U.S. Elections 2004

U.S. President George W. Bush (left) and U.S. Senator John Kerry (right) on September 29, 2004. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

London The Guardian (liberal), November 3: Has the remarkable 2004 presidential election merely produced a repeat of the 2000 contest, proof that United States remains as much at war with itself in the aftermath of the second Bush election as it was after the first?

Judging by the closeness of the likely electoral college figures, it may look that way. But look more carefully.

Here is a big difference that really matters. In 2000 half a million more Americans voted for Al Gore than for George Bush.

Yesterday, on a radically increased turnout, nearly 4 million more voted for Bush than for John Kerry.

Here is another difference. In 2000, Bush took Florida by only 537 votes, a margin of a mere hundredth of a percentage point. Yesterday Bush captured the sunshine state by more than 360,000 votes, a clear majority of five full points. Another decisive change.

And here is a third. Four years ago, it is beyond doubt that Ralph Nader, running as a third party candidate, took enough votes in Florida and elsewhere to hand the White House to Bush. Yesterday, the Nader effect faded to negligibility.

But it was a sweet night for the Republicans in other ways too. In both houses of Congress, they strengthened their narrow advantage.

In the senate, where John Thune knocked off the Democratic minority leader Tom Daschle in South Dakota, Republican control is now locked in, another difference from 2000.

In the House, for the sixth election in a row, the Republicans retained and strengthened their control.

If this doesn't add up to a mandate, it is hard to know what the word means. Increased turnout. Narrow but decisive wins on all fronts. What more can you ask for from a single campaign? Bush and his party won fair (well, probably) and square.

There are no excuses this time. We can hope that Bush takes note of the great (pro-American) English conservative Edmund Burke's dictum that "magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom" and governs more consensually now than before.

But Bush's opponents should be wise too. Bush won. They lost. It's time for the Democrats to get back to the drawing board.
-Martin Kettle

Cairo Al-Ahram Weekly (semi-official), November 2:  Arab and Muslim Americans are expected to vote overwhelmingly for Kerry, basically to drop Bush.

Observers in the Arab world noted with concern the absence at the United States presidential debates of a serious discussion on what the candidates would do to revive the stalled Middle East peace process.

"Supporting Israel is a cornerstone of US foreign policy for any candidate, whether Republican or Democrat," said Ziad Assali, director of an Arab-American think- tank, the American Task Force on Palestine.

Assali considers the absence of any serious discussion on the Middle East peace process between US President George W Bush and John Kerry a "blessing," noting that "during one of the closest ever contested elections in recent US history, the two candidates are unable to offer anything but strong support for Israel, mainly because at this stage they cannot dare provoke the anger of the Jewish lobby."

"Nothing else should be expected in an American election season," said Assali, who backs Kerry. For him, "the difference between the two candidates is that Bush spent four years in the White House backing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and offering Palestinians hollow promises. Kerry, on the other hand, has announced that one of his top priorities would be to revive peace talks between Israel and Palestinians."

For Arab-American voters domestic issues may be as important as foreign affairs, if not more so. Since 9/11,  Arab-Americans have suffered many civil and human rights violations in the wake of the infamous US Patriot Act.

Although Muslim Americans have historically been closer to the Republican Party, mainly in appreciation of its conservative stand on moral and social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, leaders of the Muslim American community announced at a news conference early this week that they have decided to back Kerry this time around.

"That's a significant change," said Sobhi Ghandour, an Arab- American activist and director of the Arab Dialogue Center. In 2000, Bush won the support of nearly 80 per cent of Muslim American voters, and this shift could make a difference in a number of swing states, where the competition is toughest between Bush and Kerry.

Recent opinion polls have also shown an overwhelming support among Arab-Americans for Kerry. However, 50 per cent of Arab- Americans questioned in last week's poll by Zogby International admitted that they would vote for Kerry, not because they fully agreed with his policies, but with the aim of ousting Bush from the White House.

For them the Iraq war, Bush's total bias towards Sharon -- whom he once described as "a man of peace" -- and the violations of many of their civil and political rights since 9/11 were all crucial factors in determining their stand against Bush.

Speaking in the name of a number of the largest Arab-American organisations, who announced this week they would back Kerry, James Zogby said that John Kerry will definitely pursue diplomacy over unilateral military preemption.

"[Kerry] can be better trusted to find a way out of Iraq. [He] will protect our civil liberties and end the abuses of the Ashcroft era, and whatever differences we may have, we know that John Kerry ... will make the pursuit of an Israeli- Palestinian peace a priority rather than a neglected afterthought."

Alaa Bayoumi, a spokesperson for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), said that some groups will vote for independent candidate, Ralph Nader as a form of protest since Nader's candidacy is at this time clearly symbolic.

The decision by Arab and Muslim US organisations to back Kerry signals their desire to play a more active role in politics, particularly after 9/11. Concentrated in several swing states -- those most closely contested between the two candidates such as Michigan, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- Arab-American organisations hope that turning out in bigger numbers on election day and voting Democrat may ultimately effect some change.
-Khaled Dawoud

Edinburgh The Scotsman (independent, moderate), November 1: The Osama bin Laden video which electrified the American presidential election campaign last Friday has yet to sway undecided voters, according to opinion polls released yesterday.

To the dismay of the Democrats, who said polls suggested John Kerry would benefit from a reminder that George Bush has failed to capture the al-Qaeda leader, the White House race was proclaimed a dead heat by four opinion polls.

