JOHNSON CITY - The next presidential election may be two years away, but the race is on.
Wednesday night at East Tennessee State University, professors and one local journalist gave their opinions on how the next election could proceed, what the major issues would or should be, and allowed a forum for those in the audience to pose questions with the hopes of fostering discussion.
"We wanted to see how our community thought about the candidates," said panel moderator Elwood Watson, professor of history.
Joe Corso, political science professor, said there is no one running for president yet. He said candidates are just now vying for their respective party's nomination, which is interesting because it offers a chance for voters to see how the political process really works.
"It's a lot narrower constituency," Corso said of candidates competing in primaries. "The candidate may do things now they're going to regret."
He said Democrats have to please liberals, and Republicans must please their perceived conservative base.
Johnson City Press Opinion Page Editor Robert Houk told the audience that he, too, thought the primary process in the elections was the most interesting part of a presidential race.
He also offered some insight into what he thought both the Republicans and Democrats are trying to do.
Republicans are harking back to another time, he said.
"They're looking right now for another Ronald Reagan," Houk said.
Republicans are having a difficult time finding that candidate, he said.
Houk said Democrat Barack Obama has stolen some of New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton's traditional base in Hollywood.
One reason for that, Houk said, is because Obama embodies the spirit of youthful competence by being confident, charismatic and able to raise money.
"Good politicians are a lot like rock stars," he said. "Right now, Barack Obama is the rock star in the field."
Issues are going to be a major player in the presidential election, the panelists said, whether manufactured or real.
Amber Kinser, professor in ETSU's Department of Communication and newly created Women's Studies Program, said historical religious assumptions of women's roles in society will play heavily into the next election, especially if Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee.
She also said those Republicans who supported a pro-choice stance at any time and those Democrats who voted for the Iraq war are going to have to apologize to their bases.
"I do think that those who are sorry more are going to dictate who is nominated," Kinser said.
She said that shows the fickleness of the American public.
Economics professor Fred Mackara said the economy should be an issue, based on the opposing answers his students give in class on the state of the U.S. economy.
"The American students were pretty much split," he said on their notions of whether the economy was good of bad. "The international students by and large couldn't believe the American students thought there was anything wrong with their economy."
Political science professor Andrew Batista said the Iraq conflict will be the driving force in the 2008 election.
"One issue I think has been defined is the Iraq war," he said. "That's the 800-pound gorilla in the room."
He said the issue will not go away in time for the election because the military will still be there fighting.
"It's very difficult to imagine that public opinion will become more favorable toward the war," he said.
Adam Dickson, who works with the African and African American Studies Program at ETSU, said the election will have overtones based on race, class and gender.
He said Obama will have a difficult time balancing between white and black culture.
"It's going to be very interesting to see how Barack Obama relates to the black community while maintaining the support of the white community."