by KEVIN TAYLOR, DANIEL WALTERS, LUKE BAUMGARTEN, JOEL SMITH and NICHOLAS DESHAIS & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he Spokane County Elections Office is a beacon Monday evening, sitting among an industrial block of squatty bus barns and nondescript warehouses north of the Courthouse.

Daylight is leaking away fast, but even in the descending gloom, a steady stream of cars make the left turn towards the loading-dock entrance and maneuver the tight squeeze of parking slots. Singly and in clusters, people hustle for the doors for the last chance to register to vote.

Photographers from two Spokane television stations switch on their camera-mounted spotlights as the light continues to fade. For an instant, the sky goes from blue to red to purple.

Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton, Elections Manager Mike McLaughlin and a robust crew of election staffers were in all-hands-on-deck mode as the last-chancers came swarming inside.

"We are getting probably 1,500 people registered today," McLaughlin says.

This final wave of voter registration set a record, topping the 2004 last-minute signup of 1,200. Spokane County has registered a record 256,377 voters, and over in Coeur d'Alene, Kootenai County Clerk Dan English's staff registered a record 72,000 voters by Oct. 10.

Kootenai County already had 13,000 absentee ballots returned by Monday compared to a total of 15,000 absentees in 2004. "We still have two weeks to go," English says. "I just had a mail person go by and tell me he had two big baskets for us."

Spokane and Coeur d'Alene are in step with America as the country prepares for the biggest presidential election in a generation.

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & s far as white-knuckle excitement goes, the race to beat the deadline is pretty much it, locally. We don't get Joe the Plumber. Sarah Barracuda doesn't whip up a frenzy. There are not 100,000 of us shouldered together to hear Barack Obama's No. 1 stump speech. And, dammit, surly red-meat John McCain partisans aren't heckling the local MSM.

Idaho is red, Washington is blue. Neither campaign seems interested in changing that.

Spokane and North Idaho are adrift in a faraway eddy compared to the fire-hose intensity of the closing two weeks of the presidential campaign in places like Virginia. The commonwealth has been safely Republican since 1964, but Obama is wresting it right out of McCain's hands -- he's opened 50 campaign offices to McCain's 21 and raked in nearly $1 million in donations there to McCain's half-million. The candidates have each made dozens of whistle stops around Virginia, accompanied by celebs and political heavyweights.

Virginia is "in play."

But around here?

Matthew Lundh, the communications director for McCain's Washington state office, gamely tries to whistle up an A-list: "We've had George Pataki, the former governor of New York ... Cindy McCain came through in September."

Oh yeah, and Sarah Palin was on the calendar but had to go cram for her United Nations tour -- so husband Todd, the snow machine champion, spoke in her stead.

And these all happened in Seattle ... anything in Eastern Washington, Matthew? "Nothing comes immediately to mind," he says.

The Democrats aren't much better. Sure, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was in Spokane last week stumping for Gov. Christine Gregoire. And Obama's wingman, Joe Biden, did some flexing for Gregoire in front of 12,000 people in a Tacoma baseball stadium on Sunday. He threw out some funny lines before bolting to Seattle for a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser.

Frank Malone, a Spokane attorney and early Obama organizer, says, "Polls may call Washington close ... but you haven't seen a candidate out here who's not on a fundraising mission."

While Spokane County (and the entire 5th Congressional District) has been deep red ever since newly registered 18-year-old voters were born, the state as a whole is reliably blue. Hence left to own devices.

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & B & lt;/span & ut that's OK. People on either side of the partisan divide are making their own fun.

Greg Dault, a 51-year-old Obama volunteer, is working a phone list at the Democrats' combined campaign office -- excuse me: the Obama for Change Office -- on North Washington Street Monday.

"I was a Hillary supporter," he says amiably, sporting a 1998 WSU Rose Bowl sweatshirt. He clambered aboard the Obama train in June and, "I have the most total calls. They told me I made 11,000."

Aside from telephones and walls festooned with large paper sheets listing daily tasks, admonishments and the election countdown, the campaign office is spartan.

"We're not getting any money," says Dave Koch, a Democratic Party state committeeman. "In the past, you've seen literature from the campaign, and we're not seeing any of that ... There was a back order of 10 million buttons for Obama ... so when they did get them, they prioritized those states in play. It's more important to get literature there than Eastern Washington, which has not been in play for the electoral vote."

There is nothing back-burner when it comes to local excitement, however.

The Democrats have paid local printers to make Obama signs and "We were selling 50 or 60 a day at the Fair. We couldn't keep them in stock," Koch says.

The GOP says the same. "I was at Pig Out and at the Fair and everybody wanted McCain signs. We went through a couple thousand," says Curt Fackler, chair of the Spokane County Republicans.

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he Republican combined campaign office -- excuse me: the McCain Victory Office -- is two blocks up Washington from the Dems and is equally spartan. A grid of Post-It notes scribbled with names and phone numbers checkers one wall. Rare campaign swag, notably a single navy blue dress shirt with the McCain-Palin logo, lies folded on a table.

