Small World After All: Obama-Clinton Battle Stirs Global Debate

The 2008 presidential election is eight months away and yet in corners of the world near and far, people are extraordinarily attuned to the political battle for the world's most powerful office.

In Europe, television and radio stations, blogs, newspapers and magazines provide daily coverage of the primaries and debates, even delving into the arcane power held by the Democratic superdelegates.

Democratic Battle Heightens Interest

Attracting the most interest is the historic nature of the Democratic candidates -- a tall, young, charismatic, Harvard-educated black senator and a high-powered female senator and former first lady vying for the White House.

Less is known about the presumptive Republican nomination, Arizona Sen. John McCain, though that is changing given his recent overseas tour.

While the personalities of the candidates are attracting the most attention, the issues at stake -- the economy, the war in Iraq and the environment -- are of global interest.

Perhaps more profoundly, the 2008 election is viewed as a chance for a new, fresh American image, in a world where nearly every poll sees America's image dragging.

"Since 2002, the image of the United States has declined in most parts of the world," said Richard Wike of the Pew Global Attitudes Project.

"The decision to go into Iraq unilaterally, the ongoing war, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and the opposition to the Kyoto Protocol has deepened anti-American sentiment in much of Europe and the Middle East," Wike said.

'Obamamania' Hits Europe

Credible public opinion data on views from abroad about the U.S. election is hard to come by. But newspapers and anecdotes suggest the U.S. election is being discussed just as hotly in cafes, pubs, taxicabs and tea rooms around the world as it is in the United States.

From France to India, Britain to Indonesia, and Canada to Africa, people around the world are expressing an extraordinary level of excitement and interest in the U.S. election.

Across the pond in London, the U.S. election is "the No. 1 topic of conversation at dinner parties, at think tank meetings and in taxicabs," writes British columnist Irwin Stelzer this month in The Weekly Standard.

Clinton has many European admirers dating back to her first lady years and former President Clinton remains a very popular figure.

But the European media are gripped by "Obamamania."

Last month Germany's weekly magazine Der Spiegel ran a cover story featuring Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., with the headline: "The Messiah Factor: Barack Obama and the Longing for a New America."

"Britains as well as most people outside the United States sense that this is an historic election and one that carries import beyond just the question of who occupies the White House for the next four years," said William Barnard, U.K. chair of Democrats Abroad.

This year the Democratic National Committee held its first Global Democratic Primary to coincide with the Super Tuesday voting Feb. 5.

In London, more than 1,800 Democrats crammed into Porchester Hall -- more than double the number of people who showed up in 2004, Barnard said. Almost 23,000 Democrats in 164 countries cast their ballots, giving Obama a victory with 66 percent of the expatriate vote.

McCain Visits France, London

In France, a recent CSA/Le Parisien poll said the French are split between Obama and Clinton.

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