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by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & The Four-Legged Vote & r & & r & "Even our dogs and cats have learned that elections matter."

That's one of the reasons Al Gore gave as he endorsed Barack Obama earlier this week. In a list of Bush failings, Gore not only mentioned Hurricane Katrina, the economy and foreign policy, but he also added that Bush has allowed China to export lead-poisoned toys and deadly pet food to the United States.

Now What?

After a frantic six months, especially for Democrats, the presidential race has entered a more mellow phase. There are no more primaries to provide exit polls to pore over, so the cable news networks are looking for anything onto which they can hitch a breathless promo. Maybe it is, as Barack Obama has called it, "the silly season." Remember, it was in the middle of summer that the Swift Boat attacks sank John Kerry's candidacy.

So what is worth paying attention to this summer? The candidates are likely to appear together sometime, but the details have yet to be worked out. While John McCain's campaign had floated the idea of weekly Town Hall-style joint appearances over the summer, the Obama camp "is definitively saying 'Thanks but no thanks,'" as a McCain spokesman put it to USA Today.

The Obama campaign has suggested two pre-convention "debates" -- one around the Fourth of July and another focused on foreign policy in August. This would be in addition to the three scheduled debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates. (Yes, there's a commission for that.) The first of those will be Sept. 26 in Oxford, Miss.; the second will be Oct. 7 in Nashville; and the final debate will be Oct. 15 in Hempstead, N.Y. (Way to snub the West, you presidential debate commissioners!)

And if you love a good pageant, you can tune into the Democratic National Convention from Denver on Aug. 25-28; the Republicans will gather Sept. 1-4 in St. Paul, Minn. Whose soft-focused iconic leader will be more American? No, not Obama or McCain -- these conventions will be all about the Kennedys and the Reagans.

So along with whatever is sure to come out of left field, there will be a few must-see moments this summer in what has become America's favorite reality show.
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