While attention is centred on the Presidency in Pakistan, the race for the White House 10,000 miles away has gathered steam, after the formal "coronations" of Barack Obama from the Democratic Party and John McCain from the Republican Party. The Electoral College in America constitutes 538 votes, divided among 50 states. It is winner-take-all. Whoever takes the popular vote in one state takes all the Electoral College votes in that particular state. So, theoretically one could win the popular vote in America, as Albert Gore did in the election of 2000 by over half-a-million votes, and still lose if behind in the electoral college tally, as in election 2000, when Gore lost by the narrowest of margins due to a disputed Florida vote recount that resulted in Bush gaining the electoral college votes for that state - enough to hand him the election. The winning number is 270 electoral votes. So, in effect, it is the Electoral College result of 50 contests in 50 individual states which is the decisive determinant of who wins. Elections are set for Tuesday, November 4 and, on January 20, 2009, the baton will pass to the new president, which will formally end the Bush Presidency - arguably one of the most inept and unpopular in modern American history. Bush may be gone, but the issues he leaves behind will not disappear, including wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Palestine-Israel deadlock, a faltering economy, a resurgent Russia, upsurge in Kashmir, and an overall erosion of US clout. The War On Terror has inflicted more terror on the innocents than on the perpetrators of terror. In the Middle East - where it matters the most and the stakes are the highest - there is likely to be continuity with failed US policies, for the simple reason that special interests have a stranglehold on this segment of US policy. Barack Obama's running mate, the 65-year-old Senator Joe Biden, Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, however, has a deep interest in Pakistan, and believes in a policy of engagement instead of confrontation with Iran. McCain, however, continues to repeat the mantra that "the threat of radical Islamic terrorism is the transcendent challenge of our time." Obama promises the hope of change, and the exuberance of youth. McCain is identified with the deeply disliked Bush Administration. His challenge is to show independence from Bush's policies without antagonising the Republican base. The Democratic Convention at Denver, Colorado, was an administrative success and the optics worked in Obama's favour. However, he may have erred in ceding too much of the stage to the Clintons and in giving a workman-like speech, which featured a long laundry list of policy prescriptions but was short on themes which resonate in the public imagination. In a daring gamble, McCain defied orthodoxy by choosing an untested 44-year-old female governor from Alaska, Sarah Palin, as his vice presidential running mate. Sarah Palin is a mother of five, who has a Down's syndrome baby, is married to a commercial fisherman, and is the daughter of parents who were teachers, while she herself, among other things, was a one-time beauty queen and a basketball player. Sarah, with youthful zest, was supposed to energise the 72-year-old McCain's campaign, along with an image of traditional family values. However, this has been hurt with news of her 17-year-old daughter's out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Now, the question is what else is there that the American public does not know about the relatively unfamiliar Sarah, who is supposed to be "one of us". Further embarrassing disclosures could impel McCain to revisit his choice. This episode has highlighted and raised questions about McCain's own judgement and decision-making skills in not adequately vetting a person who could be a heartbeat away from the presidency. A key issue is who in this duel clicks and connects better with the average American voter. One of the unstated factors behind the surprise choice of Sarah Palin is whether most Americans would opt for a black couple occupying the White House for the next 4 to 8 years, when they have a more comfortable and conventional choice available. It was also a risky attempt to shift the dynamics of the race and to put the Obama campaign strategy off-balance, which was being geared up for an attack plan to target McCain and a male vice presidential running mate. McCain was constantly slamming Obama for his alleged inexperience. Obama can now counter with the argument that McCain may not have the judgement necessary to be commander-in-chief by, in effect, entrusting the keys to the White House to a novice. The next 60 days shall be fascinating to see whether the candidates are able to recognise their own weak points and move to buttress them. While there may be differences between McCain and Obama on Iraq, both remain pledged to expand the US role and presence in and around the Afghan-Pakistan theatre. The writer is a barrister-at-law and a political analyst