Obama holds the edge for Swiss Americans

Barack Obama: one of two Democrat candidates for the next United States president Keystone

As the battle for the Democrat candidacy enters its final phase, Americans with Swiss connections are taking to Barack Obama.

This content was published on April 21, 2008 - 21:44

But with primaries still to come on Tuesday in Pennsylvania, followed by Indiana and North Carolina on May 6, Hillary Clinton has vowed to fight all the way to her party's convention in August.

Clinton had the early lead in the contest, especially in states like Pennsylvania. But ahead of the latest primary, she has fewer delegates and has seen a significant lead in the state shrink to a single-digit difference.

That's because floating voters seem now to be choosing Obama. Emily Muelly is one of them. Muelly, a 25-year-old American, is married to a Swiss from canton Schwyz and plans to apply for Swiss citizenship this summer.

"My choice for Obama is not definite, but pretty strong," she told swissinfo from her home in Pennsylvania.

Given that the two Democrat candidates have a nearly identical programme, it's their personality that will probably make the difference.

"I don't like the way Hillary Clinton is running her campaign," Muelly said. "The personal attacks and the way she passes from a lack of emotion to crying seems a little artificial."

The indecision felt by many voters often comes from the fact that they don't want to choose the wrong person to face Republican candidate John McCain in November.

"It's important to select someone who can win the election, and that's why I have taken so long to make up my mind," Muelly explained. "When it all began, I thought Obama was further to the left than Clinton and couldn't be elected."

When asked if Obama's origins could hinder him in a presidential race, she admitted it was also a concern.

US image abroad

Clinton has an important supporter base in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Madeleine Kunin, a Zurich-born former governor of Vermont, has been backing the former First Lady.

"Hillary will bring change and I am really happy to support the first woman who is qualified to become president," said Kunin, who also served as the US ambassador in Switzerland.

In Indiana, Irene Sprunger hasn't decided yet whom she will support, but she is leaning towards Obama. The former shop owner, whose parents emigrated from Switzerland in 1922, is mainly concerned about the economy.

"We need a president who keep jobs here instead of letting them go abroad," she said. "I know a lot of people who don't have jobs, have lost their homes and whose savings for their children's college tuition are gone."

When it comes to Iraq, Sprunger says she is concerned by the "the horrible amount of money and the young lives being lost" in the Middle East.

She is also worried by the US's image abroad. "I write a lot to my family in Switzerland and they all think that the US no longer has the prestige it once had," she added.

On the west coast, Vinz Koller in California is also concerned about the US's reputation. "It's a shock to see that people in Switzerland and elsewhere consider the US a huge threat because of President Bush."

California chose Clinton in its primary on February 5 but Koller, who was born in Schaffhausen in 1963 and has been American since 2002, prefers Obama. Head of the Democratic Party in Monterey county, he has been heavily involved in the Illinois senator's campaign.

Attractive to Republicans

Koller reckons Obama would have better chances of being elected than Clinton because he attracts more independent voters and even some Republicans.

"There are many Republicans who think Bush has betrayed the party's ideals, particularly with the war in Iraq, and that Obama is the best candidate to get us out of this situation," he said.

Hans Moser is one Republican who is unhappy with the current state of affairs, although he is no fan of Obama or Clinton and does not plan to vote for either. He doesn't think much of McCain either.

"He's not a good candidate," he said. "He's an opportunist and gets angry too easily."

Bernese-born Moser, a Baptist, quit as head of the Republican Party in his district of North Carolina and has not been active during the campaign. "I supported Mike Huckabee because he was an evangelical, was discreet about his faith and didn't talk much about the Bible because politics and religion shouldn't mix," he said.

But Moser says he would be more enthusiastic about a McCain candidacy if he chose Condoleezza Rice as his running partner.

"Condie is young, she would be the first woman on the Republican ticket, and if Obama was the opposition, she would be the right partner, especially since she enjoys a good reputation in Switzerland," he said.

swissinfo, Marie-Christine Bonzom in Washington

No community vote

The number of Americans with Swiss origins is estimated to be around 1.2 million. There were 52,415 dual nationals at the end of last year.

The states with the highest number of these "Swiss Americans" are California, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

There is no such thing as a "Swiss" vote. The Swiss community is so old and spread out that no political party dominates.

Americans of Swiss origin don't have an issue around which to build a community, unlike immigration for Latinos or the Middle East conflict for Jews and Muslims.

According to Erdmann Schmocker, who has chronicled the community's history, Americans of Swiss origin tend to mirror the concerns of most American voters.

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