By Munir K. Nasser
Chief Correspondent, Washington, DC
US presidential candidates are rushing in a frantic last minute effort to win battleground states in a bid to assemble the 270 electoral votes needed for election.
With two days to go, polls are showing George W. Bush with a small lead among likely voters. Yet Al Gore insisted the numbers would be on his side by the time the votes are counted. He planned to focus in has last campaign on the key battlegrounds of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Bush, meanwhile, is making a final attempt to keep the critical state of Florida from falling into the hands of his opponent and possibly tilting the election to Gore.
A new NBC News-Wall Street Journal national survey, showed the race remains too close to call, with Bush at 47 percent, Gore at 44 percent and Green Party nominee Ralph Nader at 4 percent.
The outcome of the uncertain presidential race between Gore and Bush depends on half a dozen states spread across the country. Gore needs to win about three-quarters of the remaining electoral votes in those states to clinch a victory on Tuesday. Bush and Gore appear headed for the tightest finish in the Electoral College since 1976 and the closest popular vote margin since 1968.
Analysts in Washington agree on one thing. This presidential race is the closest in 40 years and so far, polls are unable to predict a winner. Many factors are in play that could sway votes in favor of Gore or Bush. Gore's task is complicated by the candidacy of Green Party nominee Ralph Nader, who could siphon off enough votes in states such as Washington, Oregon, Wisconsin and Minnesota to tip them to Bush. Other factors include American Muslims who endorsed Bush last week and may vote in one bloc.
A political bombshell just a few days before the elections threw Bush off balance when he confirmed news reports that in 1976 he had been arrested in Maine for driving while under the influence of alcohol. He said that he regretted the incident and had learned his lesson. He didn't speak up earlier because he wanted to "protect" his teenage children. Bush, however, questioned the timing of the revelation five days before the election. Analysts believe, however, that this incident will have little affect on his supporters to switch votes.
Analysts agree that this election will be mainly decided on domestic issues, and it is not expected that foreign policy issues, including the Middle East, will play any significant role in determining the outcome of the elections. Gore’s and Bush’s positions on the Middle East are identical.
The Democratic Platform on the Middle East defends President Clinton's foreign policy record in general saying, “Bill Clinton and Al Gore have actively pursued peaceful resolutions to conflicts across the world and have been prepared to go the extra mile on behalf of negotiators seeking peace. Al Gore and the Democratic Party are fundamentally committed to the security of our ally, Israel, and the creation of a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors. Our special relationship with Israel is based on the unshakable foundation of shared values and a mutual commitment to democracy, and we will ensure that under all circumstances, Israel retains the qualitative military edge for its national security.”
The Democratic Platform also takes a strong stand on Jerusalem, calling it “the capital of Israel and should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.”
The Republican Platform on the Middle East stresses the importance for the United States “to support and honor Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East. We will ensure that Israel maintains a qualitative edge in defensive technology over any potential adversaries. We will not pick sides in Israeli elections. The United States has a moral and legal obligation to maintain its Embassy and Ambassador in Jerusalem. Immediately upon taking office, the next Republican president will begin the process of moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.”
On the peace process, the Republican Platform calls on the United States to seek a comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East. “We will not impose our view or an artificial timetable. A unilateral declaration of independence by the Palestinians would be a violation of that commitment. A new Republican administration would oppose any such declaration. While we have hopes for the peace process, our commitment to the security of Israel is an overriding moral and strategic concern.”
In the view of many Washington observers, Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader, poses a potential threat to Vice President Al Gore's voting base. He called this week for a suspension of United States aid to Israel and blamed the Jewish state for the current violence in the Middle East.
Nader accused Vice President Gore of being "cowardly" in his stated support of Israel and criticized Gore and Bush for "taking sides" on Israel's behalf in the Middle East conflict.
Nader, a son of Lebanese immigrants who is said to be fluent in Arabic, is best known as a consumer advocate. His views on the Middle East were not commonly known until a recent series of interview.
Nader said if the United States is going to be an "honest broker in the Middle East, we cannot take sides." That means, he said, "if we're going to be friends of the Israelis, we've got to be friends of the Palestinians.... If Israel's security is going to be retained, Palestinian justice has to be institutionalized."
In a recent interview, Nader is quoted as saying, "The idea of using lethal force against people who are throwing rocks, youngsters, is abhorrent; I don't think anybody can justify that kind of bloodshed when one party has such a huge military superiority over the other."
