As leading Tico politicians gear up for their own 2010 presidential campaigns, their eyes now are on the historic elections to the north.
Democratic nominee Barack Obama appeals to leaders of the left-leaning CitizenAction Party (PAC) and the center-right Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), while Republican candidate John McCain attracts the leader of the Libertarian Movement Party (ML).
Former Vice President Laura Chinchilla, who resigned last week to campaign for president on the National Liberation Party (PLN) ticket, would not choose a favorite.
She praised McCain as having “great experience” and for showing “independence” from his party, while she called Obama “refreshing” and “inspirational.”
On foreign policy, she agrees with Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war, but she opposes his more protectionist stance on free trade.
But Kevin Casas, who shared the vice presidency with Chinchilla until he resigned last year, sides with Obama.
“Obama would be better in terms of restoring the prestige of the U.S. in Latin America and the world,” he said. “(He) would convey a very … powerful message of change.”
PLN has historically identified itself with the Democratic Party. PUSC has traditionally aligned with the Republicans. In 1984, PUSC leaders Luis Fishman and Rafael Angel Calderón Jr. attended the Republican National Convention in Dallas, where President Ronald Reagan was nominated for reelection. Roger Ailes, a media consultant to Reagan, advised Calderón on his successful 1990 presidential campaign.
Fishman said he does not think McCain and Obama are substantially different. But he is supporting Obama because, he said, eight years is enough for the Republicans to hold the White House.
“It’s good to alternate the (party) in power,” he said. “It strengthens democracy.”
That philosophy goes likewise for Costa Rica, where Calderón is hoping to recapture the presidency in 2010 after four years of PLN leadership.
For different reasons, Obama appeals to left-wing Ottón Solís, who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2002 and 2006 and will likely run again in 2010 on the Citizen Action Party (PAC) ticket.
Although Obama voted against the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), Solís hopes Obama would renegotiate the pact as president.
Among other things, Solís wants to maintain tariffs on Tico agricultural goods, eliminate international arbitration and give the Costa Rican government more power to regulate multinational companies.
“If Obama is in power, and there is a Costa Rican government eagerly interested in a renegotiation, then we open the door,” he said.
Solís said he also favors Obama because he is “inspirational” and will help redeem the United States’ image, which he said has been badly damaged by its use of torture and extrajudicial detention and for waging a war in Iraq “based on untruths.”
While Solís was initially pleased to see a woman on the Republican ticket, he called vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin “right-wing and simplistic.”
At the other end of the political spectrum is Otto Guevara, who ran for president on the Libertarian Movement ticket in 2002 and 2006. He likes U.S. Libertarian candidate Bob Barr, who polls at about 2 percent, but as between the major party candidates, he said, McCain is the “lesser of two evils.”
He finds attractive McCain’s strong support for free trade, gun ownership rights, offshore drilling and restrictions on abortion.
He said he likes that Palin is “tenacious,” “determined” and “an average American” with five kids.
Still, Guevara said Obama would be better able to improve U.S. relations in the world. He added that the idea of a minority black president has “sex appeal.”
“He represents the dream of minorities to be represented.”