Jewish World Review August 31, 2004 / 15 Elul, 5764

Barbara Shelly

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Consumer Reports


Would the last undecided voter please check in?


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Would the last undecided voter please check in?

I have information that would send a legion of pollsters and political operatives into a collective swoon. They would walk through fire to get at this nugget of knowledge.

I know the identity of the last undecided voter in America.

She is 80 years old and lives in Pennsylvania. She works out at Curves three times a week, volunteers at an emergency services agency and plays a wicked game of bridge.

The last undecided voter is my mother. And that's all the clues I'm giving out.

Her ambivalence comes as a pleasant surprise to her children. After growing up in a sturdy Republican household, all four of us veered toward the Democrats. I only hope that if my child chooses a different political leaning than mine, I'll be able to respond with the same bemused sportsmanship my parents exhibited.

Dad passed away during the Clinton administration, alternately appalled and entertained in his final years by the "shenanigans" of that White House. Mom was happy to get a Republican back at the helm, but the last three years have tested her loyalty.

She hates it that George Bush got us into the war in Iraq. Plus, she's something of an environmentalist, and opening the Alaskan preserves to oil drilling isn't her idea of an energy policy.

I phoned home about the time the Democrats were nominating John Kerry in Boston. Polls were showing that 90 percent of the electorate had made up its mind which way to vote. But not my mother.


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"What do you think of the convention?" I asked.

"Hmm," she replied. "Hillary looks like she's put on some weight."

I'd kind of expected this. One either likes Sen. Clinton or doesn't, and my mother never has.

"Hillary isn't running for president," I said. "What about John Kerry?"

"Too liberal," she said.

"So you've decided to vote for Bush," I deduced.

"No, I'm not voting for Bush!" said my mother.

"Well who will you vote for?" I asked.

"I'm writing in your name," she said.

I told her the republic was truly in trouble.

I understand my mother's predicament. Voting Democratic, especially with a Massachusetts liberal leading the ticket, goes against her grain. Yet George Bush's brand of Republicanism isn't her style, either.

My parents believed government should stay out of people's business. They meant that literally. My father owned a moving and storage franchise. He thought Republicans were less likely to impose regulations that would keep him up until 11 p.m. every weeknight doing paperwork.

My folks saw the Democrats as the party of government giveaways and union influence. As someone who employed truck drivers, my father had strong feelings about the Teamsters.

But my parents never equated Republicanism with a hatred of taxes so strong it would starve public schools and make tuition at public colleges difficult for working families to afford. We associated that kind of thinking with fringe elements like the John Birch Society.

The Republican Party of my parents' generation also didn't expect its members to support restrictions on abortion or think people should be able to walk around with concealed handguns. All of that came later.

I attended college in the '70s, and for a time I regarded my folks' political leanings as uncool. But when I moved to the Midwest in the mid-'80s, I found that the Democrats here had a lot in common with my parents. Some of the Republicans fit the old Pennsylvania definition of "a bircher." Only then did I fully appreciate the pragmatic form of Republicanism I'd grown up with, and which is becoming an endangered species.

My mother's status as an undecided voter has been the subject of many a telephone conversation in the family.

"She's voting for Nader. I know it," said my sister Susan, sounding grim.

"I'm trying to get Mother not to waste her vote," said my brother, Jim. "She said she's writing in my name."

"Hold it right there," I said. "She told me she's writing in my name."

Pennsylvania, like Missouri, is one of those states that could swing to Kerry or Bush. The great lesson from the 2000 presidential race is that every vote counts. It's possible the entire election could hinge on how - or if - my mother makes up her mind.

Heaven help us all.



Barbara Shelly is a columnist for The Kansas City Star. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2004, The Kansas City Star. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.