Ten issues that will shape the election after New Hampshire

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It won't be long now before pundits begin tallying up the winners and losers of today's New Hampshire primary. Heck, some of the conventional wisdom is probably typed up and ready to go already. But elections are about far more than just who's up and who's down at any given moment—billions of dollars and lives will be affected by the man or woman who becomes the next leader of the free world. Herewith, 10 issues and forces that will shape the race to come:

  1. Oil prices. If editors at FP could accurately forecast the price of crude, we'd be in a different business. But one thing we're confident about? The candidates are going to be telling fairy tales about "energy independence" and "weaning the U.S. economy off of oil" right up until Election Day. And voters will go right on tanking up their SUVs.
  2. Immigration. With South Carolina and Florida both holding primaries in the next three weeks, watch for immigration to become a—dare we say, the—major issue of the campaign. The front page of the Columbia State put it this way: "Immigration dominates GOP issues in S.C." This issue will be a particularly hot one for Republicans, and none more so than John McCain.
  3. Iraq. By now, even the most hardcore Democratic partisans have conceded that violence is way down in Iraq. But as U.S. Gen. David Petraeus himself admits, "it is a fragile achievement," and political reconciliation is a ways off. Have most voters locked in their preference for withdrawal? Or if the facts on the ground continue to change, will McCain, a fervent surge advocate, um, surge ahead in the Republican primaries?
  4. Barack Obama. If, as the polls suggest he will, Obama emerges from New Hampshire as the Democratic front runner, he'll have to start talking about how exactly he plans to institute "change," particularly when it comes to foreign policy. Thus far, Obama's performance on this front has left more questions than answers. His advisors, led by Samantha Power, Tony Lake, and Susan Rice, will now be hard pressed to explain how, exactly, Obama plans to "restore our standing in the world." The Obama camp is already said to be working on a major address on international affairs, so we may find out soon enough if Barack can move beyond bland platitudes.
  5. Dubya. Love him or hate him, the current president of the United States is unlikely to be much of a factor in this election. He's. Not. Running. Whether it's Iraq or the price of gas, Republican candidates hardly mention him. Yes, Democrats still love to invoke the dreaded specter of Bush, if last Saturday's debates are any indication. But they may soon find out that the Bush-bashing that brought John Kerry within spitting distance of the presidency won't cut it this time around, either.
  6. China. With the U.S. trade deficit with China ballooning, a possible recession looming, and the controversial Beijing Olympics coming this August, expect a noticeable uptick in harsh words for China on the campaign trail. The China-bashing will take the form of protectionist economic proposals and calls for improved human rights—though if the past is any guide, the victorious candidate will no doubt change his or her tune come November 5.
  7. The Bloomberg effect. Will he or won't he? New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg swears he isn't interested in the Oval Office, but that hasn't stopped the bipartisan buzz. With billions to self-finance a campaign, a growing national (and international) profile, a pet cause in climate change, and a solid track record in New York, Mr. Independent could siphon votes away from both the Democrats and the Republicans if he were to make it a three-way race. At the very least, any candidate who wins a Bloomberg endorsement can count on a bump, though there are few signs Mayor Mike would lend his influence to anyone in the current crop of hopefuls.
  8. The world weighs in. This presidential race is unique in a thousand different ways, but perhaps none more so than in the intense global interest 11 months out from Election Day. Hundreds of foreign reporters have descended on Iowa and New Hampshire trying to make sense of Huckabee's rising popularity and Clinton's declining poll numbers. Blogs, editorials, and campaign coverage from around the world are showing that non-Americans aren't interested in sitting on the sidelines as passive spectators. There's too much on the line.
  9. A Rudy shift? After being soundly rejected by voters in Iowa and, by all indications, New Hampshire, will Rudy Giuliani finally abandon his platform of fear? In an election that is increasingly being defined by forward-looking strategies, Giuliani continues to look backward. Memo to Rudy: Nuance has returned to the foreign-policy debate and if you want to be competitive, you'd better start talking about something other than how Islamofascists are out to destroy us. As one Republican voter in New Hampshire told the Wall Street Journal: "I don't want to hear about fear anymore."
  10. The X factor. Anything can happen between now and November, let alone "Super Tuesday" on February 5: a coup in Pakistan, North Korea falling off the nuclear wagon, a flareup with Iran, or even a sudden flowering of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. The press loves to troll for gaffes by under-briefed presidential hopefuls, so we advise memorizing things like the names of the top dozen or so Pakistani generals, the sectarian makeup of various terrorist groups, and the phrase "nobody should upset the status quo in the Taiwan Strait."

-This post written by Mike Boyer, Blake Hounshell, and Carolyn O'Hara


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(Hat tip: gurBlogs)