richard Becker, who serves as state co-chair of the College Democrats, traveled to Iowa during Christmas break to work for Democratic candidate John Edwards’ campaign.

“The Iowa caucus holds almost mythical status among people who work on campaigns,” Becker said. “It’s the leadoff state. It sets the tone for the rest of the race.”

Becker, a political science and economics senior, spent more than a week making phone calls, canvassing in support of Edwards and helping staff events when the candidate was in town.

The experience was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and offered him the chance to be a part of an event he couldn’t have in Kentucky, Becker said

“Any student who can make the trip to a state like Iowa, New Hampshire or even Nevada or South Carolina should do it,” he said. “Thirty to 40 years from now, I will be able to look back at this experience and know I was a part of history.”