Both candidates, their wives, families and allies were dispatched to battleground states across America - all in the belief that the battle is so tight that it will be determined by turnout alone.

Both Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry vowed not to speak of bin Laden again as they entered the last two days of campaigning. "It’s not going to change a single thing John Kerry says or does," said a Democrat spokesman.

But the Democrats did confirm opinion polls from a sister campaign group which suggested most Americans thought the bin Laden tape showed that Mr. Bush had "taken his eye off the ball" by invading Iraq when he should have been hunting al-Qaeda.

None of this had filtered through to the daily opinion polls released yesterday. Fox News, the right-wing television station, conducted a poll on Friday and Saturday which showed each candidate on exactly 46 per cent.

Three other polls concluded on Saturday also showed a dead heat between both candidates. The evidence still points to bitter indecision on polling day - with the race decided only after weeks of recounts, lawsuits and acrimony.

The bin Laden tape has dominated the airwaves, with the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania warning that it was a double-bluff from al-Qaeda, which hoped to see Mr. Bush re-elected. "Bin Laden is trying to help George Bush, because he is the best recruiter that al-Qaeda has," said Governor Ed Rendell. "He is so disliked in the Arab world that we’re creating terrorists every single day - more terrorists than we can even come close to killing."

In the campaign, where both sides now claim 250,000 volunteers, there was no mention of bin Laden or the videotape as the candidates headed to church before addressing a series of rallies.

Mr. Kerry, the first Catholic to stand for the presidency since John F. Kennedy in 1960, went to mass at 7am - but in private. He was also in a Baptist church to woo the black community, whose vote he needs to win. But, as if to prove how little impact he has made, the presiding minister at the Shiloh Baptist Church in Dayton, Ohio, called him "Senator Kennedy" several times over. Mr. Kerry smiled, as if flattered by the mistake.

Moving to the pulpit, the Massachusetts senator then delivered more of a sermon than a speech. "Through many dangers, toil and fear I have already come," he said, quoting Amazing Grace and referring to accusations that he exaggerated his Vietnam record.

At one stage, he walked into the congregation to embrace a 92-year-old parishioner who had registered to vote for the first time so she could help him defeat Mr. Bush. It was his fifth consecutive appearance at a predominantly black church.

In Florida, meanwhile, a Protestant candidate was squeezing into a Catholic church. Mr. Bush, one of America’s 30 million born-again Christians, was in Miami, preparing to woo Hispanics in the state’s Coconut Grove.

If nothing else, Catholics are a lucky charm - polls show they sided with the winner of every presidential race since 1972. So, Mr. Bush beamed when his campaign was endorsed by the priest, Monsignor Jude O’Doherty.

"Mr. President, I want you to know that I admire your faith and your courage to profess it," he said, in reference to Mr. Bush’s opposition to partial-birth abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage and euthanasia.

As he sat in the pew beside Jeb Bush, his Catholic brother and the governor of Florida, it was just the endorsement he needed.

While the candidates were shoring up support in the churches, the younger generation was fishing for youth votes. Jenna and Barbara, the Bush twins, turned up for an 8:30am "Students for Bush" campaign in Pittsburgh, in the swing state of Pennsylvania.

Their message was all about the Bush worldwide democratic revolution. "The first voter in Afghanistan was a 19-year-old woman," Jenna said, to huge cheers. Barbara, meanwhile, said the best reason for voting Bush was that "you get my mom in the White House for four more years."

Mr. Bush was due to sleep in Cincinnati last night - which, for a man who has insisted on being tucked up in his White House bed by 11pm almost every night of the campaign, is some commitment.

His aides claimed to have sold every one of the 42,000 tickets for a rally at the city’s Great American Ball Park- home of the Cincinnati Reds.

But it was an American Football team which was holding everyone’s attention last night. Since the re-election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, one rule has held good: if the Washington Redskins win on the eve of polling day, a president seeking re-election will also win.

Yesterday the Redskins lost 28-14.

Cheney hits back at Kerry's charge that Bush neglected hunt for Bin Laden
The United States vice-president, Dick Cheney, lashed out at John Kerry’s remarks on Osama bin Laden yesterday as he set out on an 8,270-mile, 39-hour swing through eight states. The tour includes Hawaii, which until recently had been considered safe Democrat territory.

Mr. Cheney told supporters in Swanton, Ohio, that the Massachusetts senator was making "phoney charges" about President George Bush neglecting the hunt for bin Laden in the mountainous Tora Bora region of Afghanistan.

"[It’s] a charge that General Tommy Franks, who commanded our forces, has totally refuted. Given a choice between John Kerry’s opinion and General Tommy Franks’s, I’ll go with General Franks every time," Mr. Cheney said.

Since a new videotaped message from bin Laden introduced an element of uncertainty into the neck-and-neck White House race, Mr. Kerry has reiterated his long-standing criticism that Mr. Bush made a mistake by not sending US troops after the al-Qaeda leader in 2001.

Mr. Cheney sought to describe Mr. Kerry’s criticism as coming at the expense of US forces, who scored stunning military victories in both Afghanistan and later in Iraq.

"Instead of praising their achievement, John Kerry harps away at phoney charges," the vice-president said.

The bin Laden video underscored the al-Qaeda leader’s continued influence despite Mr. Bush’s vow to capture him "dead or alive". Mr. Cheney said the US was engaged in a war on terrorism that it would win.

