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Close Democratic race giving Spokane moment in sun

Sat., Feb. 9, 2008

Enjoy it while it lasts, Spokane.

The Democratic campaigns came calling Friday, and the country is awaiting the results of today’s caucuses. But the fickle, intense light of presidential politics won’t shine on us for long.

“We’re only important now in that there’s a contest,” said Gonzaga University political science professor Blaine Garvin. By Monday, he said, we won’t be that important anymore.

For those who see the candidates in person, though, there may be a longer-lasting effect.

Julia Stronks, a political science professor at Whitworth University, said that in close races the impact of personal campaign stops – as opposed to media coverage or other sources of information – is big among the undecided voters who are so influential at this stage.

“About 40 percent of voters make their minds up ahead of time and are not swayed by personal visits,” Stronks said in an e-mail interview. “However, the rest of us – those who make up our minds late or those who have been debating the merits of different candidates over a period of time – are impacted by the excitement of having candidates come to town.”

Friday’s visits to Spokane by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Michelle Obama come as their campaigns are battling for every delegate. Observers said the combination of visits on a single day, the fact that the visits are coming during primary voting, and the closeness of the race itself combine to make this year unusual.

“Washington, by chance, finds itself having its 15 minutes of fame,” said Washington State University political science professor Lance Leloup.

The positive result, experts predicted, will be a boost in participation in today’s caucuses. “I suspect we’re going to see a huge jump,” Leloup said.

Stronks said the close race on the Democratic side can drive up participation even among Republicans – who are also caucusing today – though their race is not closely contested.

“This year is unusual in so many respects,” Stronks wrote. “We are used to having candidates here during the general election period, but this is the first time I can remember so much attention paid by voters who are not closely connected with a particular party. When independent voters pay attention, candidates pay attention.”

Curt Fackler, Spokane County GOP chairman, said interest in his party’s caucuses is expected to be down since Mitt Romney dropped out and John McCain has taken a big lead. But he said he hopes Republicans turn out to do other important work of the process, including discussing the party’s platform and nominating delegates to the county convention.

Fackler said the visits by Democrats won’t do much for GOP caucus participation, but he thinks the attention is good for the city.

“I think it’s good they know Spokane exists,” he said.


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