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Our Views: Next election is crucial, and getting closer
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Now that the 2007 city elections are done, it's not too early to remind ourselves that about a year from now, we're looking at The Big One. Next year's general election may set the course for our state and nation for years to come.

Granted, many of us didn't vote in Tuesday's elections. Either there weren't any races to choose from where we live or we simply couldn't get excited about a slate of unopposed candidates. But now it gets serious. And it's time to start paying attention.

Next November, and in primaries leading up to it, we will select leaders to represent us in our county governments, state legislature and U.S. Congress. We will decide whether to return U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss to Washington or select from a group of challengers for his seat.

And of course, the real Big One will be who will take over the White House. There is no shortage of contenders: eight Democrats and eight Republicans, not to mention those from minor parties jockeying for attention.

Many lamented the early start to the campaign. Most candidates, along with a few who didn't make it this far, launched their presidential bids before the ink was dry on the 2006 ballots. Throughout the year, candidates have been raising money, running ads and hitting the campaign trail earlier than ever. Such an early start to the onslaught likely dulled our senses. How long are we expected to pay attention to what so many candidates have to say?

Well, now it's time. Just look at the calendar: The early start to the campaigns has coincided with the earliest start ever to the primary season. Iowa will hold its caucuses right after the New Year's holiday, with the New Hampshire primary somewhere close behind. Michigan, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida are all bunched up in January, leading up to Super Tuesday on Feb. 5, when Georgia is among some 21 states, at last count, with primaries or caucuses scheduled. At least, that's the way it looks now; so many states have been cutting in line ahead of each other to be first that the whole primary calendar has been written in pencil.

Feb. 5 isn't that far off. That gives us less than three months to learn about the candidates and make our choice. And once half the country votes on Super Tuesday, the nominees could well be set for both parties for the long haul to November.

If you figure in the time we spend focusing on the holidays, the new year, getting our taxes paid, caulking the windows for winter and whatnot, this election could be on top of us before we know it. So it's a good time to tune in and see what the candidates have to offer.

This presidential election is unique, for several reasons. For the first time since 1928, there is neither an incumbent president nor vice president seeking the office, leaving it wide open to a host of challengers. That may be why there are so many of them.

And quite a diverse group it is. On the Democratic side, we have a former first lady among four current U.S. senators, a couple of former senators (one from Alaska, of all places), a governor and a current U.S. Representative who recently made news because he claims he saw a UFO. On the Republican side, we have a former mayor, one current senator, three House members, two ex-governors and a former senator who starred in "Law and Order" on TV.

However we may feel about the candidates from either party, we certainly have a wide array of resumes from which to choose. One of these 16 people will lead our nation, and in turn the world, for the next four to eight years. That person will implement foreign and domestic policies that will affect generations to come.

It is a historic choice, and we need to get it right. So it's up to us all to scrutinize the candidates carefully as informed voters. Read and learn about each of them, their qualifications, their policy ideas and their vision for the country. Weigh their strengths and their weaknesses and decide who can summon the former to overcome the latter. Picture them representing our interests with other world leaders, reacting to a world or national crisis and dealing with Congress.

This is an important time and a key vote for our nation. The time has come to set aside our other distractions for a bit so we can choose wisely come Feb. 5 and beyond. We don't get a second crack at this, so let's all do our part and become as informed as possible in the weeks to come.