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Starting Gate: Let The Games Begin

When the use of Paris Hilton in an ad for John McCain dominates a news day, you know it's a slow period in the campaign. When Paris Hilton responds with her own ad and it becomes the topic du jour, you know it's gotta be August.

It appears more and more likely that we won't have a vice presidential announcement out of either campaign before the Olympics kick off Friday and with families and workers trying to get in their final summer flings before fall, there's not much attention being paid by most voters to anything other than maybe the Brett Favre saga.

It's not like even the most passionate political junkies don't need a breather from a marathon campaign that is now in its 20th month overall. But just because attention might shift away from the day-to-day minutia of the campaign trial doesn't mean that what takes its place in voters' minds won't have an impact when things get rolling again.

Take the Olympics, for example. It's difficult to gauge the interest in the games, especially when they're happening halfway around the world. But these games are more about medal counts, individual accomplishments and whether or not the U.S. basketball team can regain its dominance. They're about international politics.

Even before the games have begun, the emerging subtext of the Olympics has focused on the environment (can Beijing clear the air?), human rights (has the world forgotten about Tibet?) and authoritarianism (censorship of the Web?). U.S. voters will be exposed to more coverage and information about one of our fastest growing competitors over the next two weeks than they have in the past year – maybe two.

How will it impact voters' feelings about this election, if at all? Americans have become self-aware of two factors in recent decades – the loss of jobs to low-wage nations like China and a corresponding flood of Chinese products into the U.S. market (anecdotal note: this writer has heard questions from more than one youngster in recent years about why all their toys are made in China).

Certainly many U.S. companies salivate over the prospect of increased access to China's markets and many economists maintain that free trade deals are good for the economy. But that runs counter to the insecurities that many voters feel – about jobs, energy prices, the future and our place in the world. As the electorate hears arguments about the need to wean ourselves (with sometimes expensive alternatives) off of fossil fuels and the dangers of climate change, they are seeing pictures of Beijing shrouded in soot and pollution and hosting the world.

How will all it all impact the race, if it does at all? Hard to say but in a close contest, just the impressions voters get from events like this can become a part of the overall calculations. At least until the conventions begin.

Around The Track

  • Barack Obama is in Indiana today where he will appear at a town hall meeting with possible VP pick Evan Bayh. John McCain stops in West Virginia and Ohio.
  • Growing doubts about Obama have kept him from surging ahead nationally, the Washington Times reports.
  • The New York Times examines the network of high-dollar, influential "bundlers" that the Obama campaign has put together this campaign cycle.
  • "Hey America, I'm Paris Hilton and I'm a celebrity too. Only I'm not from the olden days and I'm not promising change like that other guy. I'm just hot." Paris Hilton, in her "campaign ad."