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Is Berlin the Next Florida? Der Besuch von Obama aus der Sicht der Republicans und Democrats Abroad

With Barack Obama speaking at the Siegessäule, the American presidential campaign has definitely arrived in Germany. We spoke with Jan Burdinski, program director for Republicans Abroad Germany, and Jerry Gerber, presssecretary for Democrats Abroad Berlin, about the impact of the election in Germany and the possible role of Americans living here.


tapmag: So you’re an American living in Berlin?

Jan Burdinski: No, I’m a Berliner who thinks America is great, and who always stood for a strong foreign and security policy, with a very clear fiscal policy, meaning less taxes.

tapmag: Traditionally, Republicans have some problems abroad. Aren’t you always the underdog?

Burdinski: It varies. Gallup conducted a survey for the 2004 election and in South Korea, Poland and Bulgaria, Bush would have won against Kerry. He would have lost in Germany. We’re not doing this out of opportunism but because we believe in certain issues. If 90 % of the people here think Obama will be elected President, as 90 % thought Kerry would become President, I’ll just say, okay. Let’s see on the evening of November 4th and then the White House will be ours after all.

tapmag: Let’s wait for Florida.

Burdinski: I had a conversation with a Democrat a short while ago and she said, “I’m a Hillary Democrat and I will never ever vote for Obama.” That’s great, I wouldn’t vote for him either, but then I also wouldn’t vote for Hillary. He’s been in the Senate for three and a half years, has relatively little experience. Someone from Deutsche Welle called me and asked, “What’s your comment on him coming to Germany?” I said, it’s about time. If he wants to be President, someday he should talk to the important international partners.

tapmag: What about McCain, is he coming?

Burdinski: McCain will visit Europe before Election Day, and will of course talk with France, England and Germany. He had been traveling in Latin America. Why? Immigration is an important issue and Obama has shown that he doesn’t reach Latino voters, they all went for Hillary. Now there’s ground to claim. If Blacks all vote for Obama, and Latinos for McCain, they’re about equal and it comes down to the still white majority. Especially in the big, red corridor, the “Flyoverland”, as it is arrogantly called, Republicans are still doing very well.

tapmag: So you’re still optimistic?

Burdinski: There’s going to be a bloodbath in the Senate and the House of Representatives, but I believe we will keep the White House. America is not ready to elect a black President.

tapmag: Race is still the deciding factor?

Burdinski: McCain won’t make it an issue, and I think it’s good that way, but there are going be groups somewhere that say, “Guys, think about it.” And there’s going to be people who won’t even think about it and just say, “We won’t vote for a black guy.” That’s regrettable, but true.

tapmag: How important are the American expats for the presidential election, how strongly do you have to court the Americans living in Germany?

Burdinski: We have a series of states that are hugely important, like Ohio, which I believe was decided by one or one and half percentage points last time. It was somewhere around 150,000 votes. There are far more expats than those who have voted, so even here one can make a difference. I would encourage every American, regardless of how he’ll vote, to register and exercise his right to vote. Afterwards we’ll fight over who he will vote for.

tapmag: Thank you.


tapmag: Why all the enthusiasm for Obama?

Jerry Gerber: Obama is now a kind of household item, like Tempo, he is very popular. He might disappoint some people, sure, but at the moment he’s what attracts people.

tapmag: Is he comparable to any other Democratic presidential candidate?

Gerber: Kennedy, maybe, something new after Eisenhower, who wasn’t a bad president but older. I don’t know if there are others, Clinton, partially, his campaign is 1992 was also based on this slogan, “something new, at last something new”. But there is something else because for the first time an African American could move into the White House. That always plays a role.

tapmag: The Republican we talked to said this might be a fact that prevents Obama from reaching the White House, that America is not ready for a black president.

Gerber: You could also say that McCain doesn’t reach many Americans because America is not ready for an old president, he’s 72. Or a continuation of the last eight years. I don’t know whether America is ready for a black president, whether it is mature enough. And Obama always says , “it’s unimportant. My color is not important.” It might matter for some people but for him it’s not important. And he’s right. It’s not about electing a black president, but about ending a period of bad presidents. That’s what’s it about. A new era is coming. Whether a white, half-white, green, brown or black man sits in the White House is not important.

tapmag: What role do the expats play?

Gerber: A big role. Of course you could say that we only play a big role if we have voters from the famous swing states. Most of us are from states like New York, New Jersey, California…

tapmag: Not exactly swing states…

Gerber: … California is not a swing state, New York isn’t any more. New Jersey not really either. Some are from Florida, but that’s not important. Apart from the fact that it is a duty to go and vote it is possible that all voter abroad together have an effect, even in the Electoral College. Obama plays a big role here. Because he stood in the primaries, the interest in this campaign has been huge. Many people are Democrats and said that they now want to vote. They wanted to vote in the primaries. Many of them did not vote before. They used their passport to travel to the States but forgot to vote. But now they do. I believe there’s going to be a huge number of voters in November.

tapmag: Did you have an influx of new members at Democrats Abroad?

Gerber: Yes, many new people, people we didn’t have before. We now have a group of young people, we tried that before but it never worked. We now have many events that we didn’t have before. Granted, it’s got a lot do with the campaign, but everything is lively now.

tapmag: What’s your strategy to reach members, especially when it’s about convincing them to go and vote. What do you do, do you write them?

Gerber: We have lists, but not of all Americans in Berlin. There are 20,000 of them, we don’t have that many in our lists. But we go where they might gather. For example, we have flyers at cinemas like Odeon, Babylon in Kreuzberg, Hackesche Höfe or at cafes. We are also trying to be there when there are events. When there’s a gathering of people, we’re there and distribute flyers or buttons. We sell or sometimes give away stuff, that we have to pay for by ourselves. We have a little money for advertisements, we put two of them in the Ex-Berliner. We try to go to people and rely on them to tell their German or American friends, “Hey, there’s a meeting at…”

tapmag: When Obama is coming to Berlin, what’s his motivation? Is it about demonstrating that he is knowledgeable in international relations?

Gerber: Yeah, sure. He also sits on the Committee for Foreign Relations in the Senate and it’s normal for a Senator on this committee to make trips abroad. But certainly it is useful for campaign to show his compatriots that he’s traveling abroad. He apparently also wants to visit Jordan and Israel, also France, Great Britain and Germany - Berlin. He going to talk to Chancellor Merkel. And it probably won’t hurt if he’s photographed here, in front of the Brandenburg Gate. It can only help the Brandenburg Gate, and maybe him as well.

tapmag: Thank you.

Gerber: One thing at the end: I don’t want to be Vice President.

(Kolja Langnese und Dirk Jacquemien)