Mr. Cheney has spent the final days of the campaign visiting smaller cities and rural communities in swing states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa and Michigan, where Republicans need high turnout to compensate for Democratic-leaning urban votes.

In Romulus, Michigan, yesterday, the vice-president ridiculed Mr. Kerry for a recent goose-hunting excursion in nearby Ohio, saying his camouflage was intended to hide his hostility to gun-owner rights.

"In my opinion, John Kerry’s goose is cooked," Mr Cheney said.
-Fraser Nelson

Prague The Prague Post (independent), October 31: American expatriates in the Czech Republic have been gearing up to vote in the U.S. presidential elections in unprecedented numbers, spurred on by the closeness of the race for the White House, according to embassy officials and party campaigners.

The contested nature of the last election in 2000 -- when absentee ballots by Americans living abroad helped determine the crucial result for Florida -- has also encouraged people to use their right to vote.

Meanwhile, activists are making plans to demonstrate in front of the U.S. Embassy in Prague if independent observers report fraud or intimidation of voters in the Nov. 2 election.

With American foreign policy in the spotlight, particularly over the "War on Terror" and continuing violence in Iraq, party campaigners have reported that some expats consider the vote the most important in their life.

"I have never seen a greater outpouring of registering and overseas voting in my time," said Rich Appleton, the United States Consul-General in the Czech Republic. "There's been a huge amount of interest. It's just amazing."

Appleton said he did not have figures available for how many Americans have registered as absentee voters and sent in their ballots but added that embassy officials have been receiving handfuls of registration and ballot forms several times a day.

"There were allegations that some absentee ballots were not counted in the last election," he said. "This did get the attention of a lot of voters."

Appleton estimated that there were possibly 5,000-10,000 Americans in Prague, and double that in the country. The exact number is unknown.

Creag Hayes started the Czech branch of Democrats Abroad last October and with volunteers has been busy handing out registration forms for absentee ballots at bars and cafes. Hayes, 60, said he has taken more than 500 completed forms to the U.S. Embassy.

He estimates the numbers of expats registering to receive an absentee ballot to be at least three times higher than in the last election, he says, basing his estimate on information he has received from colleagues abroad.

"People have been saying, 'This is clearly the most important election in my lifetime.' I have heard that phrase over and over. People have said, 'I haven't voted for 20, 30 years but I am voting now.'"

Hayes added, "The federal agency that prints ballots kept running out of forms, and we had delays. Their excuse was, 'We have never had so many requests. You will have to bear with us as we get them printed.'"

Hayes said that in the week ending Oct. 16 he had heard some 200 people had still not received their ballots.

"Ultimately, they will get their ballot. But some might get it too late."

Helen Mitchell, who represents Republicans Abroad in the Czech Republic, said, "This year's presidential election is receiving unprecedented attention. People know that every vote can make a difference, which is demonstrated by record voter registration."

Mitchell, who works as an independent public policy researcher and has lived in Prague since March, set up the local branch of Republicans Abroad in May. She said it has not yet developed into an organization with real activities.

U.S. media report that the total number of Americans living overseas is at least 4 million, plus about 550,000 military personnel and dependents.

Such people played an important role in the presidential race four years ago, when George W. Bush won the pivotal state of Florida by little more than 500 votes to clinch the presidency. Some estimates put the absentee ballot for Florida at up to 3,000. Some ballots that came in late were counted but others disqualified.

Legal disputes held up the election for weeks and many Democrats claimed the Republicans stole the vote when the Supreme Court ordered a halt to recounts. This year's election will be monitored by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other groups.

"If these respected organizations report cases of intimidation of voters or widespread election fraud, we will hold a protest in Prague ... in front of the U.S. Embassy, in cooperation with hundreds of other cities around the United States and internationally," said Arianna Meadowlark, of the International Peace Movement of the Czech Republic.

Should such a demonstration be held, the likely date will be Nov. 4, Meadowlark said, adding that the number of potential protesters was difficult to estimate.
-Peter Kononczuk

London The Independent (liberal), October 30: The superheated US election campaign enters its final weekend with Democrats pounding George Bush on the missing 380 tons of explosives in Iraq, and over a potentially embarrassing FBI inquiry into the controversial oil services group Halliburton ­ not to mention the sudden intervention last night of Osama bin Laden.

With polls showing the contest a statistical tie, John Kerry spent yesterday in Florida, trying to nail down that state's 27 electoral votes. The President was in New Hampshire, which Mr Kerry is threatening to capture this time, before attending an evening rally in Columbus, Ohio, with California's governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Mr Bush began the day with a speech that for once did not mention Mr. Kerry by name, as his strategists aim to give a more forward-looking, upbeat flavour to his message after weeks of pouring scorn and insult on the challenger.

But, even before the emergence of the video message by the al-Qa'ida leader, events are putting the Bush campaign on the back foot. It emerged yesterday that the FBI is investigating possible violations of military procurement rules by the Pentagon, over the award of contracts to repair Iraqi oil fields to Halliburton, formerly headed by the Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Mr. Kerry's running mate John Edwards instantly seized on the news: "You cannot stand with Halliburton, big oil companies and the Saudi royal family, and still stand up for the American people," he told a cheering crowd in Davenport, Iowa ­ a swing state Mr. Kerry is fighting to hold in the face of a strong Bush challenge. Yesterday, the Massachusetts senator did not mention the saga of the missing explosives, which he has raised again and again to illustrate how the Bush administration has bungled the post-war occupation.

