James Forsyth

What effect will Bhutto’s assassination have on the presidential primaries?

What effect will Bhutto’s assassination have on the presidential primaries?
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Benazir Bhutto’s tragic death is dominating the news in the United States and could change the mood of the presidential primaries. The improvements on the ground in Iraq and the conclusion of the recent National Intelligence Estimate that Iran has suspended its nuclear weapon programme had made the world seem a much less dangerous place, and the focus of the primaries had shifted to domestic issues. This shift undoubtedly played a role in the rise of Mike Huckabee, the Republican former governor of Arkansas who has no foreign policy experience, and harmed Hillary Clinton, the Democrat with the toughest national security bona fides.

The question now is whether Bhutto’s assassination will transform the mood of the electorate in Iowa, who caucus on January third, and push them back towards the candidates they perceive as being strongest on national security issues. If it does, this might be enough to allow Hillary to pull off a come from behind win in Iowa. On the Republican side, the consequences are less clear. Huckabee would be hurt, but his closest rival in Iowa, Mitt Romney, is also a former governor with no real national security experience. The two Republicans who are perceived as strongest on the war on terror, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, are both hoping for a third place finish at best in Iowa. A new focus on international threats would, though, help McCain in New Hampshire—where he is just behind Romney—which votes on the eighth.

Iowa’s electorate is notoriously parochial and so the crisis in Pakistan could end up having little impact. Noticeably despite issuing statements on Bhutto’s death, both John Edwards and Obama today unveiled new domestic-oriented closing arguments—Edwards  a fiercely populist TV ad and Obama a new stump speech which potently mixes idealism and populism, hope and anger.  Clinton, meanwhile, is talking about the potential ramifications of Bhutto’s death and her readiness to lead from day one.    

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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