Monday, November 3, 2008

Usa2008: Meet the candidates - The presidential nominee: Barack Obama / The vice-presidential nominee: Joe Biden / The presidential nominee: John McCain / The vice-presidential nominee: Sarah Palin

Meet the candidates

The Democrats

The presidential nominee: Barack Obama

Date of birth: August 4 1961

Professional background: A community organiser and later a lawyer.

Political experience: Junior Senator from Illinois since 2005, Obama served in the Illinois State Senate for the previous seven years.

Political positions: To the left of the Democratic Party, Obama advocates gradual withdrawal from Iraq (a war which he opposed from the outset) and dialogue with states such as Iran, Cuba and North Korea while taking a tougher line on US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. He is campaigning on universal healthcare and an expansion of social security. Strong on the environment, he proposes a carbon trading system for business. He also plans to introduce tax cuts for poor and rescind those granted by Bush to the wealthiest Americans.

Obama launched his campaign on a platform of hope and change and, while his message has successfully energised supporters, he has been criticised by opponents as an airy-fairy celebrity candidate with little substance.

Religion: A Christian, Obama at the start of the campaign was a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ, a Protestant grouping with largely African-American congregations. Early in 2008 the candidate was forced to denounce his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, for controversial rhetoric over American foreign policy, 9/11 and race relations. The church's decision to award Louis Farrakhan a lifetime achievement award was also highlighted by Obama's critics, and the various controversies led Obama to quit the church earlier this year. The candidate has also been forced to defend himself against internet smears suggesting he is a secret Muslim.

You might not know that: In 1990, Obama was elected as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review in its 104 year history. He is also the only African-American currently in the Senate. He is careful not to campaign as a black candidate, promising to be a leader for all Americans rather than one community - however this position has led him into conflict with notable black politicians such as Jesse Jackson.

The vice-presidential nominee: Joe Biden

Date of birth: November 20 1942

Professional background: Lawyer

Political experience: Senior Senator from Delaware since 1973 and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since 2001, Biden is currently the sixth-longest-serving member of the Senate.

Political positions: Co-authored a "third way" strategy to end sectarian violence in Iraq - creating federal regions for Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds - passed by the Senate in September, and proposes a five step plan towards withdrawal. He advocates intervention in Sudan and sees Iran, Russia and North Korea as greatest threats to world. Pro-choice but opposed to federal funding for abortion, Biden supports same-sex civil unions but not marriage. He is opposed to the death penalty, taking a pro-rehab approach to crime and supporting gun control. He promotes efforts to tackle global warming including renewables and carbon trading and supports welfare reform.

Religion: Roman Catholic

You might not know that: He ran for President in 1988 but his campaign collapsed after he was accused of plagiarising a speech by then British Labour Leader Neil Kinnock, which referred to his ancestors playing football after a long day in the coal mines. He made a primary bid in 2008 but withdrew after placing fifth in the Iowa caucus, the first contest of the season.

The Republicans

The presidential nominee: John McCain

Date of birth: August 29 1936

Professional background: Naval aviator and businessman. Wife Cindy is a multi-millionairess, having inherited control of Hensley & Co, one of the largest US beer distributors, from her father.

Political experience: The Senior Senator from Arizona since 1987, McCain previously served four years in the House of Representatives.

Political positions: Regarded as a moderate Republican and well-respected on both sides of the political divide, McCain has sponsored gun control legislation and supports an amnesty for illegal aliens as well as increases in legal immigration. He is however strongly pro-life and anti-gay marriage.

McCain supported the invasion of Iraq but believes mistakes have been made by the Bush administration. He would not withdraw troops and believes the US may eventually have to take military action against Iran, but is an outspoken opponent of the use of torture or abusive interrogation techniques in the name of security. A deficit hawk, he has opposed many of Bush's tax cuts.

Religion: A Baptist, McCain makes little mention of his religious beliefs on the campaign trail and has previously blasted "agents of intolerance" in the evangelical right.

You might not know that: John McCain was a famous prisoner of war for 5 and a half years during the Vietnam conflict, incarcerated for most of that time at the notorious "Hanoi Hilton". The torture he suffered has left him permanently unable to raise his arms above his head.

Actually scratch that, because if you've managed to catch the merest glimpse of a McCain ad during that last year you'll know it already. So have another one. As well as four children (one adopted) from his second marriage, McCain also has three (two adopted) from his first, to Carol Shepp. McCain married the then model, originally from Philadelphia, in 1965, and their union endured throughout his captivity. However after returning to the US to find his wife crippled by a serious car accident, McCain began to have regular affairs, culminating in a liason with Cindy Hensley in 1979. The couple divorced in 1980.

The vice-presidential nominee: Sarah Palin

Date of birth: February 11 1964

Professional background: Sports journalist and sometime worker in family commercial fishing business

Political experience: Palin began her political career with her 1992 election to the city council of Wasilla, Alaska, a town which then had some 4,000 inhabitants. Six years later she took office as mayor of the town, a position she held for six years before becoming chairperson of the Alaskan Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. In late 2006, she became the first female governor of Alaska.

Political positions: A pro-gun, pro-life moose-hunting evangelist, Palin portrays herself as a down-to-earth "hockey mom" who puts the interests of ordinary small-town Americans above those of corporate lobbyists, the Washington elite and even her own party. Her staunch social conservatism runs to an absolute opposition to abortion even in cases of rape and incest, while she has suggested that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in schools. She supports opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and as governor is suing the federal government over its decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species, which she claims would hamper oil and gas exploration. On foreign policy, she appears to have little in the way of a distinct position but generally backs McCain's stance and frequently highlights her son's deployment to Iraq.

Palin ran for governor on a clean-government platform and paints herself as a scourge of corruption. However she has since been censured for abuse of power in the Troopergate inquiry and has been revealed to have accepted financial earmarks she claims to have opposed.

Religion: Pentecostal evangelist and former longtime member of the Wasilla Assembly of God, a controversial church which believes Alaska will be the refuge for evangelicals from the lower 48 in the approaching End of Days. When running for governor, Palin was anointed at the church by visiting African pastor Thomass Muthee, whose ministry was founded on a witchhunt in a Kenyan town. She has appeared to credit that prayer as a contributing factor in her electoral success.

You might not know that: Where to start? A former Miss Congeniality in the Wasilla beauty pageant, Palin's CV makes colourful reading. Some of the claims, such as that she once sold a state government jet on eBay, have since turned out to be untrue, while critics are still tussling over allegations that she attempted to ban books she deemed subversive, that she believes humans walked with dinosaurs and that she was once a member of the Alaska Independence Party (her husband Todd definitely was). Less controversially, she has five children, recently giving birth to a young son with Down's Syndrome, Trigg.

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