Washington: The long
and hard-fought battle for the White House between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney would create
history - whichever way it ends on election day Nov 6.
If Romney, who is narrowly ahead on average in national polls,
wins, he would become the fourth challenger to oust a sitting
president since World War II and the first Mormon to occupy the
Before him Democrat Jimmy Carter did so defeating Gerald Ford in
1976, Republican Ronald Reagan turned the tables on Carter in 1980
and Democrat Bill Clinton ousted Reagan's successor, George H.W.
Bush, in 1992 due to a struggling economy.
If Obama, who created history four years ago to become the first
African American president, retains the world's most powerful job,
he would be one of the rare presidents to win despite "It's the
economy, stupid" as a Clinton campaign strategist summed it up in
But before the Obama-Romney face-off began, the two had to come
through what are called the primaries where voters, registered as
Democrats or Republicans and independents, choose 'electors' in
each state to pick up their party's candidate.
In most states only registered voters of a particular party can
vote in its election, but some others have open primaries where
anyone can vote irrespective of party affiliation. But unlike in
India, party bosses have no role in the selection process.
Romney officially threw his hat into the ring as early as April
2011. But it was only on Aug 28 this year that battling many a
party stalwart through ups and downs in primaries and caucuses,
where only a limited number of party functionaries vote, he was
anointed the party's flag bearer.
For Obama, as an incumbent president running for re-election, the
race for the Democratic nomination was largely uneventful. But he
too had to go through the nomination process of primaries and
caucuses in all the 50 states before he won the right to carry the
Then on to the battle main the contenders go through a similar
process. But unlike the primaries all states go to the polls on
the same day - always the Tuesday after the first Monday in a leap
Contrary to popular perception, people would not be directly
voting for Obama or Romney or their running mates, but would only
be picking up largely unnamed "Electors for Barack Obama and
Joseph Biden," or "Electors for George Romney and Paul Ryan".
Each state picks 'electors' equal to the combined total of its
Senate - two for each state irrespective of the size - and House
members allocated on the basis of its population, to form what is
called the Electoral College.
Thus California, America's most populous state, has 55 electoral
votes, while a number of states like Alaska, Delaware, Montana,
Vermont, Wyoming and the Dakotas have just three votes each. The
winner takes all of a state's electoral votes.
Devised by the founding fathers as a compromise between America's
federal structure giving primacy to the states and the exercise of
popular will, it's the Electoral College that chooses the
president and vice president by majority vote.
The 538 electors so chosen will meet in the state capitals Dec 17.
They are duty bound to vote for the winning candidate in their
state irrespective of their own party affiliation, but there have
been nine 'faithless' electors since 1900, who have voted against
the candidates to whom they were pledged.
Then the Congress meets in a joint session Jan 6, or Jan 7 this
year as Jan 6 happens to be a Sunday to count the electoral votes
and declare the winning pair that takes office on Jan 20 - one who
reaches the magic number of 270 and not the one who polls more
votes Nov 6.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)