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Election year 2008 starts with Iowa caucus

By By Jo Bonner
Last week, Iowans gathered in high school gyms, church basements, and other civic spaces to kick off the 2008 presidential nominating contest by caucusing for their candidate. Gathering together with friends and neighbors, caucus-goers demonstrated their commitment to American democracy.
Rather than casting their lot with established front runners, caucus-goers on both sides opted for underdogs - Democrats chose Senator Barack Obama of Illinois while Republicans chose former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. The victories of these two men reflect the historic nature of this year’s campaign: it is the first time since 1928 that neither party has fielded an incumbent president or vice president.
Though victory in Iowa is an important first step towards the Oval Office for any campaign, all of the presidential hopefuls have many months of work ahead of them whether they want to build on a lead, mount a comeback, or race to the front of the herd as this year’s “dark horse.”
This week, New Hampshire holds its primary, with Michigan, Nevada, South Carolina, and Florida following in the coming weeks. On February 5, more than 20 states - including Alabama - will hold primaries, an event so important some here in Washington call it “Super Tuesday.”
As I’m sure you are by now aware, the primary season has attracted an incredible amount of media attention. Campaigns even provide separate buses and airplanes for the media to follow them around. With all the attention lavished on candidates’ every move, every word - and even every new haircut - sometimes the most important part of the presidential primaries, and of America’s democratic process as a whole, gets lost in the static.
On voting day, it is not the candidates, the pollsters, the advisers, the strategists or the campaign gurus who go into the voting booth. The American people get to vote for themselves who will best represent their party and later their nation.
In the 2004 presidential elections, the state of Alabama reported 57 percent turnout. Nationwide, the turnout was closer to 55 percent. With this in mind, I am reminded of the day in December, 2005, when Iraqi citizens defied the death squads and suicide bombers to line up at polling stations in Baghdad, Ramadi, Mosul, Basra, and throughout the country to vote for the first time.
Despite the danger, Iraqi officials reported a 75 percent turnout that day. The Iraqi people emerged from decades of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial rule to cast their vote, celebrating democracy. The right to vote is among the most cherished in the world’s democracies and among the most desired rights in countries suffering under dictators, thugs, and tyrants.
As this election year dawns, I encourage each of you to reflect on the blessings of liberty and the right to self-government guaranteed by our Constitution and courageously defended by our troops from the Revolutionary War to today and to vote.
An Important Note for Mobile and Baldwin County Voters
This year the Alabama Presidential Preference Primary is scheduled for February 5,
2008, which is also Mardi Gras Day. Special legislation has been passed to provide the citizens of Mobile and Baldwin Counties an early voting day for this election.
For registered voters in Mobile County, early voting day is Wednesday, January 30, 2008. In Baldwin County, the Foley Civic Center will be the only polling place open, and early voting day is also January 30. Both counties will also be able to vote on February 5.
Mobile County voters who will not be able to vote at the polls on January 30, 2008 or February 5, 2008, may apply for an absentee ballot before January 25, 2008. Additionally, voters with certain emergency medical or work related problems that will prevent them from voting on January 30, 2008 or February 5, 2008 may request an emergency absentee ballot. For more information, you may visit www.earlyvotingday.com
My staff and I work for you. If we can ever be of service, do not hesitate to call my office toll free at 1-800-288-8721 or visit my website at http://bonner.house.gov.
Jo Bonner is a U.S. congressman. His column appears weekly.