On the eve of the New Hampshire presidential primary in which U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, is shown trailing U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill, in many polls, New York’s senior senator, Charles Schumer, criticized the current party nomination process that starts with the Iowa Caucus.
“I don’t like caucuses because what you mostly get at them is people on the extreme left and the extreme right and the people in the middle are overshadowed,” he said.
Obama’s recent surge in the national polls came after his victory in Iowa over John Edwards, the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee, and Clinton, who came in third place.
Schumer visited The Daily Gazette office Monday to discuss national and local issues. He said he favors primaries to caucuses and would like to see the primary system changed so that more states would have greater influence over party nominations.
“Maybe more of a regional process. I’m not saying all of New England go on the same day, but maybe if you had four states a week,” he said.
On Feb. 5, the Democratic Party will conduct primaries in 22 states, including New York and California. If Obama defeats Clinton in New Hampshire and receives a boost in the polls he could effectively earn the nomination in less than a month’s time.
Schumer said the primary process should serve as a crucible for candidates and defended Clinton’s consistency.
“I don’t think she’s changed her views. I think she’s the same person,” Schumer said.
Clinton has been criticized by some left wing activists for not renouncing her vote to enable President Bush to take the United States to war against Iraq.
Schumer said he recently visited Iraq and saw improvements but also saw friction between rival Iraqi factions. “Things are better now for three reasons: No. 1, [General David] Petraeus is there now and the American forces have done a good job; No. 2, the Sunnis have cast their lot with us instead of Al Qaida; and No. 3, because Muqtada al-Sadr, who is the leading destabilizer, has called a six-month cease fire,” Schumer said. “I don’t see factors two and three being permanent.”
Schumer said he supports withdrawing most U.S. forces from Iraq but keeping some there for anti-terrorism operations and to maintain international stability, a position shared by Clinton. Obama has maintained that he would withdraw all main combat forces in the first 16 months of his presidency.
“There are going to be lots of problems no matter what course [we take]. The question is what is the least bad course,” Schumer said. “We’d have to keep some troops—out of harm’s way, but still there—to prevent a major Iranian incursion.”
Schumer said he thinks “being yourself” is the most important thing for a candidate for president. He said the lengthy lead-up to the primary process has helped Republican candidate U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Az, find himself.
“Senator McCain was an independent leader, a conservative certainly, but still independent. That’s when he was the frontrunner for the [GOP] nomination. He went away from that and embraced President Bush and it hurt him,” Schumer said. “Now he’s broken away from Bush a bit and become more independent again.”
About 45 percent of New Hampshire’s registered voters were unaffiliated with either party as of Oct. 31, the most recent data available, according to the New Hampshire secretary of state’s office. By law in New Hampshire, independents are free to vote in either party’s primary.
This past weekend’s USA Today/Gallup Poll showed Obama leading Clinton among independents by 46 percent to 25 percent in that survey, helping him to a 13 percentage point lead. McCain had a 40 percent to 25 percent edge over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney among independents, boosting him to a narrow overall advantage.
Schumer was sharply critical of Romney. “[Romney] really has changed a lot of his views.”
Schumer said he believes the 2008 presidential election has the potential to realign the American political system in the same way as watershed elections in 1932 and 1980.
“In 1932, we have a depression, [President Franklin D.] Roosevelt comes in and basically says government can help solve your problems, and the American people bought that for a couple of generations,” Schumer said.
In 2008 Schumer expects the election to hinge on the notion that more people in the middle class want government program support to alleviate deepening concerns over dwindling prosperity.
“The average middle-class family believes that the federal government should be doing a little more for them and be a little more on their side. Admittedly, in a smart, lean way,” he said.
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