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Our Views: Decision time nears for historic election
Now is when voters should tune in, evaluate candidates
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For more on the election, visit our Election Guide

History on the ballot
Depending on the results of the fall presidential election, history will be made one way or another. Here are some of the firsts we could see on the night of Nov. 4:

  • For the first time, the nation will elect a president born outside of the continental United States. Barack Obama was born in Honolulu, John McCain in the U.S. Canal Zone.
  • The nation will elect a sitting senator as president for only the third time in our history (John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Warren G. Harding in 1920 were the other two).
  • McCain would be the oldest man elected as a first-term president at age 72. If Obama is chose, he will be the fifth youngest at 47.
  • McCain would become the first veteran of the Vietnam War to reach the White House. Other presidents served in uniform during that period but not in combat.
  • If Obama is elected, he will become the first black man to reach the nation's highest office, 45 years after passage of the Civil Rights Act.
  • Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin would become the nation's first female vice president, 88 years after women were granted the right to vote. She'll also be the sixth youngest at 44, and the first born in Idaho.
  • Joe Biden would become the first-ever Catholic vice president and only the second born in Pennsylvania.
  • For the first time in 16 years, the nation will have a president not named Bush or Clinton.

The tickets for the November presidential election are set and the campaign is heading full steam into fall. And whatever one's politics may be or how one may feel about the parties and issues, one thing is certain: It's not going to be boring.

It certainly hasn't been to date. We have before us an election of historic proportions in so many ways, one that will break barriers for all time and set the country on a new course. Just what that course will be is yet to be decided.

It began with a rousing primary battle in both parties, with the Democrats in particular fighting it out through spring. Along the way, a record number of voters took part in primary elections, some in states that had been forgotten in years past by races that usually had been decided early. As a result, Americans from all walks of life are tuned into the fall campaign and the candidates like never before.

And quite a slate of candidates it is. On one side, the first black nominee for president whose candidacy has sparked widespread interest among young people. On the other side is an honored war veteran with a compelling personal story and a history of bipartisan success.

And while we don't know who will emerge on top, we do know where this campaign will be fought the hardest and likely decided: Small-town, middle class America.

Both candidates have targeted middle-income working families as the swing voters: those who live in suburbs and small towns, the people who hustle their kids off to school each morning before work, shuffle them to ballgames and practices and gather for church on Sunday.

The people who pay their taxes, power our nation's economy with their labor and spending, and who expect their government, at every level, to do right by them.
Like the people in Gainesville. And Lula and Buford. And Cumming and Jefferson.

This election, like many others, will come down to people like us in small towns across the country, from Georgia to Pennsylvania, from Iowa to Nevada.

Much has been made by both sides about concerns over the nation's shrinking middle class. Those in one camp feel that the current economic climate benefits big business and investors more than regular folks, those whose entire stock portfolio may consist only of a 401(k) account.

Others believe that runaway government spending and high taxes have strapped the middle class and made it harder for small businesses and individual entrepreneurs to succeed.

Either way, it's clear that the direction of the country for the next four years is going to come down to which point of view wins out among the majority of voters this fall.

The key states in this election won't be the usually big-vote cadres such as California, New York, Texas or Illinois, all set for one candidate or the other.

Instead, states such as Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri and Colorado are the big players in this campaign, with the swing of two or three from red to blue, or vice versa, the earthquake that will settle the race.

As for Georgia, we're not likely to be a key target but that could change. Democrat Barack Obama won the primary here in February by a large margin, and GOP nominee John McCain finished behind Mike Huckabee.

Yet most indications are that Georgia will remain solidly Republican despite Obama's attempts to break through. Our state has supported the Republican nominee in the last three presidential races and five of the last six (the exception being Bill Clinton in 1992). Meanwhile, our governor, state legislature majority, both U.S. senators and seven of 13 members of the House call the GOP home.

Still, we hope that our state can be a key player in the race and that our voices will be heard before and during Election Day. Gainesville, in particular, hasn't seen a presidential candidate stop by in person since President George H.W. Bush, father of the current president, came through town on a whistlestop tour in 1992.

We hope McCain or Obama will visit our area and enjoy a bit of Southern hospitality while telling us why they deserve our votes. And if they're not available, we'd be happy to welcome their running mates, Sen. Joe Biden or Gov. Sarah Palin, instead.

This election likely will remake the direction of our federal government and standing in the world for years to come. So we voters have work to do as well. We've seen the speeches at the conventions and we've heard the candidates and what they believe. We've absorbed their personal stories and we now know their families and backgrounds.

Now it's up to us to weigh their qualifications for office and decide which man will best lead our nation.

The campaigns often have strayed into less important matters.We hope some of the recent schoolyard nonsense over who called who this or that will be put aside and that the real substantive differences between these two capable men will win out.

But issues aren't the only criteria to consider. Character and judgment matter as well. Remember, the issues that are at the forefront of any campaign may be shoved aside by some unexpected occurrence during the new president's term. No one discussed the possibility of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks during the 2000 race, nor the impact of Hurricane Katrina in 2004, yet both were key events of the last two presidential terms.

What's more, it's not enough for a candidate to produce a laundry list of 10-point plans to fix every problem under the sun. Before voters can decide on a leader, the candidates need to earn our trust. Once they convince us they have our best interests at heart and can offer a vision of where they want to take the country, we're usually content to let them hash out the details.

Over the next several weeks, The Times will seek to help voters become informed about the men who seek the Oval Office, including their positions on key issues that matter to Northeast Georgians. We'll talk to voters about what they think, who they favor and what concerns they want the next president to address. Part of making the right choice as voters starts with the information you need to choose wisely.

The race is on. May the best man win.

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