The issue grows more confusing by the day. But ABC-TV showed a video clip of GI's at sealed al-Qaqa'a bunkers, suggesting the explosives were still there immediately after the invasion. In a sign of the Bush camp's concern, the Pentagon yesterday called an unscheduled press conference to deny these claims.

Nor was that the end of the problems for Mr. Bush. The President's campaign has been caught doctoring a TV ad showing Mr. Bush addressing a military audience. Simultaneously, aides were scrambling to explain away remarks by the former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani suggesting that the military, not the President, was responsible for guarding the explosives. A cardinal rule of this campaign is that, while politicians are fair game, the armed forces are off-limits.

However the contest remains extraordinarily fluid. Nationwide polls mostly give Mr. Bush a two or three point lead, within the statistical margin of error. But the news fluctuates daily from the dozen or so swing states where the candidates are spending all their time.

Mr. Kerry appears to have taken a small lead in Ohio. However, the candidates are neck and neck in Pennsylvania and Michigan­ previously considered safe for the Democrats.

Most surprising, perhaps, polls suggest Hawaii, normally a Democratic stronghold, has entered the mix. With the state's four electoral votes apparently up for grabs, Mr. Cheney has decided to make a time-consuming trip there tomorrow. Democrats countered by dispatching the former vice-president Al Gore and Mr. Kerry's daughter, Alexandra, to the islands. 
-Rupert Cornwell

Kathmandu Nepali Times (independent weekly), October 29: America leaves such a large gobal footprint that we have always suggested, a bit apocryphally, that non-Americans should be allowed to vote in US elections.

After all, less than half the eligible voters even bother to cast their ballots in US federal elections every four years. If Americans don’t care who governs them, then why not give the vote to the rest of us who do? US foreign, economic, trade and environmental policy affects the whole world, and yet we don’t have a say in who the next occupant of the White House will be. Not fair.

From America’s unilateral global war on terror to global warming, we all end up paying for its greed, thirst, self-indulgence and supremacy. Why is it that powers, whether global or regional, are so ham-handed? There is a serious lack of subtlety, a chronic reliance on arm-twisting, to get things done. Bullying is counter-productive, even to ultimately get your own way. Yet they never learn from mistakes and bamboozle their way with petty-minded insensitivity, alienating even friends.

Ever since George W Bush won unconvincingly in 2000 and became president, distaste for America around the world has grown by leaps and bounds. After 9/11 when the world said “We are all Americans,” instead of being smart about it Bush’s neocon adviers rushed headlong into war. First they needlessly bombed Afghanistan into smithereens, then they lied about Saddam’s WMDs and links to al Qaeda to invade Iraq in an ill-concealed plan to distribute war booties to cronies and secure oil supplies.

We in Nepal have always felt insulated from the rest of the world. But in a globalised economy, who rules in Washington has a direct impact on our tourism, on how fast our glaciers melt, whether our garments get tariff-free entry into markets, and it becomes a matter of life or death for our citizens when they are slaughtered in Iraq to punish America.

Bush has been a disastrous president for the US and to the rest of the world. A recent GlobeScan and University of Maryland poll in 35 countries showed that if the rest of the world could vote, Kerry would win 46 percent to Bush’s 20 percent.

Given the alternative, on November Second our vote also goes to Kerry.

Tokyo The Asahi Shimbun (center-left), October 28: The Japanese view of the United States is complicated by the history between the two countries and what many see as the two faces of America. Since the end of World War II, the Japanese have admired the U.S. But there is another view: that the U.S. is a bully with aggressive policies.

In general, as this poll shows, most Japanese hold a favorable impression of the U.S. Close to 90 percent of the respondents said the Japan-U.S. relationship was important; 74 percent said they "liked" or "somewhat liked" the U.S. For many Japanese, the U.S., seen as the apostle of democracy after World War II, is still a favorable nation that provides numerous opportunities. But for some Japanese, the U.S. is also the nation that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the economic superpower that has demanded increased imports from the U.S.

Specific U.S. policies, particularly ones perceived as overly aggressive, bring about a more complex appraisal among Japanese. Only 16 percent in the poll said "the Iraq war was right," but 71 percent disagreed. The Iraq war was also a factor in why many Japanese dislike U.S. President George W. Bush. The support levels were 30 percent for Bush and 51 percent for Senator John Kerry. While the poll results show that the average Japanese likes the U.S., public opinion is divided over whether Washington is contributing to peace and the war against terrorism.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. has become more divided. Americans continue to bicker over such issues as how to engage Islam, how to cooperate with the United Nations and how to deal with allies opposed to the Iraq war, like France and Germany. The antagonism within the U.S. has cast a shadow over Japanese attitudes toward that nation - and has influenced opinions of Japan's own leadership. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has faced strong criticism for his unwavering support for the U.S. Close to 60 percent of the respondents also opposed Japan's dispatch of the forces to Iraq. Respondents showed they are dissatisfied with Koizumi simply tagging along with Bush. Yet, Koizumi appears to have ignored the complexity of Japanese public opinion. He has continued to back Bush without adequately explaining his stance, which is why many Japanese are dissatisfied with their prime minister.

