SYRACUSE, N.Y., Feb. 6 (UPI) -- It is 8:50 p.m. EST on Super Tuesday. I have just gotten off the phone with former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Wesley Clark.
Clark was my original choice for president. The Democratic Expat Leadership Council, of which I am vice chairman, had hosted him in London last year when he was still exploring a run for president. He and I had met before and chatted at length three years ago at a gala event with the American Friends of the Czech Republic in New York City. He was very impressive then. He was equally impressive in London, leading me to sign up to his election team. We have kept in touch since.
"Clinton is more than qualified to be commander in chief," Clark says to me via phone. He asks me to wait for a second. I hear him speaking to some of his advisers. "Sorry, Marc," he says. He continues, "Hillary is -- and will be -- a transformational leader." We agree to talk in an hour after more votes are in.
By 11 p.m. in the Democratic Primary, Clinton is called the winner in six states (Arkansas, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma and Tennessee). Barack Obama is called the winner in eight states (Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota and North Dakota).
In New York City, Clinton appears in front of her supporters and the media before the East Coast goes to sleep.
"After eight years of special interests in the White House, you are ready to bring in a president who has your values, who represents your dreams, who supports your issues."
She gets a resounding applause when she states, "My mother was born before women had the right to vote. Tonight she is watching me on this stage from her home."
Syracuse, in upstate New York, is home to one of the United States' outstanding public policy schools, the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. It is known in Washington for producing great government officials. Founded in 1924, it is one of the graduate schools of the well-respected Syracuse University. It happens to be my alma mater.
I call Stuart Eizenstat, the former deputy treasury secretary -- a ranking mind in U.S. public policy. Europeans know him for his role as both Bill Clinton's and George W. Bush's special representative on Holocaust-era issues. In the United States, Eizenstat is known as a statesman and is respected among both Republicans and Democrats.
"Hillary has had the better night, but Obama has done fine."
But the bigger story, says Eizenstat, is the Democrats system of proportional voting.
"The Republicans have a candidate tonight, but Obama will get enough votes for this battle to continue to the convention."
Eizenstat says the proportional representation, which allows no candidate to win outright in the Democratic Primary, is unhealthy. These changes came into effect in 1972 with reforms that Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern had advocated. Eizenstat adds that the remaining calendar favors Clinton because the economy will be the issue and working-class voters make up a significant base of the voters. "They will likely vote for Hillary," says Eizenstat.
I finally reach Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, the respected senior diplomat and undersecretary, who is on his way to Myanmar. Pickering has had some of the key portfolios in U.S. diplomacy including the United Nations, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel and India. "I don't see a large difference between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's foreign policy. It is a lot about personality and individual appeal. This is of course typically American." As to the Republicans? "McCain is a candidate who is mixing several areas of the traditional Republican base into one, while Romney is trying to capture the conservative and business-oriented voter."
By 11:30 p.m., Sen. John McCain, the Republican front-runner, has won seven states (his home state Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Oklahoma), former Gov. Mike Huckabee has won four states (his home state of Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia and West Virginia) and former Gov. Mitt Romney has also won four states (his home state Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota and Utah). The Republican system has the winner taking all.
Republican Dov S. Zakheim, the undersecretary of defense and comptroller from 2001-2004, said to me: "It looks extremely difficult for Romney. But one should not forget he has the financial stamina which allows him to fight another day."
Zakheim explains that McCain and Romney are both conservatives but reflect different traditions in the Republican Party.
"McCain doesn't fit a mold. Some conservatives prefer someone who fits a mold. McCain calls the issues as he sees them."
"McCain is the obvious front-runner. The question is how much he is in front?"
"But I want to go one step further," Zakheim says to me. "How do we put together a national ticket? "McCain brings foreign policy and security which means there is an obvious need to have someone as vice president who has a command of economics and business issues." He continues, "The ticket will have to focus on balance, but it will not be geographic as in the past. Instead it will be a question of internal (economic) and external (security) issues. People are not optimistic about the future, and agree or disagree, we cannot ignore that."
At 1 a.m., now Wednesday, Clinton has won eight states including California -- an important win for her. Obama has carried 13 diverse states from across the United States -- more than half the Super Tuesday states. It will be very close because the Democratic Primary is proportional.
Evan Matteo, a fundraiser and a director of the Northern California Alumni Club of MIT, says, "There is lots of excitement in California, and I sensed a groundswell for Obama. People were especially annoyed with Bill Clinton's comments about him." Obama carries Northern California, but loses much of the rest of the state.
As the night closes, McCain has won nine states, Romney six and Huckabee five. Several are too close to call. Romney has failed to reach his goal and is considered the loser, while Huckabee can celebrate a surprising showing. McCain is now the clear front-runner, "and I don't mind it at all," he says.
On the Democratic side, Clinton has carried 49 percent of the vote to Obama's 48 percent. Surprisingly, Obama carries the rural vote.
For the Democrats, it's off to the races. For Republicans, the race is almost over.
This is the first of a two-part series. Part two will offer comment from ranking Europeans.
(UPI Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. A venture capitalist with seats in Berlin and Prague, he is a member of the National Advisory Board of the U.S. Democratic Party and vice-chair of the Democratic Expat Leadership Council.)