A statement by the Green Party "condemned the excessive use of force against Palestinians" in the current conflict and lays the "greater responsibility on Israel for the conflict both in this immediate crisis and in Israel's continuing history of non-compliance with international law and UN resolutions." The statement calls for a cessation of all further aid to Israel until the Jewish state agrees to withdraw from land acquired since 1967, transforms Jerusalem into a "shared city" and honors the Palestinians' "inalienable right of return."
Criticizing the economic sanctions that the United States has imposed on Iraq, Nader called it a "bankrupt foreign policy" that affects children and innocent adults and has given Saddam Hussein "even more repressive powers."
Nader is polling as high as 11% in several key states and worrying Democrats who fear he is draining support from Gore. The states of Washington, Oregon, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan are hotbeds of Nader support as well as toss-up states in the dead heat between Bush and Gore.
Nader says he is in the race "to build a long-range political reform movement" in the United States. In a press conference in Washington this week, Nader, a well-known consumer advocate, said it is his "overwhelming priority" because both the Democratic and Republican Parties "have sold our government to corporate special interests" and "are stripping the people of their rights to defend their own political, economic and social interests."
Liebereman And Cheney
Vice presidential candidates Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman and former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney disagree on a whole range of issues. During their vice presidential debate, Cheney accused the Clinton-Gore administration of "eight years of talk and no action." He described Vice President Al Gore's education and health care plans as an "old way of governing" in an "ever more intrusive bureaucracy."
Lieberman countered that Bush's proposals for a "tax cut for the wealthy" and to privatize part of the Social Security System would reignite inflation in the United States.
Asked about US policy in the Middle East, Lieberman said he hoped and prayed that the recent unrest "will not create the kind of scars that make it hard" for the Israelis and Palestinians to "go back to the peace table with American assistance." He said he and Gore are committed to "bringing peace to this sacred region of the world."
Cheney said he believed the next administration will "have to come to grips" with the current state of affairs in the Middle East. He said the United States has to have a president with a "track record of dealing straight with people, of keeping his word so that friends and allies both respect us and adversaries fear us."
It is "unfortunate," Cheney said, that America's posture vis-à-vis Iraq is weaker than it was at the end of the Gulf War, and "we don't know for sure what might be transpiring inside Iraq." If Saddam Hussein were taking steps to try to rebuild nuclear capability or weapons of mass destruction, Cheney added, "you'd have to give very serious consideration to military action to stop that activity."
The Black Vote
The African American vote may be more influential in this election compared with previous elections. Analysts say there are two major reasons why the black vote could have greater impact on this year's election. One is a major, well-funded drive to increase the turnout among African Americans. The second major reason is that this is a close election and also the African American population is basically in 22 states, many of them battleground states where neither major presidential candidate has a big lead over his rival. In these states, the black vote could be decisive.
African American vote traditionally has been overwhelmingly Democratic. Blacks are not going to vote Republican because they don't trust the Republican Party, because of their historical mistrust of the Republican Party going back to the struggle to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
As for Al Gore, he is generally well liked by African Americans because of the record of the Clinton-Gore administration which provided for blacks record low unemployment, a rate of income growth greater even than for whites, falling crime and teen pregnancy rates and rising college attendance. In addition, Gore is reaping part of the credit for Clinton's large number of black appointments and the president's focus on Africa. Clinton is the first president to make Africa a significant focus of US foreign policy.
Arab And Muslim American Vote
As a sign of the increasing clout of Arab American vote, a group of Arab Americans met with Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore last week in Michigan. During a private meeting at a Dearborn hotel, Gore promised he and Lieberman would be balanced in their Middle East policy. He also said a decision on moving the US embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem would be made only as part of the peace process.
At the same time, American Muslim groups are urging their members to turn out the Muslim vote as a way to make the community's voice heard on issues ranging from education and health care, to Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians and holy sites. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) asked imams nationwide to encourage in their khutbas all eligible Muslim voters to go to the polls.
National Islamic leaders are encouraging a Muslim bloc vote that could determine the outcome of elections in several states. On October 23, the American Muslim Political Coordinating Council Political Action Committee announced its endorsement of George W. Bush for president, citing
his outreach to the Muslim community and his stand on the issue of secret evidence.
According to CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad, "It is quite possible that American Muslim voters will have a significant impact on this election." Bush and Nader led Al Gore in a recent CAIR survey of American Muslim voters. In that survey, taken in September, 40 percent of eligible Muslim voters said they would vote for Bush, 25 percent favored Nader and just 24 percent said they support Gore – Albawaba.com
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