Written by Minabere Ibelema - Nigeria
By this time in 2007, a lanky black man was making political waves as a presidential candidate in the US Democratic Party's primaries. Even after he won the Iowa straw polls - the traditional kickoff of the presidential election season - he was still generally regarded as a flash in the pan. Well, he went on to win more primaries and ultimately the presidency and got re-elected four years later. We are talking, of course, of Barack Obama.
Obama's triumph in 2008 places very high on the scale of the improbable. Even higher on that scale would be the reprise of that feat in 2016 by another black man. Well, Ben Carson, a retired world-famous neurosurgeon is poised to do just that. Carson is vying for the presidency from the opposite ideological spectrum, the Republican Party. And in a CBS/New York Times poll released on Tuesday, he is running a close second in the Republican primaries to billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump.
In many ways, Obama and Carson are a study in contrast. Sure, they are both highly credentialed professionals and they both were raised by their mothers, but that is very much all they have in common. That and their race, of course. As to ideology and political background, they differ markedly.
Obama seems to have been born with politics in his vein. He became active in politics early in life as a community activist and moved rapidly upward from there. Carson, on the other hand, kept politics at a distance. He focused on his medical career, becoming the first surgeon to successfully separate twins who were joined at the head. He didn't join a political party until 2014, and only in preparation to run for the presidency.
Obama is an ultra liberal, who harnessed the angst of youth, minorities, women and gays to catapult him into office. Carson is a social and political conservative who appeals more to the mainstream. Obama galvanised supporters with the slogan, "Yes, we can." But to his more liberal policies, Carson would say no you don't.
Obama is a gifted orator, quintessentially adept at rousing voters. Carson is soft-spoken, sounding more like a surgeon issuing instructions to surgical assistants.
For a bit of trivia, Obama was 46 years old in 2007 and his black hair turned salt-and-pepper about two years into office. Carson is 63 and already has a salt-and-pepper hair ready to go.
It is definitely too early to begin to project the winner of the presidential election in 2016. After all, not a single primary has taken place. Still, Carson's trajectory makes the prospects for his election not so improbable and actually quite intriguing. Earlier polls had him close to the bottom of the 16-man and one-woman race. Now he is almost tied for the top position.
Add to that the emerging pattern in both parties' primaries. People who were presumed to have the easiest paths to nomination are all lagging or stumbling. On the Republican side, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was considered one of the best prospects. After all, his father and brother have both occupied the White house. Yet, despite a heavy campaign bank account, Bush has been lackluster and is falling in the polls.
The same fate has befallen the many other current or former state governors and senators who dominate the list of Republican candidates. None of them is showing up in double-digits in the national polls.
That leaves two non-politicians-Carson and Trump - to duel it out.
"(Republican) primary voters have yet to show much appetite for or excitement about their establishment candidates, instead rallying behind 'damn the system' candidates," Ben LaBolt, Obama's campaign strategist, said to Business Insider. "The rise of Carson and Trump suggests Bush, (Senator Marco) Rubio, et al. face a much steeper path than anticipated."
To Carson's advantage, Trump is an egotistic and uncouth lightning rod, who has alienated women and minorities, especially Hispanics. When a female televised debate moderator aggressively asked him questions, he said that she must have been menstruating. Oh, his language was much less civil. Trump has also derided the looks of Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard executive and only female candidate in the Republican race. And he has labeled Hispanic illegal immigrants rapists and criminals.
Trump's abrasiveness is in marked contrast with Carson's gentility and civility. Although Trump's style appeals to the damn-the-system conservative voters, it is likely that he will flame out eventually.
In contrast, Carson's sun will continue to rise. Even hardcore conservatives - among them countryside voters - may rally around him. They would reason that after the very liberal Obama, a black Republican president can't be too bad. Indeed, a Monmouth University poll released on Sept. 10 shows that only Carson would beat Trump in the Republican primaries if the field is whittled to just the two. According to the poll cited by Business Insider, Carson would beat Trump by a 55-36 margin.
If Carson wins the Republican primaries, his chances in the general elections would be at least just as good. In the Democratic primaries, former first lady, senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was the presumptive nominee. But lately her poll numbers have fallen sharply, dogged by allegations of impropriety in the handling of official emails. As Secretary of State, she apparently used her personal email for official business in contravention of security regulations. And her stonewalling on the issue has raised questions of trust in the mind of some voters.
Clinton's primary challenger is a socialist Democrat, Bernie Sanders, and he is gaining on Clinton by advocating economic policies that are a lot more liberal than Obama's.
Third in the Democratic poll is Vice President Joe Biden, who has not declared a candidacy and probably won't run. "We're dealing at home with … whether or not there is the emotional fuel at this time to run," Biden has been quoted as saying. "If I were to announce to run, I have to be able to commit to all of you that I would be able to give it my whole heart and my whole soul, and right now, both are pretty well banged up." He was alluding to the emotional impact of the recent death of his son.
It seems then that the Democrats will nominate either Clinton or Sanders. Both are establishment politicians running in a time of anti-establishment sentiments. If the non-politician Carson is nominated by the Republicans, he has a good chance of beating either.