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U.S.: Experts See Competitive Races For Major Party Nominations

According to the U.S. Federal Election Commission, there are 35 registered political parties and more than 100 candidates for the 2000 presidential election. The list includes the "Buffalo Party," the "Populist-Democratic-Viking Party," and an organization known simply as "Mike's Party." The candidates include a man who calls himself "Messiah," another man who's known as "Buttercup," and, a dead man. But on election day November 7, most of the 100 million or so Americans likely to vote will probably choose between two men: the candidate of the Democratic Party or the nominee of the Republican Party. Correspondent Kevin Foley files this report on who's running and what is at stake in the 2000 general election.

Washington, 20 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- While just two parties -- the Democrat and the Republican -- have come to dominate politics in America, some political scientists see the campaign for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations as one of the most competitive in years.

For example, Thomas Mann -- resident political scholar at Washington's Brookings Institution -- tells RFE/RL that:

"The 2000 elections are probably the most competitive elections we have seen in many decades. The White House is up for grabs, control of the Congress is up for grabs, there are very close margins in a number of state legislatures that will be redrawing district lines after the 2000 census and reapportionment, and of course there are likely to be vacancies on the Supreme Court and there will certainly be many vacancies in the rest of the federal judiciary."

Six Republicans and two Democrats remain standing on the eve of the hunt for support. The nominating season begins Monday in the Midwestern state of Iowa. And, while the process doesn't formally end until June, political experts agree the contest for the Democratic and Republican nominations will be decided long before that.

Thomas Wolf, Professor Emeritus of political science at Indiana University, explains why:

"The nominating process, the campaign has been so compressed we'll know by the middle of March, certainly by the end of March, but I expect by March 15th or thereabouts, who has the nomination in each party."

The leading candidates are really running in two races at once. They are seeking the guaranteed endorsement of party members who will do the actual nominating at the Republican and Democratic national conventions in August. And, they are participating in a series of popularity contests whose results will influence the outcome of the general election.

Wolf notes that as recently as 20 years ago, the nominations were still in doubt in June. Now, however, he says that between 75-80 percent of each party's convention delegates will have been chosen before the end of March in less than half of the 50 states.

The U.S. Constitution requires a presidential election every four years, and the Constitution also limits a president to two elected terms. President Bill Clinton will have served the maximum by presidential inauguration day on Jan. 20, 2001.

The six Republican candidates wanting to succeed Clinton are: Gary Bauer, who represents a socially conservative and fundamentalist Christian point of view; George W. Bush -- the governor of the southwestern state of Texas and son of former President George Bush; Steve Forbes, owner of a magazine publishing concern who campaigned for the nomination in 1996 as well; U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch of the Rocky Mountain state of Utah; Alan Keyes, host of a radio talk show and former U.S. Foreign Service Officer whose posts included Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, and John McCain, a U.S. senator from the southwestern state of Arizona.

The Democratic candidates are Al Gore, who has been President Clinton's vice president for the past eight years, and former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley of the northeastern state of New Jersey.

At this point, Prof. Mann says that:

"The shape of the race is pretty clear in both parties: George W. Bush was anointed by the Republican activists and officials as the strongest candidate and money and attention and poll support came to him very early. There was a large field of candidates, many dropped out early and it quickly developed that there was one potentially serious challenger: namely Senator John McCain of Arizona."

He says McCain is a longshot still, but that he is challenging Bush. McCain, says Mann, has been trying to exploit what many see as Bush's relative lack of experience in national politics.

On the Democratic side, Mann says,

"Vice President Al Gore again remains the favorite but he is being pressed much harder by former Senator Bill Bradley. It's a competitive race. Gore retains some advantages but Bradley now has recognition, money and a sort of fresh appeal that is serving him well."

Despite their views on the competitive nature of this year's campaign, Wolf and Mann think the general public is still not interested. Part of this, says Wolf, is his belief that: "None of the candidates seem to have the kind of personality that would really excite people." And Mann says,

"Well I think the stakes are unusually high, though the public seems hardly aware of it, that is to say the country is doing very well these days: our economy is performing well above expectations, a whole variety of social indicators has improved in recent years and people are feeling pretty optimistic throughout the country, and partly as a result there's frankly not much interest in politics in Washington."