Distrust of the U.S. and policies concerning Iraq has even spread to Japanese policymakers. "Pro-American Iraqis and terrorists only represent a handful of the Iraqi population," says a Japanese diplomat. "The remaining large majority are simply law-abiding citizens. The U.S. seems to have determined that by wiping out terrorists, the Iraqi public will fall in line, but its actions are actually pushing those citizens toward an anti-American position. The U.S. should realize the limits of a policy relying only on force."
-Hiroshi Hoshi

Caracas (online publication), October 26: Negative opinions of the United States have mushroomed in Latin America since George W. Bush took office. The Bush Administration has done little to improve its strained relationship with the region; in fact it has increased tensions by offering pitiful economic assistance to the region, intervening in the internal affairs of sovereign nations, supporting coups d’état and insulting or threatening government heads and leading citizens in the region.

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) research associate Anna Ioakimedes writes: "According to a survey recently conducted by the Santiago-based polling firm Latinobarometro, negative opinions of the United States held throughout Latin America and the Caribbean have doubled since President George W. Bush took office in 2001."

Voice of the People, an international polling service, reported that only in the Middle East is the general attitude towards the United States harsher than in Latin America.

Last March, these opinions were physically manifested when all across Latin America, tens of thousands of angry citizens took to the streets in fiery anti-Bush demonstrations protesting the US invasion of Iraq one year earlier.

Contempt for Bush is not only prevalent among ordinary citizens, but also can be witnessed among prominent politicians, academics and other elites.

Argentine Senator Cristina Fernandez, wife of President Nestor Kirchner, made an appearance at the Democratic National Convention in July. Maria Jose da Conceiao, of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies’ Foreign Affairs and National Defense Commission, told reporters that “the majority of Brazilian parliamentarians, including many conservatives, prefer Kerry, and are anti-Bush.”

The same can be said about the attitude of most journalists writing on the issue. Sergio Gomez Maseri, correspondent for the major Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, in reviewing the recently concluded presidential debates, reported that Kerry “has demonstrated that he possesses presidential talent … and that his ‘flip-flops’ on issues like the war can be reconciled if he is permitted to give explanations.” Bush, on the other hand, “continues to show that he is a president with a one track mind. He believes, almost blindly, in a few principles and values and is willing to defend them even against the greatest political risks ... [for Bush] ... the world is black and white, gray is dangerous territory.”

Influential Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes recommended that, if elected, John Kerry should follow “a very simple recipe: always do the opposite” of George W. Bush.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez put it most bluntly when he told Al-Jazeera news service “we do not prefer a certain candidate but no president can be worse than Mr. Bush ... Mr. Bush has become the largest threat to the world.”

During his four years in office, US President Bush has done little to alter his markedly negative reputation in the region: when the Caribbean was devastated by the same succession of hurricanes that battered Florida, Bush initially offered only US $50,000 in aid, compared to the one million dollars offered by Venezuelan authorities, to cope with the more than one billion dollars in damages.

This action followed an earlier controversy when, in July, the Bush administration announced a new policy limiting the amount of remittances Cuban-Americans could send to their families back on the island, and making it illegal for them to return to Cuba to visit relatives more than once every three years. This has led to considerable resentment among the traditionally Republican Cuban-American community.

The Bush administration has also been accused of engineering regime changes in the hemisphere. Soon after the civil unrest in Haiti peaked last February, with a number of well-armed former members of Haiti’s brutal military surrounding Port-au-Prince, US diplomats informed Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide that should he and his family remain in Port-au-Prince, “[the US] could not guarantee their safety.”

These officials demanded that Aristide sign a letter of resignation before allowing him and his family to board a plane to safety.

Washington then arranged the installation of an interim government headed by Gerard Latortue, a Haitian international agency bureaucrat and private consultant who had been a resident of Boca Raton, Florida, rather than Haiti, for decades. Most recently, Secretary of State Colin Powell repeated charges (vehemently denied by Aristide) that the deposed president had ordered members of his Lavalas party to stage anti-Latortue demonstrations from his exile in South Africa.

The Bush administration’s record on Venezuela is little better. The White House publicly supported - and may have helped engineer - an April 2002 coup attempt against President Hugo Chavez.

It is also being alleged that the US may have supported strike actions by the country’s middle class-led opposition in hopes of undermining the Venezuelan economy and increasing social unrest, thereby bettering the prospects that the President would be voted out of office in last August’s recall referendum.

Only when it became clear that the referendum would register strong support in favor of Chavez did the Bush camp briefly attempt to reconcile relations with one of the US’ largest oil partners.

By October, however, the Bush administration again reflected its anti-Chavez sentiment by accusing Venezuela of engaging in human trafficking, giving the US reason to vote against hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to Caracas being considered by international lending agencies.

Many specialists are convinced that this judgment by the US State Department was a political act and had no basis in Venezuela’s actual practices in regards to human trafficking.

Given this litany of negative actions by the Bush administration in Latin America, one wonders what the president has done to improve relations with the rest of the hemisphere.

An accurate answer would have to be, very little.

With the exception of Cuba, Latin America is not even mentioned on the official Bush-Cheney campaign website. Upon receiving a request for information on Bush’s stance on Latin America, the Bush-Cheney campaign obligingly sent the Council on Hemispheric Affairs a 30-page brief covering the president’s position on issues relating to Hispanics in the United States. Apparently, aside from trade, immigration and Cuba, the Bush administration has no structured policy on Latin America. One wonders how Bush can claim to lead the world when he appears to be either completely oblivious to, or arrogantly complacent about, the hatred he is arousing in his own neighborhood.

The public stance of John Kerry stands in marked contrast to the Bush administration’s neglect and abuse towards Latin America.

Candidiate John Kerry's "Community of the Americas" plan offers greater hope for the future of the US - Latin American relations.