Nearby, Spokane Valley businessman Jim McCall checks off the last box on his second call sheet of the evening.

The 63-year-old had never volunteered before but is working as hard as he can to get Dino Rossi elected governor to ease what he calls overly onerous regulation of small business.

"In the national races, I don't see any way possible we will win the state," Fackler says. "I think Cathy [Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers] will win the county."

So that leaves Rossi in play, and Lundh sees an interesting trend. Local election officials cite the heavy turnout of young voters in the 18-24 age range, voters typically lumped as Obama supporters ... which is true but may not be the whole story, Lundh says.

"Survey USA did a poll about a week, week-and-a-half ago, asking about the presidential and the governor's races," he says. The breakout among voters 18 to 34 years old showed Obama over McCain by 20 points ... and the same group chose Rossi over Gregoire by a similar margin. It's all about change, Lundh says.

"I am in that demographic myself. I'm born in Washington, and for my whole life we've never had a Republican governor," Lundh says. Somebody new, somebody different promising to change a snarled status quo is compelling.

"The attraction of a fresh message" goes both ways, Lundh says.

It's the quest for a fresh message that had people out at twilight this week, signing up for their chance to be involved.


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& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & "1 & lt;/span & 29 votes." That's the figure emblazoned on billboards throughout Eastern Washington by the Builders Industry Association of Washington (BIAW). It's also the razor-sharp margin of victory -- after two recounts -- that Democrat Christine Gregoire had against Republican Dino Rossi in the 2004 election. (A judge later expanded that margin to 133 votes, throwing out 4 votes for Rossi.)

This year, the race is just as tight -- an Oct. 3 Rasmussen poll had it tied at 48 percent -- and with the stakes just as high, the BIAW has upped the ante. Their two main Political Action Committees -- Change PAC and It's Time for Change -- have each received $7.2 million in contributions, according to figures from the Public Disclosure Commission. They've spent more than the state Republican and Democratic parties combined, and many times more than the $1 million it spent in 2004.

The biggest PAC on the other side, the newly-formed Evergreen Progress, has meanwhile raised $6.4 million to take on Rossi and his supporters, says Evergreen campaign manager Rick Desimone.

The "129 votes" campaign follows BIAW's controversial "Don't let Seattle steal this election" billboards. While Gregoire's campaign spokesman called it an attempt to divide the state, BIAW public relations director Erin Shannon says the campaigns' goals are two-fold: call attention to the missed-it-by-that-much election and inspire Eastern Washington residents to vote in throngs large enough to counteract King County.

"We all know that some shenanigans went on in King County," Shannon says. "Had folks turned out as they should have in 2004, the results could have been different."

The BIAW's TV ads have hit Gregoire for her ties to Indian casinos and her budget priorities, but the BIAW's concerns deal mostly with the business of business. She says Washington's small businesses have been strangled by a litany of taxes, a high minimum wage and over-regulation. However, Gregoire's campaign spokesman, Aaron Toso, touts Washington's rankings in Forbes (third-best business climate overall) and Fortune (fifth-best for business startups).

Toso blasts BIAW's history, "illegal" fundraising, and motives: "This is an organization that opposed the worker safety program, opposed ergonomics and opposed the Puget Sound partnership. They're against simple consumer protections like the Homeowners Bill of Rights," Toso says. "They're not a mainstream voice."

While the BIAW tends to be linked to the interests of Big Business (or Big Small Business), the donor list for Evergreen Progress brims with contributions from Big Labor. Their top contributors include the service employees union, the teachers union and the public employees union.

Desimone says Evergreen is focused more on exposing the truth about Rossi's record than highlighting Gregoire's strengths. In fact, of the seven videos currently on Evergreen's Website, Gregoire isn't mentioned once. Instead, many of Evergreen's ads take aim at Rossi's history of controversial budget balancing; they accuse him of cutting money for smaller class sizes, freezing teacher pay and slashing unemployment benefits.

By contrast, Desimone praises Gregoire's budgetary priorities. "She has a record of standing up for working people," Desimone says. "In tough times, Dino Rossi wrote a budget that threw 30,000 of our most vulnerable kids off of health care."

Rossi personally responds in a YouTube rebuttal. "Truth is ... 4,000 more children were covered by health care after my budget, not less." Rossi compares the accusation to his daughter asking for a $100-a-week allowance and then complaining about a 95-percent cut after he agrees to only $5 a week.

The intensity -- and sometimes inaccuracy -- comes from both sides, both fervently aware of how close the race is.

"It's definitely our No. 1 race of the year," says Brian Namey of the Democratic Governors Association, which contributes to Evergreen Progress. "Governor Gregoire is the only Democratic incumbent in a competitive race this year."



A) "The only way we're going to get rid of Saddam Hussein is we're going to end up having to start it alone. And it's going to require guys ... in uniform to be back on foot in the desert taking Saddam down."

B) "We can go backwards and be real negative or we can go forward and be positive."

