1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Obama vs. Clinton

Jefferson ChaseFebruary 6, 2008

Democrats who live outside the US also cast ballots on Super Tuesday. And while voters in the US may be split between Obama and Clinton, the "beer-and-schnitzel" constituency in Berlin was clear about who it preferred.

Sign on door of restaurant
"Abroad" is the 51st state in the Democratic primaryImage: Lara Brekenfeld

The homespun German restaurant "Max and Moritz" in Berlin's Kreuzberg district got a taste of American-style grassroots democracy on Feb. 5. Hundreds of expat Democrats packed the place to cast their ballots in the party's "global primary."

The polling station was organized by the Berlin Chapter of Democrats Abroad Germany, which also accepts votes by Internet, fax and mail.

Unlike Republicans, Democrats cast meaningful ballots as expatriots. Voters who live outside the US have been allocated 22 delegates at the Democratic convention in Denver this summer.

The chairman of the organization, Michael Steltzer, said there were advantages to casting one's ballot as an expat.

"In terms of the number of voters per delegate, you have more clout if you vote with Democrats Abroad than, for instance, in California," Steltzer said.

voters in restaurant
Voters in Max and Moritz had to squeeze their way upstairsImage: Lara Brekenfeld

Steltzer -- a 60-year-old, long-time resident of the German capital who owns a kite and juggling supply shop -- said his organization has seen a huge influx of new members for this year's primary.

To quizzical stares from German diners, American voters waited in line for more than an hour to get into the cramped upstairs polling station, talking politics as they did.

Alia Schultz, a 23-year-old English teacher from North Carolina, said she was probably voting for Senator Barak Obama because she didn't trust Senator Hillary Clinton. She also said she was glad to have the chance to vote as an expat.

"It's really hard to get an absentee ballot and get it back on time," Schultz said. "Also, our primary isn't until May so this will probably make my vote count more."

Change trumps experience

Obama holds more appeal for ex-pats in BerlinImage: AP

While Democrats who reside in the US are evenly split between the two main candidates, the mood among Berlin expats was markedly pro-Obama. That is partly because they have other priorities than domestic voters.

"There's a big difference in the way we see the world," Democrats Abroad Berlin spokesman Jerry Gerber said. "For most Americans abroad, foreign policy -- and especially the Iraq War -- is a bigger issue. We're less concerned about things like education, health, immigration policy and the economy."

Following the pattern established in the US, Clinton's Berlin supporters tended to be older, more traditional Democrats.

"Obama is a nice fellow with lots of charm, but I don't think he has the experience and qualities you need to be president," said Nikolaus Ritter, an architect who's lived in Berlin since 1963. "I just think Hillary Clinton has more insight, especially into international affairs."

Obama supporters in the German capital were typically younger people, some with creative jobs and alternative lifestyles, who wanted to see a fresh approach in Washington.

Hillary Clinton
Clinton was unconcerned on Super Tuesday about losing KreuzbergImage: AP

"If Hillary were elected it would mean 24 years of Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton in the White House," said Jon Campbell, a 25-year-old artist who's just moved to Berlin. "That's insane. I mean, I like Hillary, so it almost doesn't make a difference to me. But though it's a bit of a cliche, I think Obama would bring some real change."

"I'm voting for Barack Obama first of all because I think he has a better chance in the general election against John McCain," said Jane Yaeger, a 30-year-old freelance writer. "I also find Obama more inspiring. I think he's the better person to unite the country and give it some hope in the current very difficult situation it's in."

The international voting still continues, and results from Berlin won't be publicized until February 21. In mid-March, the numerous chapters of Democrats Abroad around the world gather in Vancouver, Canada to choose their Democratic convention delegates.

Media frenzy

Voters camera team in restaurant
German media love the Obama-Clinton raceImage: Lara Brekenfeld

Part of the reason lines were so long at Max and Moritz was that camera teams kept getting in voters' way to the ballot box, adorned with the obligatory donkey symbol. This year's Democratic vote has attracted unprecedented German media interest in a primary.

"Germans are fascinated because they see the contrast to their own system," Gerber said. "It's not like here where the parties decide on lists on candidates who are the only ones the electorate then gets to vote for. It's very democratic."

Gerber added that he thought that the clash of two clearly contrasting personalities, and the issue of a white woman running against a black man, created a made-for-television story.

Indeed, journalists in Max Moritz were falling all over themselves to talk to a black woman in the voting line, no doubt assuming that she could arbitrate the tricky question of race versus gender that has featured in so much reporting about the primary.

Voter in restaurant
The prospect of Bush's exit has Democrats looking upImage: Lara Brekenfeld

Voters, however, seemed more concerned with Obama and Clinton as individuals than with their gender or ethnic identity. And most said they would likely support the other candidate in November, if their preferred choice failed to secure the Democratic nomination.

Such unity is good news for the Democrats, whose main priority remains recapturing the White House.

"There's light at the end of tunnel," Gerber said. "Whoever wins, Bush will be gone."

With Obama and Clinton currently running a dead heat, the "beer-and-schnitzel vote" -- together with ballots from other Democrats residing abroad -- could play a role in determining November's Democratic presidential ticket.