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British try to sway Ohio swing voters

Europeans seek voice in high-stakes election.

By Lisa AbendCorrespondents of The Christian Science Monitor, Geoff PingreeCorrespondents of The Christian Science Monitor / October 21, 2004


As an undeclared voter living in the critical swing state of Ohio, James Chapman is accustomed to intense appeals from the presidential campaigns. But on Tuesday, the Springfield resident received a handwritten letter urging him to support John Kerry - from a stranger in England.

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He's not alone. Last week The Guardian, a British newspaper, launched a campaign called Operation Clark County, which provides interested readers with the mailing addresses of undeclared voters in Clark County, Ohio - where President Bush lost in the 2000 election by 324 votes.

The novel effort is creating a stir. More than 14,000 of the paper's generally left-leaning readers have sent impassioned pleas. Many Americans - evidently disconcerted by their unsolicited British pen pals - have written back, in language not fit for a family newspaper.

This transatlantic correspondence embodies the differences between European and American politics. But it also underscores an almost desperate political energy on the part of Europeans who feel a growing alarm at the unilateral policies of the United States since Sept. 11.

Indeed, Europeans - and American expatriates on the Continent - have never watched a US presidential race with greater interest. And The Guardian's effort is but the latest bid to offer European spectators a chance to enter the American political fray.

In Spain, both Cynthia Dillon, director of that country's chapter of Republicans Abroad, and Juan Verde, chairman of its section of Americans Overseas for Kerry, agree that Europeans are paying far greater attention to these elections because so much is at stake.

Ms. Dillon, a jewelry designer who has lived in Spain for the last fifteen years, says that, for Europeans, these elections will determine nothing less than "civilization as we know it."

Mr. Verde, who was born in Spain, adds that, "These elections will determine the political tone for the next 20 years."

Menzies Campbell, a member of Parliament, wrote a letter to a Clark County voter that was published by The Guardian. "Your British friends are concerned that the rule of law has been abandoned in Guantánamo, and your willingness to adopt a right of preemption in security makes us nervous that the multilateralism that sustained American and Europe for so long is, if not being abandoned, at least being severely modified," he wrote in part.

His sentiment is shared across Europe.

Mary Paul Jesperson, Denmark's representative for the Kerry group, has observed the same development. "There's tremendous interest here - Danish TV showed 'Outfoxed' [a documentary critical of Fox News] last week, and they broadcast the debates for the first time too."

Henry Nickel, chair of the German chapter of Republicans Abroad, has noted a significant increase in the number of Germans who ask him to come speak about the American electoral system.

Not surprisingly, sentiment in Europe is running largely against President Bush.

An international poll released Friday showed that nearly two-thirds of Europeans oppose Bush.

Crispian Smith, board member of the Dutch branch of Democrats Abroad, says those findings may actually underestimate many Europeans' antipathy toward the President. "I haven't met one Dutch person who doesn't have a very strong opinion that George Bush has made a mess of things," Smith says.