An election that's not a lock: Imagine that

We are a long way from November, but the recent shift in political polls show a slight tremor of interest that might just some day rumble into a bona fide earthquake of change.

The 2008 presidential campaign looked to be a virtual lock months before it started, with Hillary &

Bill Clinton II &

anointed as president-in-waiting. Like most Hollywood sequels, this one also lacks the entertainment and flair of the original.

Even the Democrats looked like they couldn't fumble away the opportunity afforded by an administration's second term that rivaled the likes of Nixon and Grant for ineptitude. If Bush's bumbling of Iraq wasn't enough, if the threat of escalation of war against Iran didn't seal it, certainly gas prices approaching $4 a gallon and the current housing crisis threatening to impoverish millions would doom any Republican candidate.

Despite a clear goal line, the Dems still dropped the ball. A Wall Street Journal story today says one year after the optimism of the election of 2006, one word is best used to describe their efforts: gridlock.

After the sweeping upsets by the Democrats in 2006 we wondered about what it would mean. We hoped an emboldened Congress would act &

while we also stood wary, waiting to see if the change would really come. The recent news of Oregon's National Guard placed on alert for a call-up the likes we haven't seen since World War II confirmed our wariness. Nothing has changed despite voters clear demands for it.

America needs a bruising election that will shake the pretension and platitudes of candidates like the spin cycle on an industrial washing machine. This country simply cannot afford another president, bought by the U.S. war machine, regardless of whether a D, an R, or even a Z follows the winner's name. Mrs. Clinton, for all her intellect and capability, seems just too canned, too shrill and well, too owned.

The Republicans also offered their versions of Hillary, with the same cast of familiar characters, at least until Gov. Huckabee rode the fervor of the always faithful Religious Right into the center of the Iowa caucuses.

Now, the Rs have a race, and so do the Ds, with the possibility of a legitimate I, or two, thrown in for good measure. It's tough to imagine a better campaign scenario for American voters.

Still, it is too early to tell if business-as-usual politics, backed by scandalous millions, will win the day for a leading Republican or Democrat. But for now, those little shifts give reason for encouragement.

Clinton's eroding lead is reminiscent of Howard Dean's swoon in 2004.

Upstart candidates offering genuine change, most notably Barack Obama, have risen against the odds. An e-mail from our own Ginnie Deason, Readers Board moderator for the Daily Tidings who recently retired from the Mail Tribune, offered perspective about the potential of this political shift. She informed friends she was off to Iowa to campaign for Obama. Not since JFK, she said, had this die-hard political junkie felt such enthusiasm for the potential for change.

"There are all sorts of dedicated volunteers here that come from all parts of the country," Deason wrote Wednesday about her experience in Iowa. "I am particularly impressed with the younger volunteers. Yes, the young are beginning to participate in the political process again."

And there it is. Hope. A sense that maybe this election will truly shake and rumble to such extent the candidates' core conviction and integrity, or lack thereof, will emerge. Maybe in all this cynicism, another Camelot could be born. This week Oprah Winfrey said she hoped as much, as she too decided to do what Deason did and join Obama's quest.

It is a long, long way from November. But between now and then, we suspect we'll see a genuine race for the presidency that may even include a serious independent threat from the likes of Michael Bloomberg, who could finally break the stranglehold of bickering, partisan and leaderless two-party politics run amok in Washington.

For a campaign cycle that looked preordained, those little tremors from big voices like Oprah, and local voices like Ginnie Deason, suggest "anything" is possible.

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