World Captivated by US Presidential Race

Germans are gaga over Barack Obama. He's got Japan pretty jazzed, too, along with Hillary Rodham Clinton. Russia's leaders, not so much: They prefer a Republican - as long as it's not Kremlin critic John McCain.

And Mexico's president? He doesn't have much use for any of them.

America's extraordinary presidential campaign has captivated politicians and ordinary people around the globe. With so much at stake in the race for the White House, the world is watching with an intensity that hasn't been seen since the Clinton era began in 1992.

After eight years of President Bush, the latest mantra in U.S. politics - "transformational change" - is resonating across the rest of a planet desperate for a fresh start.

"They feel there's a real chance to work with the U.S.," said Julianne Smith, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. "America's image in the world is really on the line."

Non-Americans, she said, are looking for someone who can "restore faith in the United States."

Obama, perhaps not surprisingly, is generating most of the buzz abroad.

"Der schwarze Kennedy," some German admirers are calling him: "The black JFK."

"He is young, charming and sexy!" the mass-circulation newspaper Bild gushed. "Obama is now the ideal projection screen for hopes and expectations in Europe" and the U.S. alike, said Christian Hacke, a professor at the University of Bonn.

"I like him. I like his ideas, his attitude, his appearance. I prefer him to Hillary Clinton, who is more artificial," said Eva Berto, a Rome doctor who thinks Obama would bring a new approach to the crisis in Iraq and the nuclear standoff with Iran.

Japanese media are closely tracking both Obama and the woman they refer to simply as "Hillary," and focusing on the possibility that either could make history.

"The idea since the country's founding - 'You can't become president if you're not a white man' - has already been destroyed," the Mainichi newspaper said in an editorial.

But in Europe, where some see Obama as untested, support for Clinton is widespread, and nostalgia for her husband's charisma runs deep. When scandals rocked the Clinton White House, most Europeans responded with a Gallic shrug.

"Nobody in Europe ever took Bill Clinton's problems in office seriously," said Patrick Dunleavy, a political scientist at the London School of Economics. "Nobody could ever understand why Americans were so upset. Bill Clinton was always a fantastic presence in Europe."

The Republican presidential hopefuls, by contrast, are not highly regarded in Europe: Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee are seen as too religious, and the 71-year-old McCain as too old.

To Britons, history's most popular postwar presidents were Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton because of their perceived levelheadedness and intelligence, said Dunleavy. The most despised? President Bush and Ronald Reagan "because they were seen as erratic and unpredictable," he said.

Yet Democrats don't rule the entire world of public opinion.

Saad al-Hadithi, a political analyst in Baghdad, contends the Republican candidates are more committed to Iraq and have a better approach.

"They show more support to the political progress and to combating terrorist groups in Iraq," he said. "The Democrats, especially Hillary Clinton, are calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, but they are not offering an alternative. Such a withdrawal while the Iraqi security forces are still weak will lead to disastrous results."

Russia's leaders also consider Republicans more pragmatic, said Nkolai Petrov, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

But the Kremlin, Petrov said, would likely have "serious concerns" if McCain wins the Republican nomination because of the Arizona senator's harsh and persistent criticism of Vladimir Putin's autocratic government.

Others in Russia are drawn to the lively U.S. campaign if only because it's such a sharp contrast to Moscow's tightly choreographed March 2 presidential election - a contest that Putin's favored successor, Dmitry Medvedev, is seen as certain to win.

Africans naturally gravitate toward Obama, whose father was from Kenya.

Israelis, though, seem to prefer Hillary Clinton - even though Obama has voiced support for key Israeli demands in peace talks with the Palestinians - because of her experience and the backing Bill Clinton gave to the Jewish state during his two terms as president.

Amid the raging debate over immigration, Mexicans arguably have more at stake in the U.S. election than any other nation. But President Felipe Calderon doesn't think very highly of any of the candidates.

"The only theme," he declared in December, "is to compete to see who can be the most swaggering, macho and anti-Mexican."

In the post-Bush era, the bottom line is blunt and simple, Dunleavy said.

"People all around the world are pretty worried," he said. "They want a president who will restore a kind of U.S. legitimacy in the world."

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Associated Press writers Matt Moore in Berlin, Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad, Steve Gutterman in Moscow, Bernd Bergmann in Rome, Natacha Rios in Paris and Karel Janicek in Prague contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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