C) "You know, I am a believer in knowing what you're doing when you apply for a job. If I were to seriously consider running on a national ticket, I would essentially have to start now... Now, there's some people that might be comfortable doing that, but I'm not one of those people."

D) "If we're wrong, all we've done is adopt green technologies, in an effort to give our kids a greener planet. As far as the [Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge] is concerned, I don't want to drill in the Grand Canyon, and I don't want to drill in the Everglades. This is one of the most pristine and beautiful parts of the world."

E) "I don't need a political career... I was happy before and will definitely be happy after. And that's very freeing."

F) "What I need to do is make it clear and not let Senator McCain get away with this Washington double-talk."

G) "I cannot raise taxes. Period."

H) "If we'd gone to Baghdad, we would have been all alone. There wouldn't have been anybody else with us. There would have been a U.S. occupation of Iraq... Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein's government, then what are you going to put in its place? ... It's a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq."

1) Sarah Palin

2) Dino Rossi

3) Barrak Obama

4) John McCain

5) Dick Cheney

6) Christine Gregoire

7) Joe Biden

8) George W. Bush


A) Joe Biden (Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, 1998) B) Sarah Palin (The New York Times, Oct. 29, 2006) C) Barack Obama (Nov. 8, 2004) D) John McCain on ANWR and cap-and-trade (Conference call with bloggers, Jan. 16, 2008) E) Dino Rossi (Roll Call, May 24, 2005) F) George W. Bush in the 2000 Republican primary (ABC News, Feb. 2, 2000) G) Christine Gregoire (The Dori Monson Show, July 9, 2008) H) Dick Cheney on why Bush Sr. didn't invade Iraq (Interview at the American Enterprise Institute, April 15, 1994)


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& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & "T & lt;/span & here's this concept in politics: the cycle of mutual neglect," says political analyst Rob Grabow, a Gonzaga University graduate who's published two books on young voters, including his latest, Voting With Our Pants Down. Traditionally, "young people don't turn out because they're not talked to or the issues aren't framed to be relevant in their lives, so politicians continue not to speak to them and they continue to not turn out." Once an accepted truth (or a well-established clich & eacute;, depending on the view), the phenomenon began to erode in 2004.

According to Rock the Vote, the voting bloc of 18- to 29-year-olds grew by 4.3 million between 2000 and the Kerry v. Bush contest, an increase twice as large as seen in any other age group. In the 2006 congressional race, two million more 18- to 29-year-olds turned out than voted in 2002, again doubling the turnout of any other age demographic.

Perhaps because back-to-back increases starts to smell like a trend, or because the 2006 young-voter push helped lead to Democratic victories in a way the 2004 election didn't, Democrats across the country took notice. Locally, Kristine Reeves, chair of the Spokane County Democrats, says courting young voters has been the central prong of a three-part attack targeting youth, minorities and first-time voters.

"It's a process that we've been working on for the last two years," she says. "Even prior to Obama, the youth vote was going to be incredibly important."

Reeves says a central part of the plan wasn't just to get young people excited about voting, but to get them excited about being party leaders. "The reality is that a lot of the young people are incredibly motivated," she says. "Our focus is to give them the opportunity to develop leadership skills."

She believes having young faces knocking on doors has paid great dividends and also turned up some fast-rising young stars in the party. "Our secretary of the party is 21." Reeves herself is 27.

Locally, Republicans have been a little slower to the punch, says county party chair Curt Fackler, but they're starting to catch on. He isn't seeing a lot of youth involvement in the party locally, with the exception of the College Republicans at Gonzaga. "The Republicans are as active there as anyone can remember," he says. That's due in large part, says Fackler, to the tenacity of the club's 36-year-old head, Chuck Skirko.

Of the young voters we spoke with, some seemed knowledgeable on down-ticket candidates and some were largely ambivalent. The enthusiasm for the presidential race, among young voters at least, hasn't seemed to trickle down. That's something Fackler hopes to change in the next election cycle, especially in the 3rd District. "Traditionally blue," he says, "the 3rd District has the lowest voter turnout partially because there are thousands of students." Using a Washington rule that allows students to vote where they attend school after only living on campus for 30 days, Fackler hopes to poach students with targeted issues. This year, Republican Mike Novak's pledge to pass legislation that would forgive student loans based on how long people work in-state after graduation resonated with students. "That proposal has gotten great reception," Fackler says.

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & ierra Tittle, a 21-year-old Gonzaga student from Portland, Ore., says she's "excited by the fact that I get to have a say. Especially after the last eight years." She tracks her political awakening nearly that far back. "Once we were in 8th grade, [my friends and I] started to care."

Tittle says she felt the party lines being drawn the first week of her freshman year at Gonzaga but has felt the enmity slacken in the years since. She says McCain-Palin gets a lot of play at Gonzaga. "You see the posters everywhere." Tittle considers Gonzaga a relatively conservative place, though the majority of her friends "are from Seattle and tend to be more liberal." Contrary to the assertion that Democrats on campus are quietly siding with McCain over the abortion issue, though, Tittle believes the Democrats she knows "are starting to speak up for Obama."

