Ronald Reagan became president despite his age. John F Kennedy triumphed despite his religion. But as The Economist asks pressingly today, are Americans ready to elect a smoker in Barack Obama?

“When Ulysses Grant told a reporter he liked cigars, well-wishers sent him more than 20,000”, recalls The Economist. “FDR used an elegant cigarette holder. Gerald Ford smoked a pipe, and everyone says he was a nice man. Andrew Jackson also had a pipe, made from a corncob.”

That was then but this is now. Bill Clinton – famously – didn’t inhale and according to a 2006 Gallup poll, only a quarter of Americans now smoke. “Many of those who abstain consider smoking a sign of weakness or intemperance”, argues The Economist.

But all is not lost for Obama. Just look towards Sacramento. Last weekend, the Los Angeles Times praised Arnold Schwarzenegger’s credentials for the presidency: “The Governor of the nation’s largest state was re-elected in a landslide in November, even though his Republican Party is a minority in California. He works with Democrats in a way that offers the rest of the country a model of much-needed bipartisanship.”

Obama has a similar approach – and remember, the Governator likes a stogie. According to the LA Times it is Schwarzenegger’s birthplace, not his smoking, that precludes him from the presidency.

Obama doesn’t need to kick the nicotine habit. All he needs to do is switch to chewing tobacco. That’s bound to win back all those Reagan Democrats south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Peter Fray

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