You may have heard your parents talking about the elections that are going on now, but it’s a little strange because no one around here seems to be voting.
Don’t worry, they soon will be!
What’s going on is the earliest stage of the presidential election campaign, when individual states help choose the final candidates to run for president. The presidential election will be held November 6, and the process leading up to that is pretty long and complicated.
There are two main political groups in this country, Republicans and Democrats, who tend to have different ideas about how to fix the nation’s biggest problems. Each of these political parties, as they are known, needs to nominate someone to run for president. (You may see the Republican Party referred to as the GOP; that’s short for its nickname, the Grand Old Party.)This year Republicans are choosing a candidate to run against President Obama, who is a Democrat. Because he plans to run for a second four-year term as president, he will be the candidate for the Democrats.
Obama is what’s known as an incumbent — that is, a person who currently holds an elected position. The incumbent president is almost always chosen as the candidate of his political party. Rarely, if the incumbent is unpopular, someone of his (or her) party may challenge him for the party’s nomination.
Here’s how the process of choosing and electing a president works:
Early in a presidential election year, the party that is running against the incumbent president (in this case, the Republicans) starts holding elections in each state to choose a presidential candidate. (If the incumbent president isn’t running again, both parties hold these elections.) These elections are called either primaries or caucuses.
So far, Republican voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have cast their votes, and Floridians will vote Tuesday. By the end of June, every state, U.S. territory and the District of Columbia will have held these elections. Virginia’s primary is March 6. Maryland and the District hold theirs on April 3.
The first few states to vote are considered the most important, because if one candidate wins most or all of the early contests, that person has a big advantage over his competitors. It’s a little like a lopsided football game: Once a team is up by 15 or 20 points, it’s extremely hard for the other team to catch up. But that is not the case this year, as a different Republican candidate has won each of the first three elections.
Who is running?
There are four remaining candidates competing to be the Republican presidential nominee. Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, whose father was governor of Michigan, won the New Hampshire primary. The winner in South Carolina was Newt Gingrich, who was once the speaker of the House of Representatives, a position that put him second in line to succeed the president (behind the vice president). Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, won in Iowa. The fourth candidate is Ron Paul, a doctor who is now a congressman from Texas.