Given that three serious presidential candidates (Obama, McCain and Hillary Clinton) and gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi have used some form of the change narrative -- Obama and Rossi to apparently good effect -- it's hard to argue against its perceived force in this election. Grabow, himself a GU grad, estimates the youth vote could top 26 million, over 6 million more than in 2004. While national narratives peg Democrats as a sure thing, it may be a smarter bet, in close down-ticket races, to not side with the party who has the momentum, but rather with whichever candidate has gotten inside young people's heads with a compelling change narrative, says Grabow. "Keep an eye on youth vote turnout," he says. "If they turn out 50 to 55 to 60 percent that's ... an extraordinarily large amount of votes."


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& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & e say enough is enough. Enough canine lipstick, dubious plumbers, kindergarten sex ed and tangential character attacks. This election is too important to let it become buried by innuendo, indignation and lousy Sarah Palin impersonations. It's time to find out where the candidates stand on the kitchen table issues, so let's start with...


One of Obama's biggest proposals in the telecommunications field has been to take the money currently used to subsidize rural phone use and spend it instead on rural broadband. Clearly, Obama wants to bring pornography to the heartland of America. (What do you think underserved farm boys are going to be surfing for -- wheat prices?) Additionally, Obama has fought for net neutrality. "Without a regulation mandating that the pipes remain open," Wired writes, "Verizon, for example, could decide to start messing with your ... Bittorrent" (and your steady stream of classic '70s erotica). McCain has been hands-off on net neutrality and, as Senate Commerce Chair, has fought for higher industry consolidation.


While both candidates initially opposed immunity for telecom companies who helped President George W. Bush spy on Americans without a warrant, both have flip-flopped. McCain now argues that such eavesdropping is the president's constitutional right. In July, Obama voted for a bill that would grant immunity -- reversing an earlier claim that he would filibuster any bill that included that provision. Americans should heed the advice of Teddy Roosevelt: Speak softly.


Astronomists may have cause to worry about a McCain administration. At the second presidential debate, the Arizona senator slammed Obama for requesting $3 million of federal money for an "overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago," making it sound like the kind of machine your science teacher used to write his outlines on. Hardly. Wired reports the requested projector -- a state-of-the-art machine with high-resolution digital capabilities -- would replace the 40-year-old one at the Adler Planetarium, the first planetarium in the Western hemisphere, which is visited by half a million people (mostly children) each year.


McCain also lost the growing geek vote when his campaign denounced a blogger's claim that McCain stole a line from Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn for his bio, saying it was "typical of the pro-Obama Dungeons & amp; Dragons crowd to disparage a fellow countryman's memory of war from the comfort of Mom's basement." Clearly, McCain's people have never felt the sting of a +3 Vorpral Sword of Wounding.


When questioned about her religious beliefs while mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, in 1997, Gov. Sarah Palin told a reporter she believed that humans and dinosaurs co-existed thousands of years ago, saying she'd seen photos of human footprints in dino tracks. Obama's wife, Michelle, on the other hand, once represented the trademark protection of Barney the Dinosaur while practicing law in Chicago. Point: Obama.


Another of McCain's favorite lines when railing against pork barrel spending is that the federal government spent $3 million to study the DNA of grizzlies in Montana -- making the Republican nominee not just anti-astronomy, but anti-bear (all the more reason for Stephen Colbert to love him). But the truth is not so simple. Salon reports that the project actually cost $5 million, that it was backed by Republican Sen. Conrad Burns, that Burns' industry friends wanted to establish the bear population so they could remove them from the Endangered Species list and kick them out of a develop-able area, and that McCain in fact voted to fund the project. All this makes McCain the better bear candidate, despite Obama's affinity for a certain Chicago football team.


Barack Obama is your new bicycle (as one popular political meme site would tell you). He also was the only presidential candidate in either party who even mentioned bikes in his transportation plan. That said, however, both McCain and Obama voted for one of the most significant pieces of bike legislation in recent history. You didn't hear about it? Tucked into the massive economic bailout bill was a substantial benefit for bicycle commuters. McCain just better not destroy his bike cred by pulling a Kerry and making the rounds in Spandex shorts.


At the second presidential debate, John McCain used the expression "my friends" 20 times and the singular "my friend" three times. McCain is clearly the pro-friend candidate.


According to one online source, Obama's daughters report that their father isn't fond of sweets but makes an exception for pumpkin pie. That might explain the baffling, folksy story Obama told during a rally in West Philadelphia this month -- about eating at a diner -- in which he said the word "pie" 15 times. (Maybe he just caught wind of this week's cover image.) Bakers, take note. Obama is clearly the pro-pie candidate.


Obama made news in the last few weeks for running ads on billboards inside of video games, like Madden 2009, Burnout Paradise and several other Xbox 360 titles. Sneered one writer: "John McCain, as far as we can tell, doesn't know what a video game is." A comment on that post reads, "The McCain campaign will respond by buying ads at Pong consoles nationwide." They're both wrong, but they're both close. In June, McCain released his own videogame -- the unfortunately named Pork Invaders -- on his Website. Fashioned after the arcade classic, Space Invaders, (theoretical) users shoot vetoes at floating pigs and the occasional passing pork barrel to rack up points, which represent millions of taxpayer dollars saved.