The title of Kerry’s plan alone presents a sharp contrast to the approach of his opponent: “The Community of the Americas” showcases Kerry’s platform of “partnership and mutual respect” in the face of Bush’s imperial disregard for the dignity and the intrinsic worth of neighboring countries.

Among other reasonable goals, Kerry seeks to promote educational exchanges between the United States and the rest of Latin America in order to achieve greater cultural understanding between nations. His plan would also make it easier and less costly for immigrants to send remittances back to their native countries and would encourage that some of those funds be sent to “home town” associations to promote community development in poorer nations.

In addition, Kerry has proposed a Social Development & Investment Fund, which would invest capital in education, healthcare and economic development projects, and work with neighboring countries to increase border security while at the same time facilitating legitimate travel by law-abiding citizens.

Kerry most sharply clarifies his differences with Bush in a section of his report titled “Strengthening Democracy.” In this statement, he promises that “the unequivocal support and defense of democracy and the rule of law will be at the core of his policy towards the Hemisphere.”

Kerry promises to stay neutral in free elections - specifically citing the Bolivian presidential election of 2002, when Washington announced that it would cut off aid to the country if indigenous activist Evo Morales were elected.

Most importantly, Kerry also pledges to support democratically-elected leaders “even an imperfect one such as Aristide in Haiti or Chavez in Venezuela.”

As “interventionism” has become the most hated aspect of affairs with the US in the past few decades, this promise of respect is especially crucial in restoring good relations with Latin America.

Finally, Kerry takes care to note that he also supports non-violent opposition and internal dissent. In a concession to the Cuban-American vote in Florida, he specifically mentions support for Osvaldo Paya, who is currently conducting a campaign of peaceful resistance and petition inside of Cuba.

While never specifically addressing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in his report, Kerry states that “free trade agreements should not mean that job gains in one country mean job losses in another” and argues that the new Central American Free Trade Agreement “misses the mark on labor and environmental standards.” He promises to bring CAFTA and the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) back to the negotiating table to resolve the inherent problems that can be found in them, particularly regarding controversial labor and environmental clauses.

Perhaps most significantly for peace and cooperation in the region, Kerry has listened and responded to Latin American criticisms of the US. He seeks to revoke the image of the United States as a maverick nation that is too arrogant to work with regional and international institutions, and promises to establish a common cause with other governments and with organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center to bring enhanced democracy to the hemisphere, particularly to Cuba.

Should Kerry wish to be successful in Latin America, it is important that he not simply follow his predecessors and relegate Latin America to a benign neglect. Latin America needs support from the US not only to fight the wars on drugs, terrorism and human trafficking, but also to address the deeper problems of endemic poverty and desperately needed social reform.

It is likely that if John Kerry were elected, he would experience an eased relationship overnight with Latin America simply because he is not George W. Bush.

However, it is important that he take advantage of what will undoubtedly be a brief honeymoon period and act on what he has pledged.

John Kerry’s plans, if implemented, could help the U.S. restore a balanced and constructive relationship not only with Latin America, but with the rest of the world.
- Anna Ioakimedes

Doha (online publication), October 25: This election, perhaps more than any previous one, will have an international impact, not only because of America's superpower status but also because of its growing presence in the Arab world and its occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Also, the perception of the international community is that the US is trying to redraw the map of the Middle East and imposing its dominance on a new world order.

The US electoral process, which uses an electoral college instead of a popular vote to determine the winning candidate, has given the US two recent presidents (Clinton and Bush) who earned less than a majority of the popular vote.

It also caused confusion in 2000 during the Florida recount. Yet, it has forced successful presidential candidates to craft nationwide campaigns based on regional considerations rather than merely focusing on the number of votes.

Winning strategy
By understanding the electoral college process, the rest of the world can better understand how US presidents forge a winning national strategy and how national policy is developed.

It also explains how some issues such as gun control and farm subsidies must be addressed by presidential candidates in order to win, while policy towards the Middle East is usually ignored.

In that regard, understanding the US electoral process means understanding how best to influence US policy.

The US electoral process was developed as a result of the political realities in America in 1776. The American War of Independence against Britain wasn't a war of a unified American nation, but a war by 13 sovereign colonies, who had given limited powers to a Continental Congress.

When the 13 colonies defeated the British in 1781, each colony maintained a military and printed its own money. This left the central government with little real power.

Differing philosophies
Consequently, there was a need to craft a constitution that would give the American central government more power, yet protect the sovereign rights of the 13 colonies, now called states.

Given the regional nature of the US and the differing political philosophies of the two parties, each presidential candidate has a natural base and certain regions to work with.

For John Kerry, he has the north-east corridor and progressive coasts while Bush has strength in the confederacy, the deep south, the old west and the farm belt.

The areas up for grabs are Appalachia, the industrial north, and the upper Mississippi basin.

Kerry's strategy has targeted all three battleground regions as well as the confederacy, where his strategy consists of picking John Edwards as his vice-presidential candidate.

The Kerry strategy depends on a large turnout by African Americans, who normally vote overwhelmingly Democratic, and on Edwards to attract enough white votes. If it works, he will be able to win Virginia and North Carolina.

Appalachia matters
Kerry has also focused on his military record in order to win additional voters in regions that have higher than average veteran populations.

These include the confederacy, Appalachia, the old west and the deep south. Although he only gets a chance in Appalachia, his goal is to gain enough votes from these regions to give him a greater hold in states that include two or more regions.

