From the tea rooms of the House of Commons to the slums of Nairobi, the Obama versus McCain showdown is the talk of the world. It promises to be the most unpredictable and gripping contest for many years. What will it mean for the poorest people on the planet?
There is now a real prospect that the next leader of the free world will have close relatives who are among its poorest inhabitants. According to a recent CNN report, Barack Obama's Kenyan grandmother and uncle "do not have a television and live in a simple, single-story canary-yellow home several miles from the closest village."
Obama's father was born and raised in the East African nation; after the recent post-election violence, some reporters asked breathlessly 'Can Obama Save Kenya?'. On an emotional visit to his father's homeland in 2006, Obama was greeted by cheering crowds. He took a public HIV test at a remote rural health clinic in an effort to promote AIDS awareness. And the Senator from Illinois has taken a legislative interest in development issues back in Washington: he is piloting the Global Poverty Act through Congress, which would require the President to develop and implement a comprehensive policy to halve extreme global poverty by 2015, and demands measurable benchmarks and timetables to achieve this ambitious goal. If he wins in November, he might just be carrying this through as President.
But there is an elephant in the room whenever the presumptive Democratic candidate discusses development: Trade. During the primaries he followed John Edwards and Hilary Clinton in playing to the protectionist gallery. This is dangerous territory: failure for the Doha Round could fatally undermine the multilateral, rules-based system overseen by the World Trade Organisation that protects poor countries and offers the best route to freer global trade. The deadline is looming for this vital and much-needed agreement.
The voice of reason on trade is that of Republican frontrunner John McCain. He has bravely kept the flag of economic freedom flying, making the unanswerable case that free trade and open markets are the surest route to growth and development. Pointedly ignoring the siren call of protectionism, he promises to "aggressively promote global trade liberalization at the World Trade Organization and expand America's free-trade agreements to friendly nations on every continent."
McCain's views on development are practical and challenging, though perhaps less clearly-defined than Obama's. He has called for the G8 to boot out undemocratic Russia, but embrace the market democracies of India and Brazil. Writing in Foreign Affairs, he pledged to help promote an 'African Renaissance', and to work to eradicate malaria. On Darfur, he says " I fear that the United States is once again repeating the mistakes it made in Bosnia and Rwanda" and promises "my administration will consider the use of all elements of American power to stop the outrageous acts of human destruction". On a more personal level, his website tells us that "in 1993, John McCain and his wife, Cindy, adopted a little girl from Mother Teresa's orphanage in Bangladesh" and that adoption is a policy area of personal interest to him.
Clearly, both of the Presidential hopefuls have thought seriously about how to tackle poverty around the world. This is nothing new: from the post-war Marshall Plan, through JFK's Peace Corps, successive Presidents have recognized that peace and prosperity abroad matter to their citizens at home. Whichever candidate wins in November will face tough challenges on development - to say nothing of the massive military, strategic and environmental questions which so affect the world's poor.
Getting a global trade deal that works for all, winning the fight against disease, rationalizing the US aid programme and ensuring every dollar of hard-earned taxpayer's money achieves the maximum value for the poor: there are battles to be fought and political capital to be expended to get these things done.
As the Presidential race unfolds, in its barrage of pundits and predictions and polls, people in remote villages and urban slums around the world will be watching as closely as the inhabitants of the Washington beltway and the Westminster village. For what happens in November 2008 matters as much to them as it does to us.
Note from Iain: I will be running a series of guest blogs throughout the Summer. If you would like to write an article to appear on the blog (max 750 words) please do email me. I can't guarantee it will be used though!
Tomorrow: James Clark on the death of the British Record Industry