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& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & hen did presidential candidates stop doing whistle-stop tours?

These days, voters are more likely to encounter their favorite candidates on MySpace, in a YouTube video or on their cell phones than they are at big caboose rallies. It's not enough anymore for candidates to simply plant yard signs and spout off at rallies; they need to be everywhere you are.

Of course, that's nothing new. Former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura used e-mail to get in touch with supporters during his successful bid to become Minnesota's governor 10 years ago. Howard Dean impressed the press with his online fundraising and organization in 2004.

But these pale in comparison to the current election cycle. Now every presidential candidate has a presence on a full complement of social networking sites, questions at debates are fielded from YouTube and major announcements (like Barack Obama's pick for vice president) are made via text message.

"Campaigning will almost certainly rely increasingly on ways of engaging citizens and reaching out that are online," says Bruce Bimber, a professor of political science at the University of California at Santa Barbara and the author of Information and American Democracy: Technology in the Evolution of Political Power. Bimber notes, though, that it's going to take trial and error to figure out what is effective and what isn't. Meetups and virtual environments like Second Life, he says, looked interesting at first but haven't really panned out. On the other hand, "A number of things that have turned out to be really useful did so really fast. YouTube went political really quickly. I don't think when video sharing was introduced that anyone would've thought it would be significant [politically]."

Bimber adds, "In the very early days of blogs -- the time that even that term was first becoming known -- it wasn't at all clear that blogs would become politically significant, that we would develop a class of quasi-journalists that would be influential. But again, all this has developed so very rapidly."

But Bimber notes that the most successful campaigns are those that use as many avenues as possible -- not just those online -- especially when it comes to fundraising. Barack Obama's success, after all, has been the result of large and small donors online as well as $28,500-a-plate fundraising dinners.

The combination of online donation and social networking tools makes giving a more holistic experience, Bimber says. "It provides immediacy, so that people can become engaged, people can donate money and share their ideas with friends, at the moment and in the places where they're thinking about it and where and when they're excited about something. In the old way, if you wanted to make a donation to a party, you had to go through some effort to figure out how to do that. The opportunity to give money [was] disconnected from the thing that got you excited."

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & ocial networking tools are being put to use in campaigns at the state level, too. Jill Straight, spokeswoman for Dino Rossi's campaign, says, "Online campaigning has been especially important within our race. It's a tool we've used to communicate our messages and reach new voters, especially younger voters."

The Rossi campaign could use all the voters it can get, after their candidate lost the governor's race by a mere 129 votes four years ago. To that end, they've created Team 129, a sort of MySpace within the site, which allows supporters to create their own pages, make connections with other supporters and help raise funds. Straight says 24,000 people ("a lot more than 129, which is good") have signed up for the free service.

Gregoire's site has an online community, too. The clunkily titled MyTeam Gregoire has a lot of the same functionality as Team 129. Gregoire's campaign spokesman Aaron Toso won't say how many users have logged on there, but he says the service has seen "a good response."

But the Gregoire campaign has gotten more mileage, Toso says, out of online videos, which are free to post, easy to spread around and more thorough than TV ads. "People at social networking sites can embed them. Bloggers can pull the video down really simply. We send them out to our list [of sympathetic bloggers] and let people know we have a new ad up," he says. "It's real organic. A couple bloggers will post it, and it goes from there. A lot of reporters at traditional media have blogs as well, and they like to mix in video and multimedia whenever they can."

Straight says the Rossi campaign has produced nine ads for television but has posted 43 to YouTube. "We've used it a lot to respond to attacks," she says. "It's such a fast, easy and cheap way to produce your video and get your message out there."

But that's not to say that using the Web to campaign is free, nor that its relative cheapness levels the playing field. Bimber says that might've been the case in the early days of the Internet, but no longer. "Early on, what people were doing is putting up what's called 'brochureware.' Those early sites were really quite cheap. The really obscure under-funded candidate could put out as sophisticated a site as an incumbent governor. That has now changed," he says. "Professional Web operations are now very expensive. The kind of campaign online that a presidential candidate can mount is beyond the reach of local offices."

That shows even in the race for U.S. Congress. Democratic contender Mark Mays (whose war chest at press time trailed that of incumbent Cathy McMorris Rodgers by $1.2 million) has a presence on YouTube and Facebook, but his own site is woefully spartan. Mays has focused on more traditional methods of promotion, like rallies, fundraisers and radio ads.

Those are methods that are never going to go out of style, says Bimber: "It's not possible to understand what's happening online without thinking about how that interacts with coverage from traditional media, with volunteers who walk the streets in the precincts."

The Rossi and Gregoire campaigns agree on this, if nothing else. "I don't know if [online campaigning is] ever going to completely replace the yard sign and the mailer," says Straight. "I think there are still people that just love that as part of politics."


& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & M & lt;/span & uch has been made of the sophisticated online campaigns of presidential candidates like Barack Obama, John McCain and John Edwards, who have used every available platform -- from social networking sites to text messaging to "virtual environments" -- to spread their messages. But while the national candidates expand the definition of what it means to campaign in the 21st century, have the same Web 2.0 principles trickled down to local candidates, or are they still running with crappy-looking "brochure" sites?

We asked Laura Bracken, designer for local firm Design Spike, to help us break down four local political sites on the basis of their Web-worthiness.

The governor's site has a ton of ways to get involved (volunteer, give, host your own site, host your own event, spread the word, write your local newspaper, share your photos) and appeals to every conceivable demographic (students, conservationists, veterans) to do so. The "Watch and Listen" section hosts radio ads, locally tailored videos and photos (including the governor on stage with Seattle's hip Cave Singers). There are also links out to her sites on Flickr, YouTube, MySpace (her profile quote is "Hi, I'm Chris") and Facebook (she lists Bruce Springsteen and Fleetwood Mac among favorite musicians).

The Designer Says: "The overall site uses a clean palette of blues and white. The animated header graphic of the cut-out of Washington state with the governor in front adds a nice, sophisticated touch. Unfortunately, at the bottom of the home page, the art falls apart. Furthermore, the inside pages use pictures that are of low quality. At best, the pictures are merely soft."

The main above-the-fold picture on the home page rotates among a handful of shots: Dino smiling in a diner, Dino smiling at an event, Dino smiling with his family, etc. (They'd do well to ditch "Dino smiling at a young woman," though. It's creepy.) In terms of multimedia and social networking perks, Rossi keeps up with Gregoire. There's a slew of radio and TV ads. His users, too, can sign up to have their own pages, and he also lives on Facebook, YouTube and MySpace. With "Dino's Blog," there's hope for the kind of down-to-earth communication that Web 2.0 is known for, but the blog is just another "latest news" feed and doesn't appear even to be authored by Dino.

The Designer Says: "This site is quite boxy. Everything has very hard lines, making the site feel confining. On the home page, the darkness of the "Fact Check" seems ominous. The simplicity of the navigation, along with the breadcrumbs above most pages, makes it easy to surf the site without getting lost."

McMorris Rodgers has a pretty dull site, visually, but all the pieces are in place. She has a promotional video front and center on the home page, where she comes out and speaks directly to you. She subscribes to all the right social networking sites. She flouts her endorsements, outlines her priorities and makes it obvious how to give to her campaign. Despite her sizeable coffers, however, she doesn't feature much multimedia (there's only one video ad).

The Designer Says: "A clean site with clear distinctions between sections. The gray is a bit dull, which dampens the spirit of the candidate. Although the header graphic shows McMorris in various photo ops, the site would have been better served using those photos throughout the site. The "Volunteer!" and "Make a Contribution!" buttons are good in that they direct the end-user to where s/he will have the most impact."

Mark Mays is working with a tight budget in his bid for McMorris Rodgers' seat in Congress, and it shows. The site is more akin to the "brochureware" sites of the late '90s , with poor design, cheesy photos (Mays marching in Deer Park's Settler's Day Parade) and an almost complete lack of special features. He's on Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn, yes, but go to "Video" and you're met (at this late date in the election) with "Under construction -- content coming soon." Ouch.

The Designer Says: "Yikes! The Mark Mays site is amateurish. The home page looks just too wordy. The bottom navigation is broken. The News page has errors. The good news: The pictures that are used on the site are inviting and warm. Mays looks approachable and involved."


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& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & bout two weeks from now, we'll all wake up knowing who our next president will be. Could be awesome, could be horrible. In case of the latter, Americans of all stripes have long looked to the north as a not-too-distant way out. Oh, Canada! (OK, not all Americans pine for the Land o'Canuck, considering the legality of same-sex marriages and marijuana. And the winters.) But get this: getting in ain't like it used to be.

"It's not very easy," says immigration lawyer Blair Hodgman. "It used to be real easy."

Hodgman tacks this problem mainly to the popularity of Canada as an immigrant destination. The country's affluent. It's big and empty. There are jobs. And there's all that good beer (again, not all Americans are partial toward Labatt's). "There is this huge backlog," Hodgman says of citizenship applicants. "They're not even accepting [applications] anymore."

"We have somewhere in excess of 600,000 in that queue," says Doug Kellam, a spokesman with Citizenship and Immigration Canada. "For somebody in Delhi, India, for instance, the wait time is around six years."

Historically, people from all over the world have flocked to Canada, and Canadians have welcomed them with open arms, if only for their own survival. According to Statistics Canada, 1.1 million people immigrated to Canada between 2001 and 2006. The entire population, immigrants included, grew by 1.2 million people. Math nerds will realize that "natural" growth only contributed 8 percent to the entire population spurt.

