72-Year-Old Fringe Left Candidate Wins Presidency in Austrian Run-Off Election -- Is There a Lesson Here for Sanders?
A 72-year-old college professor named Alexander van der Bellen, running for president as the candidate of the leftist Austrian Green Party, a fringe party that had never been considered a serious contender in post-war Austrian politics, just won a narrow 50.3/49.7 percent victory over Norbert Hofer, a right-wing candidate of the neo-fascist Freedom Party who had been favored to win.
The run-off, held on Sunday, but not decided until today when some 750,000 mail-in ballots were finally counted, was held after an initial presidential election contest on April 24 in which no candidate won a majority of the vote. In that first contest, voters humiliated the candidates of Austria's two establishment parties, the center-right Austrian People's Party, and the center left Austrian Socialist Party, who came in fourth and fifth with 11% each behind Hofer (35%) and van der Bellen (21%) as well as an independent candidate who won 18.5% of the vote.
In the two-person run-off, most Socialist Party voters, many independents, as well as some People's Party conservatives, apparently voted for van der Bellen, so as to ensure that the Freedom Party's Hofer not become the first European head of state since the fall of Nazi Germany to hail from the far right.
For an American looking at this (and I was actually in Vienna for much of last week during the final days of the run-off campaign), there was a distinct sense that I was looking at a possible scenario for the upcoming US general election.
After all, we too have a crusty 70-something socialist, always considered a fringe political figure, running for president and he is proving to be surprisingly popular.
If we look at the Democratic primary as a kind of general election (given that until the ascendancy of fringe neo-fascist candidate Donald Trump, nobody was giving the Republican Party much of a chance at winning the presidency, no matter who the Democrats ultimately nominated), let's just suppose things go the way all the pundits are predicting, and Hillary Clinton wins the nomination. Everyone knows that she is one of America's most disliked and distrusted political figures, outside of her base within elements of the Democratic Party. Independents don't like her, and Republicans loath her. Not surprisingly, Trump, the presumptive candidate of the Republican Party (since all the rest of quit the primary race at this point), is gaining in popularity as he moves away from some of his more incendiary primary positions, and polls now show him tied or actually ahead of Clinton.