With everyone’s attention on the war in Iraq, it may seem odd to start talking about an election which is still 19 months away but the race for the November 2004 American presidency is already hotting up.

A successful wartime president, such as George W Bush seems likely to be, would appear to be unbeatable -“ except that his father, George Bush Sr, was indeed beaten in 1992.

Gay and lesbian activists are almost unanimous in wanting to see a Democrat win the White House in 2004. Although Bush’s administration has not been as overtly homophobic as past Republican administrations, it is not exactly gay-friendly. The Republicans are still the party of choice of the homophobes of the religious right.

In the Democrat stakes, gays and lesbians are spoilt for choice.

This time around the community is blessed to have many candidates who are good on our issues, a gay Washington, DC, power broker David Mixner recently told American gay and lesbian news magazine The Advocate. Suddenly, it is not enough to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and hate-crime legislation. Those are the mom-and-apple-pie issues. Now there is a much wider range of issues, including civil unions, to consider when evaluating candidates.

Two candidates drawing a lot of support from gay and lesbian activists are Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Dean has staked out the ultra-liberal corner of the race for the Democratic nomination. As governor, he introduced the nation’s first law recognising same-sex partnerships.

In a cover interview with The Advocate last month Dean said that the Vermont battle over civil unions was one of the things that first got him thinking about a presidential bid.

I realised that if I could get through the 2000 [Vermont gubernatorial] election, I could certainly handle what the Republicans could throw at me nationally. And I had no doubt about the righteousness of the cause and wanted to help take it to the rest of the country, Dean said.

The difficulty that both Dean and Kerry face is that they have been vocal opponents of the war in Iraq, a war which has garnered stronger support as it has drawn to a quick and victorious end.

It is highly unlikely that Americans will be inclined to elect someone who has opposed a popular and successful war.

Many would argue that Bill Clinton did not get to run against Bush Sr in 1992 because he was the most talented person in the Democratic Party. He was nominated because he was the only prominent Democrat who had supported the Gulf War -“ and the Democrats knew that anyone who had opposed the war would be unelectable.

But nothing is certain in politics. Although Bush is riding strong on the back of the coalition victory in Iraq, the Guardian recently reported that there are signs that his popularity is brittle because of perceived weakness on domestic issues.

Where does that leave the Democrats in 2004? Anti-war sentiment among Democrat activists might well get Dean or (more likely) Kerry the nomination, but their chances against Bush would be small to nonexistent.

That leaves the one prominent Democrat who is supporting the war -“ Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. Lieberman, despite being a hawk on the war, is a liberal on most domestic matters, and has taken a moderately favourable position on gay rights.

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