"Many take the view that Canada's immigration levels should remain high, or increase significantly," reads a 2004 report from Canada's Library of Parliament. "Some focus generally on overall demographic needs, while others stress labour market requirements, but the result is the same -- support for high, and higher, levels of immigration."

In the five years after 2001, the countries with the largest Canadian immigration rates, China and India, contributed 155,000 and 129,000 immigrants, respectively. American expats accounted for just 3.5 percent of the rush, supplying about 39,000 immigrants.

Jeffrey Lowe, an immigration lawyer in Vancouver, British Columbia, says there are many ways to enter Canada -- marry a Canadian or invest big money in a Canadian company -- but "basically you need to have a job offer to immigrate to Canada."

Before February of this year, those wishing to move north would be ranked according to their education, age, language abilities (Parlez-vous fran & ccedil;ais, vous putain de imb & eacute;cile?), family connections and work experience. Then you were put in that queue.

Now, with the line around the block, the Canadian government has taken to reforming the system: highly skilled people in fields that are "under pressure," or lacking enough workers, get to the front of the line. (Note to uneducated losers: to the back!) These skilled jobs haven't been identified yet, but they'll likely include health care professionals, engineers and their intellectual ilk.

"It's better for the applicant, it's better for the employer... and it's better for Canada as a whole," says Kellam.

You -- you unskilled, monolingual, don't-know-anybody-in-Canada, old person -- are not welcome in Canada.

And if you think you can strap on the ice skates and claim political-refugee status just because your candidate didn't win the election, good luck. "They'd have to establish that they have a well-founded fear of persecution," says Kellam. Which countries? "Certainly countries like Sri Lanka ... Iraq, Afghanistan. These are refugee-producing countries. Certain countries in Africa where there's civil unrest. Colombia. That's another country where there's serious matters at play." What he means to say is: not America.

Still, the outcome of this election could bear down on Kellam's door, despite the don't-come-a-knockin' sign out front.

"The last time President Bush was elected," he says, "there was a surge of hits on our Website."


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& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & Y & lt;/span & ou'd think an old soldier would know that adage about how we always make the mistake of preparing to re-fight the last war. But here's John McCain, in the home stretch of the race for president -- the culmination of a remarkable, profoundly American life -- running the perfect campaign... if we were still in the year 2000. Back then, the playbook told you to remain vague on specifics, fire up the faithful by pushing all those divisive hot buttons and, if necessary, trash the living hell out of your opponent. Hey, it worked for George W. Bush, leaving tread marks on McCain, Al Gore and, in 2004, John Kerry.

Here in 2008, people want politics waged differently -- to solve problems, not score cheap points. People are hungry for plans from their leaders, the hot buttons aren't eliciting the same Pavlovian responses and this time, the opponent -- Barack Obama -- is having none of the trashing.

McCain's story is truly poignant -- this is a guy who gets shot down twice, once by North Vietnam and once by Karl Rove, and he just keeps getting up. He's like Rocky, and every American can respect that. But since shortly after his flameout in 2000, he's been a prisoner of Republican orthodoxy.

McCain's secret weapon had long been his fans among all the political independents out there -- in fact, this very newspaper advocated a joint John Kerry-John McCain ticket in 2004. But since winning the nomination of his party this summer, McCain found out how small a tent his party is pitching these days. He wanted to choose former Democrat Joe Lieberman as his running mate, but the decision was vetoed by party insiders. With time running out, one hand tied behind his back by the need to appeal to the base, and the GOP bench looking woefully thin, he chose Sarah Palin.

Bye-bye, independents.

The choice for vice president usually doesn't matter -- unless you screw it up. And McCain's choice has been a disaster, reflecting a political party at the end of its rope. Not only has Palin been judged unfit for command by respected members of all political parties, but she has also refused to answers questions about her intentions should she become president. Even Joe the Plumber talks openly to the press, and he's not running for anything. This is a basic, well-established requirement of American Democracy. We, through the media, interview our potential leaders, for everything from city councils to school boards. Or, to put it in business terms, imagine you are on a board of directors and you want to choose a new CEO, but she refuses to sit down for an interview. That is Palin's extremely puzzling position; for a lot of Americans, that choice all by itself disqualifies her and John McCain from serving.

Sorry, those are the rules: no public vetting, no vote.

Bush Bias

McCain started this race with an anchor tied to his leg: George W. Bush. After eight years in power, it's hard for any party to convince America to stay with them. But this is different -- Bush is already widely considered to be among the three worst presidents of all time, along with James "Civil War" Buchanan and Herbert "Great Depression" Hoover. And after voting with Bush 90 percent of the time, as McCain has admitted to doing, those coattails were almost guaranteed to smother whoever came next.

Oh, the irony. Bush torpedoed McCain in 2000, and it looks like he's doing it all over again in 2008.

