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Note From Abroad: Spaniards See A Toss Up

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MADRID -- In the wake of the "Obamania" that followed the Illinois senator through the Middle East and Europe, it's surprising that many here still see the race as very close. Convinced that George W. Bush would fail in his bid for reelection four years ago, residents of Madrid are not counting McCain out.

In fact, the reaction to the Illinois senator's romp through Europe is strongly reminiscent of the effect he first had on Americans, which is surprising given the long and wearying election year and the course of the Democratic primary. Obama is seen as charismatic. He sweeps people away. The majority of polls, such as those conducted by the Pew Research Center, point to Obama's overwhelmingly favorable support abroad over McCain, toting numbers such as Germany's 82 percent confidence in Obama's role as president over their 33 percent confidence in McCain. Yet people are skeptical in regard to his ability to prevail in November.

Leaders of the Republicans and Democrats abroad organizations here, like GOP Chairman James Levy and Democratic Party President Alana Moceri, for example, believe the outcome of the election still very much hangs in the balance.

Right off the bat, both Mr. Levy and Ms. Moceri agree they "need to fight tooth and nail for every last vote." There are roughly 80,000 to 100,000 Americans either residing in Spain. They tell me it's difficult to get people living abroad to vote. This year, predictions based on past figures suggest that less than 5 percent of Americans in Spain will complete their absentee ballots.

But this year is different Levy and Morceri say. The internet, for one, has changed the game entirely, facilitating new grassroots initiatives and energy

Spanish citizens, for example, have constructed websites such as spain4mccain and Facebook pages.

Websites favoring McCain have been gaining popularity, popping up specifically to counteract the large amount of exposure Senator Obama is receiving from the national press. "Senator Obama is the focus... [meantime] Senator McCain receives close to no attention," says Levy, a problem exacerbated during the weeks of the European tour.

Although both organizations have enjoyed growth since the 2000 and 2004 elections, and regardless of the surfacing of support groups for McCain, Moceri claims that "'Democrats abroad' has been growing by leaps and bounds," unlike Republicans Abroad, which she describes as "... a very small handful" of voters.

The growth which these organizations exhibit is maintained through online efforts such as the bipartisan website votefromabroad, which provides instructions to all American citizens living abroad who wish to vote.

Levy and Moceri agree that, in Spain, the 2008 campaign is being followed with great interest, especially due to the hope of improving diplomatic relations. The prospect of a shift from the blunt, full-contact diplomacy employed by President Bush is one that animates the campaign's audience abroad just as much as their favorable reception of free trade.

But domestic concerns run through much of the discussion as well. Moceri argues that Spain's nationalized healthcare system should be used as an example for the United States, citing worry-free efficiencies that make it among the best systems in Europe.

A random sampling of Madrid commuters points up the uncertainty that lingers about the election outcome, despite all the press Obama has garnered here. McCain may win, many commuters say, because Americans are seen as racist and bigoted, unable to work around their prejudices to allow a black man to come to power.

Others fear violence, drawing parallels to the assassinated Kennedys.

For nearly all the respondents, however, the election is viewed as an opportunity to change what is perceived as a negative Bush impact and to bring about a rapprochement between the United States and its allies.

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