The best opportunity for Kerry is the industrial north, which is a union stronghold and has seen loss of jobs under the Bush administration.

Although the industrial north is not dominated by any state, it is a powerful enough region that can affect the results in the battleground states of Michigan and Ohio.

However, in order to win these two states, Kerry must connect more with farm belt voters to neutralise the Bush advantage there.

As a result, he will try to shape his message and focus on values, religion and gun ownership, especially when he is in the farm belt area.

Value issues
The traditional values, religion and gun-ownership themes will also connect with another critical region - the upper Mississippi basin.

It is likely the Kerry campaign will focus on these value issues in Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Among these themes, gun ownership will also help in Appalachia.

Although most Appalachian states may go for Bush, Pennsylvania and West Virginia could stay in the Democratic fold if Kerry comes across as pro-gun and gun control issues are not addressed as a Kerry priority.

It can be assumed that Kerry will focus less on traditional Democratic issues in this election and focus more on values issues, which resonate more with these regions' voters.

Bush's strategy will be to counter the values campaign of Kerry, but will also address issues that will appeal to specific regions and solidify his support in the traditional Republican strongholds.

Key battlegrounds
The head-to-head values battleground will be fought in Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Bush is likely to focus on his pro-gun legislation, his support for a definition of marriage amendment, and his religious faith.

He is likely to call attention to Kerry's Senate voting record to paint his opponent as a liberal.

He will use his stand on mining and his administration's support for less regulation on federal lands to attract support in the Appalachian region and strengthen his support in the old west, considered solidly Republican.

There, Bush can attempt to counter the pro-Democratic progressive coast in Oregon, which poses an uphill battle for him.

If he can energise the old west voter base enough or nullify the Kerry advantage in the west, he can win Oregon.

Jews and Hispanics
Although the industrial north will probably go Democratic, Bush is hoping that an improved economy and the gun issue will attract enough voters from his farm belt base to win Ohio and Michigan.

He is also hoping that his support of Israel will cancel out the natural Democratic advantage with the Jewish bloc and give him an advantage in Florida, where the Jewish vote was critical in keeping the election close in 2000.

Another priority of the Bush campaign is securing the Hispanic vote.

Bush's percentage of the Hispanic vote, both as a governor and president, has been above the Republican average. The Hispanic voter is values-focused (but not pro-gun ownership), and some reports suggest that the second and third-generation Hispanics are more willing to vote Republican.

This voting bloc can be critical in winning New Mexico, which is nearly half Hispanic and went to Al Gore in the 2000 election by just a few hundred votes.

Other issues
There are also other issues that may affect the election. In California, the popularity of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger may help Bush, especially if the governor campaigns actively for the president.

There are also some other issues that may have different implications in various regions of the US. Some of these are:

Iraq war: While polls show that the war is unpopular in regions such as the north-east corridor and the progressive coast, some popularity remains in conservative areas such as the deep south and the confederacy, areas which also provide a larger number of soldiers to the military than other regions.

Consequently, how these regions will react to good or bad news from the battlefront will differ.

If the US does experience many casualties during the rest of the campaign and the Iraqi interim government continues to appear ineffective (and following US dictum), Bush will be seen as losing the war, which is the cornerstone of his re-election campaign.

The Bush administration's decision to maintain a low profile in Iraq since 28 June is an indication of its tactic to shield voters from the effect of continued failure of its policy in Iraq.

Arab-Israeli conflict: The fact is that this issue has been ignored by both the presidential candidates. Both are more inclined to straddle the fence in order to win the Jewish vote (which will be critical in Florida) and the Arab American vote (which will be important in the battleground state of Michigan).

War on terror: This remains a critical issue to Americans and polls show that Bush retains a modest lead over Kerry in terms of who is better to lead the country in the area of national security. This has caused the Democrats some concern, which led them to redirect their campaign and focus heavily on Kerry's military credentials.

The "terrorism" issue remains the wild card in the campaign. Bush has an advantage because as the president he can take action on homeland security and utilise the national security apparatus during the rest of the campaign. He will seek to portray Kerry as soft on terrorism while Kerry will accuse Bush of manipulating the use of national security alerts to score with voters.

Unemployment and economy: Bush will seek to use the appearance of a marginal improvement in the economy as a sign of a successful economic policy. On the other hand, Kerry will continue to focus on the loss of jobs and the high overall unemployment rate.

Economic issues will be of great importance in the industrial north, where unemployment remains high in many major industries. The actual state of the economy on the date of the election, therefore, could have an impact in several battleground states such as Ohio and Michigan.

Taxes: Kerry has voiced support for rolling back some of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of the population and has cited the failure of Bush policies regarding the record-high deficits. Bush contends that his tax cuts will benefit small business owners and create more jobs.

Health care: Health care, along with social security, is of more importance to elderly Americans who are concentrated in Appalachia and the progressive coast and are more responsive to this campaign issue. It's also critical in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, which has the highest average age of any state population.

Veterans and national defence: Kerry will continue to use his military experience in Vietnam to attract veterans to his side, whose normal tendency is to vote Republican. Some polls show that veterans remain slightly pro-Bush by a 10% margin over Kerry.

The Republicans will try to portray Kerry as weak on defence, while Kerry will concentrate on his slogan, "Stronger at home, more respected in the world".

Bush will continue to justify his doctrine of pre-emptive war while Kerry will emphasise the need for multilateral action and building coalitions with allies.