As we ponder this election, it's crucial to understand the lessons of the recent past. As Obama has observed, we've made big elections about little things. In 2000, we picked the guy who seemed like a fun drinking buddy, failing to realize that was exactly the hook his handlers hoped America would swallow. Bush cynically told us about being humble in the world and how he'd keep government small; meanwhile, his cronies were planning the biggest heist in history. While we grieved over 9/11 and then bickered over who was more patriotic, they were picking our pockets. Today, after the debacle on Wall Street, we are just starting to make out the contours of an unprecedented transfer of wealth from the middle class to the very cream of the upper class.

In America, elections are always about big things -- so shame on us for being so na & iuml;ve. Yes, Bush tortured the Constitution, the economy, even fellow humans, but the saddest part is that we elected him to do it. Twice.

Karma is coming for Republicans because America woke up. Now we see the sham, how we were routinely tricked into complicity whenever the manipulators waved the red meat -- gay marriage, flag pins, freedom fries, taxes...

Ahh, Taxes...

At this point, we must interrupt this endorsement to discuss our nation's completely unhinged relationship to the issue of taxes. Can we please have a grown-up conversation about taxes? As you may have noticed, it's the only issue John McCain has left. Obama, he often concludes, will raise your taxes. (Actually, Obama won't, unless you're already rich, and in that case -- good news! -- you can afford it.)

In every state budget in the land -- and even in your own personal household -- "taxes" are simply the amount required to pay the bills. But when it comes to Washington, D.C., the discussion veers into fantasyland. For our own sake, we simply must cope with reality better than this. As we teeter on this brink of economic catastrophe, we need our discussion on taxes to be rooted in actual economic law, not wishful thinking.

Here's the fact: Taxes are raised every time government spends more than it takes in. When George W. Bush launched the war in Iraq, expanded Medicare benefits and bumbled into having to pump $700 billion into Wall Street, he raised the nation's taxes. Of course he didn't have the political honesty to actually levy the tax at the time -- he just left it all for your kids to pay. (FYI: The current tally of the Bush bill just passed the $10 trillion mark.) And by promising even more tax cuts, McCain's answer seems to be to keep digging. More often than not through history, nations and empires fall because of collapsing finances, not from invading armies.

So to review: McCain and Bush have spent us right up to the doorstep of the poorhouse, and now it's Obama who will raise your taxes? That's the very pinnacle of political dishonesty and cynicism.

And in 2008, America isn't buying it.

The Right Stuff

It's fitting that just as the epitaph of the me-first generation is being written, the next generation is making its case for a new paradigm in American life. And they're making it under the banner of change heralded by Barack Obama.

In the most tangible ways, Obama is the face of America's future -- multiracial, open-minded, humble, smart. Electing Obama would be a pivotal, page-turning moment in our history, allowing us all finally to move on from the persistent troubles that date back to the sin of slavery. He's a living, breathing more perfect union -- the very best that we, as a nation, can produce. Rising up from humble, only-in-America origins and educated at our best schools, he has the exact pedigree these complex times demand. Most important, his smarts and competence augur a return to those times when America thought and innovated its way to a better future. Obama will make book-learnin' cool again, and we'll get back to common sense for a change. Instead of making our problems worse, we'll start solving them.

In the ongoing quest for a better nation, every four years America ponders what it takes to make a good president. Experience? Yes, of course, but consider that both Buchanan and Hoover were among the most experienced presidents to ever take power, while Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman were among the least. Temperament? Yes, as proven when John Kennedy narrowly avoided a nuclear war. Independence? Absolutely, as when Teddy Roosevelt took on his own party when America needed him to. Brains? Thomas Jefferson -- enough said. Wisdom? Both Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan earned theirs over remarkable lives, and they shared those lessons at key moments in our history.

Obama's nearly two-year campaign has offered ample proof that he has the right mix of such gifts and skills; he's got calm, cool and collected covered, too. But what is especially right for these times might be his devotion to the same issue that defined our very first president: national unity. How he is running his campaign matters -- by sticking to facts and by honestly and openly dealing with the issues that have come up along the way, he is leaving no scorched earth behind him. As a result, if elected he will be able to bring people from all sides together -- continuing what has been the hallmark of his public career. And that's the only way we'll meet the challenges we have arrayed against us.

A New Movement

To turn this country around, this needs to be more than just an election; it needs to be the start of a broad-based, progressive movement. It's long past time for a fresh approach based on that common ground all Americans share -- our children's future, our blessed way of life and our commitment to opportunity for all. The politics of division have failed to solve anyone's problems, so we need to stop retreating into our red and blue bunkers. Instead, we must meet out on that precious common ground and start being one big happy, prosperous purple nation.

Maybe we have lost our way -- perhaps we've been a nation of spoiled children these past few decades, looking out for ourselves more than our neighbors, our children or even the rest of the world.

Our recent economic setbacks are proving by the day that greed is a dead end. But in learning that hard lesson, Americans are coming back to an old, time-tested, conservative idea -- that we are stronger and wealthier together than we can ever be apart. And that's really the idea of America -- and the reason Barack Obama is such a beacon of hope for so many people today. In him, and through his words, we touch that memory of the noble, selfless America we learned to love as kids -- the America that for these past eight years has been stolen from us.

Now's the time to take America back.

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