Finally, it's our turn, with the only poll that counts

The Baltimore Sun

This year may turn out to be the year of the voter.

The political stars have had their moment, and now it's our turn.

Seldom has there been more keen motivation to cast a ballot.

An amalgam of hope, fear and anger drives us to the polls.

We're at war in Iraq, apparently having been lied to about why.

Our president, George W. Bush, stands accused of blithely presiding over economic calamity, allowing a web of complicated investment practices to choke the worldwide financial system.

We've sent a bunch of unbelievers to Washington, people who ran against and ridiculed government and then failed to manage it. What we got was Katrina, foreclosures and the 401(k) meltdown. Was anyone minding the store?

It's been called a transformational election.

A woman, Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton, almost won the presidential nomination of her party. A black man, Sen. Barack Obama, did win. And he's leading in the polls.

What he brings to the grand festival of democracy used to be called charisma. In this election, it was derisively referred to as celebrity. That's what you call charisma if you don't have it.

The old-time pols will tell you that turnout depends on the ballot: who's running, what's at stake. In Maryland, we have slots along with the chance to be part of history.

Tens of thousands of Americans have turned out to see Senator Obama, including 84,000 or so in Denver at the Democratic convention and 100,000 just the other day in St. Louis. Voter registration is up here and across the nation. Democratic turnout for the primaries in Maryland set a record for this state. Election officials everywhere say they'll be overrun.

Challenged as never before, young people seem ready to explode the idea that they're the least reliable of voters.

Since our deep Democratic roots mean we're not "in play," we've become what Maryland presidential elections scholar John T. Willis calls a "donor state." We send money and manpower to states such as Pennsylvania and Virginia. Teams of volunteers representing both candidates have moved into these battleground states to make the case for their candidates.

People who have volunteered for these sojourns have marveled at the computer-driven efficiency of the Obama campaign. Phone banks, door-knocking and all the rest of the "ground game" seem to have created a new level of citizen involvement in presidential politics. The community organizer seems to have organized much of the nation.

The Republican star, Sen. John McCain, has the gratitude of Americans for his military service. But he may be, at 72, on the wrong side of the transformational divide. His effort to cross over with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, plucky and youthful, was seen as a masterstroke at the start - and more like a gimmick now.

Since then, Mr. McCain has sorted through a variety of story lines in search of something that would stop the Obama momentum. He accuses his opponent of foisting socialism on us in the form of redistributing tax receipts. Hello? We've been doing this redistribution thing for generations. What were the Republicans doing under President Bush when they shifted billions into the accounts of the wealthiest Americans? It was remarkable that reducing the tax break for the wealthiest Americans - as Mr. Obama proposes - would finance a tax break for the rest of us. It's called rebalancing.

All of which leads to unprecedented voter registration and the anticipation of a massive turnout Tuesday. Maryland has about 3.4 million registered voters - 260,000 more than in 2004.

Long waits are predicted everywhere. One Maryland political leader, state Sen. Lisa A. Gladden of Baltimore, explored sending a band to entertain voters. Others are planning to field "comfort teams" to help voters endure the wait.

It might not be necessary. We're not after comfort. We're after a leader.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR-FM. His column appears Sundays. His e-mail is

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