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US face-off has Swiss Americans ready to vote

Swiss voters wrestle with which candidate should get their vote as the election nears. Here, two wax heads from Madame Tussauds

(Keystone)

As the longest presidential campaign in United States history enters its last week, thousands of Swiss Americans are considering their political allegiances.

swissinfo spoke to a Republican, a Democrat and an undecided voter, and all three – despite different political views – believe the race is far from over and that much could happen before the November 4 vote.

Most polls have placed Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, ahead of John McCain, the Republican. But the tone of both camps has become sharper and McCain has vowed an underdog victory with little more than a week of campaigning remaining.

Three Swiss Americans – Beat Reinhart, an undecided, Republican Roland Veit and Obama-supporter Timo Kuhn – all agree that these are historic elections. Not only could the US elect its first black president, but the winner will also inherit a raft of serious challenges facing the country.

The country's new chief executive must deal with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, climate and energy issues, the country's social- and health-insurance problems, and a financial crisis that has hit the American economy hard.

Disappointed by both

"The most important factor is the economic crisis," Beat Reinhart told swissinfo. "It not only presents the US with huge problems but also for the globalised world."

Reinhart, a banker, is disappointed by both candidates. "Neither McCain nor Obama has understood how to present the people with a feasible way out of this crisis," he said.

The world's biggest economy needs a leader with the proper executive skills, he believes. "We are facing a very difficult decision," says Reinhart. "This crisis is a wake-up call for our economy, for the structure of our system."

Still, he has not decided who will receive his vote. "I wish I had a better choice," he says of his dilemma. "It is a question of who I can trust more to lead this country through the difficult times ahead."

"Obama is eloquent and can formulate his messages to appeal to many voters. He has a relaxed, calm and experienced persona." Reinhart does not agree with Republicans who assail the candidate's lack of experience.

John McCain probably has a more thorough understanding of the issues, he believes, but his communication is less clear. "He can attract a lot of people through his personal story – the war hero and long-time senator who has done so much for this country."

No "socialist"

For entrepreneur Roland Veit, McCain must be elected. "With the socialist Obama, the US will slide deeper into crisis," he said.

Veit has for years been a member of the Republican Party and the fact that he is not a US citizen and cannot vote does not keep him from holding clear political opinions and financially supporting his party.

Veit would have nevertheless preferred a different candidate.

"My dream candidate would have been Mitt Romney," he said. The former governor of Massachusetts would have brought an experience to economic matters that's urgently needed, says Veit.

"McCain is actually too liberal in certain respects. But he is without a doubt a respectable man, a patriot and an American hero."

Obama is a populist socialist, seducing the masses with too many promises, Veit believes. "Who will pay for everything?" he asks of the Democrat's platform.

"With Obama's tax plans, I am clearly biased. I would be in the five per cent that does not benefit and needs to pay more taxes."

"And that would do nothing more than punish success," he says of Obama's platform, which includes a plan to raise taxes for businesses earning more than $250,000 per year.

Veit believes higher taxes contradict the American Dream. "I am convinced that within the capitalist system, this dream became a reality for me."

Even with the polls leaning toward Obama, Veit believes the election is not yet lost. "It will be very tight. Whoever is the next president will have a tough job."

McCain "not credible"

Timo Kuhn, a 30-year-old graphic designer, has donated money to the Obama campaign and will vote for the Illinois senator on November 4.

"I best identify with his worldview even if I do not agree with him in every area," he said.

For Kuhn, it is ultimately not just a question of political platforms but also of personality. "I have confidence in Obama," he said. "I think he is an intelligent, reasonable man."

McCain, however, was not credible. "It seems like a different candidate practically shows up everyday; people don't know whom they're dealing with," he said. "McCain likes to describe himself as a maverick, as a lateral thinker."

Kuhn perceives McCain to be increasingly erratic. "Even lateral thinkers have their limits," he said. "McCain's irresponsible move was choosing Sarah Palin as his vice presidential candidate."

It is important that both the US and the rest of the world get a fresh start and the US must repair its damaged image, the graphic designer said.

"I think with Obama, we have the best chance." Kuhn believes Obama will foster dialogue within the US and with other countries rather than pursue an isolationist agenda.

He is optimistic that Obama will win but admits there is no certainty yet. "We must take nothing for granted. Voter turnout will play a big role," he says.

Whichever candidate becomes the next president of the United States, he will be expected to tackle the country's significant challenge – and govern a deeply divided population.

swissinfo, based on an article in German by Rita Emch

Swiss Americans

Beat Reinhart, 44

Reinhart is a banker and works in New York for a German financial institution. He is also president of the Swiss Society.

Born in the US, he spent part of his youth in Switzerland and studied a few semesters here.

Roland Veit, 55

Born and raised in Switzerland, Veit is the holder of one of the ten largest coffee trading companies in the US. He made his entry into the business in 1972, with Vevey-based Nestlé.

He is married to a woman with Swiss roots and the father of two children.

Timo Kuhn, 30

Kuhn was born in the US but received his schooling and professional training in Switzerland.

He has lived in the US for the past six years and is a graphic artist in New York.

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Swiss roots

There are around 1.2 million Swiss-Americans and Americans with Swiss roots.

Most people with Swiss roots are found in California, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Close to 74,000 Swiss nationals were registered in the United States at the end of 2007. Over 52,000 were dual citizens.

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