Americans in Sweden head to the polls

Americans in Sweden head to the polls
Americans living in Sweden who are registered Democrats voted online or at a Stockholm coffee shop on Tuesday, casting their ballots for presidential candidate Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton in the most dramatic U.S. primary election in decades. Expatriate Republicans voted for their candidate of choice via absentee ballots.

Harried Americans had to run a gauntlet past inquisitive Swedish print and TV journalists at Tully’s coffee shop on Götgatan in order to make their way to the voting booth. Local interest in the contest has been immense in this country, and not only among overseas Yanks. With the war in Iraq waging, the world’s largest economy ailing and climate change threatening, it should perhaps not be too surprising that Europeans are nearly as engaged as Americans in the outcome of the presidential election.

Michael Timm, originally from St. Louis, Missouri, was nursing a latte at one of Tully’s white formica tables and trying to make up his mind how to cast his ballot: “Its tough to decide because I like both Clinton and Obama. I’d like to be able to vote for both of them.”

Chrisha Zampas, a 40 year lawyer from New York, had found her candidate:

“I like Barack Obama. It’s time for a really fresh change, someone from outside the Beltway (Washington, D.C. area) who isn’t so immersed in the bureaucratic machinery of politics.”

Before clearing away some plates to make way for more voters, she added: “I also like his vision of closing the gap between the poor and the rich. That resonates with me.”

Mike Jarmon, a filmmaker originally from North Carolina, had a personal reason for supporting Obama: “For someone like me from the South, the idea of voting for an African-American means something special.” He added in passing that one of his grandfathers was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

In all, some 6 million Americans in 30 nations are lining up this week to make their voice heard in the U.S. Presidential Primary.

For the first time ever, registered overseas Democrats can cast their ballot by telefax, snail-mail or online with a click on their computer. Also new this year, the overseas Democrats will be treated as a 51st state, entitled to 23 delegates at the National Convention.

“This is like a global election,” says Bill Borden, chairman of Democrats Abroad in Sweden. “The Democratic Party has had representatives visiting Europe and fundraising. Now, they know that we count.”

Stockholm resident Sandy Manson, formerly from California, had not yet received her Internet ballot when we chatted early Tuesday, but she was excited about taking part in the primary: “I’m a Hillary girl. She has more experience, and I like her background in family law. She has made her mistakes in the past about healthcare, but now she knows exactly what will work and can make it happen.”

“I really wanted the Democratic nominee to be John Edwards,” says Stockholm resident Anne von Bergen. “He is the only candidate who made a promise to pull the troops out of Iraq as soon as possible. I feel that both Obama and Clinton can do the executive branch job, but Hillary- although not particularly likable- has more direct experience. She’s been a senator longer, and she’s done a good job for New York.”

Expat American Rebecca Foreman, a Republican originally from Texas, won’t be voting in in this round because she’s mad about the length of the primary campaign as well as its tone. “In the primary, the Republican candidates always seem to appeal to the extreme right, the religious right. When the national campaign gets going they shift positions and become mainstream,” she explains.

Billy Mc Cormac at Sweden’s conservative think-tank Timbro, on the other hand, has no objection to the very long primary campaign: “I’m a political junkie, so I wouldn’t mind if the U.S. primary went on for three years.”

McCormac, who hails originally from San Francisco, favors Republican frontrunner John McCain for president: “He is a principled guy.” He also points out that war-hero McCain has been willing to cooperate when necessary with Democratic opponents to get things done, “and I like his angry stand against “pork barrel” (costly projects benefiting a local constituency that that are pushed through Congress in return for support for a certain piece of national legislation).

Nevertheless, lifelong Republican McCormac acknowledges that 71-year-old McCain will have a disadvantage if his Democratic opponent turns out to be the visionary and youthful Barack Obama, who has electrified audiences from Nebraska to New Jersey: “I think that McCain can beat Clinton, but he might have a tough time against Obama.”