A battleground fit for a bigot
It is fitting, perhaps, that billionaire Donald Trump could seal his nomination as the Republican presidential candidate in the state of Indiana, a conservative state that last year legalised the right of business to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Indiana is the battleground this week as voters get a chance on Tuesday to start sealing their choices for the final Republican and Democratic presidential candidates.
Everyone is in town this weekend, breathing life and colour into a quiet, nondescript state.
Republican rivals Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, and former president and husband of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, are speaking at events throughout Indiana in a bid to win over undecided voters.
The gatherings are much like party manifesto launch rallies in South Africa.
Each candidate tries to score a psychological victory but offers little substance as he or she engages in a lot of razzmatazz.
But no venue could be more suited to a political contest than Indiana.
Last year, the state passed the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act that allows businesses to refuse to serve LGBT individuals and to cite their faith as a justification for their actions. The law has been condemned and efforts have been made to soften it, but it remains in place in this deeply Republican state.
John Zody, the chairperson of the Indiana state Democratic Party, which unsuccessfully opposed the bill, said it had cost the state as much as $250 million (R3.5 billion) in investment, as companies now refuse to do business there. Indiana could lose out, too, on hosting major sports events as the backlash throughout the US takes root.
Meanwhile, the names of the two contestants for the US presidency could be clear by Wednesday morning.
The strong favourites are Donald Trump on the side of the Republicans, and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party. They are likely to consolidate their positions in what has turned out to be an exciting race that galvanised interest among people who have never voted.
The biggest talking points have been just how unexpectedly well Trump has performed, as did Clinton’s rival, the 74-year-old Bernie Sanders.
Sanders, a socialist not supported by the Democratic Party hierarchy, has surprisingly attracted major support from young voters and first-time voters. He could hurt the party by not endorsing Clinton if he does not win the nomination.
Motormouth Trump was also not considered to be a serious player when he first raised his hand to enter the race.
But the reality television celebrity’s shock tactics of speaking his mind without a care for who he offends have won him massive support.
He is well ahead of Ted Cruz and John Kasich, who have entered into a pact not to oppose each other in order to defeat Trump.
The popularity of Trump has created a dilemma for the party hierarchy – many more voters are participating in the elections because they are drawn to him, but the Grand Old Party is worried that it could lose not only the presidency, but the House of Representatives (congress) which they control, because of him.
Republican polls show that Trump has alienated female voters with his reckless comments. This week, he accused Clinton of relying only on the “women card” to win the elections.
“Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5% of the vote,” he said.
“I think the only thing she’s got going for her is the fact that she’s a woman. She is playing that hard, like I have never seen anyone play it before. And the beautiful thing is that women don’t like her.”
Trump’s campaigners defend him by saying his uncomfortable truths are what have earned him credibility among people fed up with dishonest, mainstream politicians. They say that if he tones it down to act more “presidential”, he might lose his selling point and attraction.
But several polls show that while that might be attractive for Republican voters, it could cost the party support in the general elections.
Trump is already unpopular among AfricanAmericans and Latin Americans (Hispanics), after he accused Mexicans of being rapists and threatened to build a large wall to stop them from entering the US.
Research, conducted by the Pew Research Centre, showed that Hispanics were growing as a voting bloc, increasing from constituting 7% of the electorate in 2000 to 12% of voters this year.
The Republicans have always relied heavily on white voters, but the proportion of white supporters in the US has declined from 78% of the electorate in the 1970s to 64%.
However, Republican voters are more likely than the younger generation of voters who support the Democrats to turn up and vote.
Republican spokesperson Sean Spicer said that once the party had concluded its internal process of choosing a nominee, they would all rally around the candidate and make sure they presented the conservative agenda in a positive way.
Both parties have brought forward their conventions by a month to give their candidates more time to promote their respective bids.
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REPUBLICAN Donald Trump at a campaign event in Evansville, Indiana, this week
DEMOCRAT this week Hillary Clinton at a primary election rally in Philadelphia, Indiana,