"Let the games begin" is an expression usually associated with the Olympic Games. However, it might also be used for the United States primary season. The Republican primaries began on Tuesday with 6 Republicans competing in the Iowa primary to be followed on January 10 in New Hampshire. More than 1,700 local caucuses will be held on Tuesday in a state with a population of 3 million and 6 electoral votes, 1.1% of the total electoral votes.
Why all the fuss over Iowa? Well, it is the first official primary and the first time American voters will begin selecting who will oppose Barack Obama in November. The six Republican presidential hopefuls have somewhat different messages, but all are united in thinking they and the Republican Party are more capable than the incumbent. The favorite, Mitt Romney, has been unable to distance the field. The former Governor of Massachusetts has not been able to galvanize a Party split between the extreme right wing populist Tea Party and traditional big business interests. Various challenges have emerged, from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to libertarian Ron Paul to Governor Rick Perry of Texas. None of the candidates has been successful in polling over 25% of the voters; none has been able to mount a serious challenge to the President who himself has less than stunning numbers. The candidates seem more inclined to bash each other rather than focusing on the presidential race and risk discrediting themselves before the major event.
The primary season is grueling. The Republican National Convention will officially choose the candidate in Tampa, Florida at the end of August. Between now and then, several of the candidates will certainly drop out because of poor ratings and lack of funds. But, the pressure on the front runners will be enormous. Debate after debate, handshake after handshake, with no errors permitted. Any false move or misstatement could be the end.
Is this reasonable? Besides the obvious financial considerations - it is estimated that Barack Obama will raise over $1 billion for his campaign alone - the physical stamina necessary is overwhelming, much more so than once the candidate is in office. A huge industry has evolved in running campaigns, from public relations to logistics to fund raising. This is a big business with very specific demands.
Whether any of this campaign fever relates to the realities of governing or the state of the world is another question. For the moment, the games have begun, and much like the Olympics, there are those who love the sport and will watch with fascination.