Tuesday, 4 November 2008

A black night for America?

Like pretty much every political type I know, I am preparing to stay up late tonight to see whether Barack Obama can make history by becoming the first black President of the United States.

You can judge me tomorrow when the results are in, but I suspect the outcome might be much closer than many pundits are predicting (which probably means it will be an Obama landslide).

I remember, from my days working in Northern Ireland politics, that pre-election surveys and exit polls can be wrong. In those days Sinn Fein and Ian Paisley's DUP represented the extremes and, as such, large numbers of people didn't like to admit they were intending to vote for them or just had done. As a result, both parties tended to do much better when the real votes were counted.

Likewise, in today's US election, I fear that many voters opposed to a black President may pay lip service to the idea of supporting Obama yet vote for the white candidate once they reach the privacy of the polling booth.

But I may be wrong and, for what it's worth, I hope I am.

Eight years ago, before losing out to George W Bush as the Republican Party's nomination for President, I believe John McCain would have done an excellent job in the White House.

I remember, again during my Northern Ireland political days in the late 1990s, hearing him being talked about in glowing terms as someone who was straight, honest and (why he came to my attention) pro-British and anti-terrorist. But, with the greatest respect, his time has gone.

Barack Obama could be a disaster as the 44th US President but I don't think he will be.

For me, he comes across as a man of his time and - as he likes to think of himself - as a man of change.

The next four hours should tell us whether we will get the chance to find out over the next four years.

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