It is hard to predict this election in light of the 2000 experience and the latest polls that shows a dead-heat competition. The race remains tight and the electorate has yet to become fully engaged.

It is unconventional wisdom for an analyst to predict an outcome as of now. While noting the significance of the latest presidential debates in which Kerry received some needed momentum, it was my assessment weeks ago that Kerry would probably win over enough voters to be elected president ending up gaining 298 electoral college votes.

I am venturing into dangerous territory of political imprudence by predicting the election's outcome, but I feel a certain obligation as an analyst to offer my insight as I see the situation now.

I am prepared to update my assessment as the election draws nearer, regardless of my current prediction.

Many of the currently undecided voters may or may not vote in November, which will place great emphasis on voter turnout.

Negative campaign
Many signs in both camps exhibit vigorous grassroots efforts to pull the vote, with the lesson lingering from the 2000 election that every vote indeed counts. This could be very critical again in Florida.

Assuming that nothing dramatic happens in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush may maintain a small gain in some polls relating to the war on terrorism, but Kerry may pull ahead by several points in most polls dealing with domestic and international agendas.

As the final campaign kicks in, we can see more Republican advertising trying to negatively portray Kerry's voting record in the Senate, while Democratic adverts are hammering Bush's deceptions to the American people and his decision to divert the war efforts from al-Qaida to Iraq.

The latest damaging reports from the CIA, chief US weapon inspector in Iraq and the criticism of Paul Bremer regarding the size of troops on the ground, will undoubtedly reinforce Kerry's position and provide him with needed ammunition to attack Bush.

However, in the end, the battleground will remain in the American heartland. Voters' perceptions in regions such as the upper Mississippi basin and Appalachia, as well as voter turnout in the industrial north and the farm belt, will decide the next president.

There are many signs of voters shifting towards the Democratic side but the question remains, will it be enough to guarantee a Kerry victory?
- Mounzer Sleiman

London Financial Times (centrist), October 23: The candidates in the 2004 presidential election return to Florida this weekend, amid a blur of polls suggesting that George W. Bush could suffer Al Gore's fate in 2000, winning the popular vote but losing the White House battle in the electoral college.

In the final campaign stretch, when many thought one candidate would have broken away, John Kerry and Mr. Bush are neck-and-neck in the polls, increasing the possibility of a contested result and a reversal of the outcome four years ago.

The Kerry campaign has grown in confidence this week, based not on the national poll numbers but on public opinion surveys in a couple of critical swing states.

The Democratic challenger and Mr. Bush may be even in the national polls but, aides say, state polling in Ohio and Pennsylvania points to a Kerry win in the electoral college.

When asked about the possibility of Mr. Bush winning the popular vote but losing the election, Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic National Committee chairman, told Fox News on Friday that Mr. Kerry is headed towards “a great victory” in the electoral college.

He did not address the possibility of a repeat of 2000, this time favouring the Democrats.

Talk of another another presidency without a popular mandate is a measure of the fact that 10 days out from the election the race is so close that nobody can predict the winner. After less than a week of early voting in several states, irregularities have already occurred in Florida and Democrats and Republicans have filed legal challenges.

Corrine Brown, Democratic congresswoman from Duval County in Florida, where 27,000 ballots were discarded in 2000, said there was widespread concern about voter intimidation, voting irregularities and a replay of the outcome four years ago. An AP/Ipsos poll on Friday showed Mr. Kerry had pulled three points ahead among likely voters, after a Gallup poll at the beginning of the week said that Mr. Bush had an eight point lead. Norm Ornstein, political scientist at the American Enterprise Institute, said: “There is a significant chance that we could end up with a nail-biter election, with several states that are very close. This is not going to be a dispute limited to one state.”
- James Harding and Joshua Chaffin

London (online publication), October 19: The recent Latinobarometro poll found rising anti-Americanism in the three biggest countries in the region; Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. It illustrated how out of sympathy the region is with President George W Bush's vision of what the US should do and be. Most Latin Americans, like most non-US citizens who have been polled on the issue, would prefer John Kerry to win November's presidential election.

Energy policy is one area which concerns Latin America, where Kerry would be distinctly different from Bush. Kerry is keen on what he calls a hemispheric energy policy. This seems to mean relying less on the Persian Gulf and those countries of the former Soviet Union which have a stake in Caspian oil and gas fields.

Kerry has not spelt out whether his policy would mean buying more oil from Venezuela and Mexico, the region's two big oil producers, or developing new fields in Alaska. He also seems certain to want to increase the negligible taxation of oil products in the US. It is almost unbelievable that the latest figures show that, despite the major rise in oil prices, the US has actually increased, in volume terms, its purchases of crude oil and oil products.

Environmentalists will applaud a more meaningful taxation of energy in US. It is less clear whether Latin Americans will appreciate a greater US interest in their energy industries. Pressure from a Kerry administration on Mexico to open up its oil industry to international oil companies is likely to complicate US-Mexican relations. Petróleos Mexicanos and the Cuban state oil company are the only energy companies in the region which retain upstream and downstream monopolies.

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez is likely to extract a high price for any fresh US investment in the oil industry. To be fair, companies such as Exxon and Conoco have stepped up their investments in turning the heavy oils from the Orinoco tarbelt into lighter and more marketable crudes. The big question is whether US companies will be allowed to look for oil on the same terms as the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela and its putative Latin American partners.

The comfort for oil ministers is that, at the time of writing, the election seems to be swinging Bush's way.