Thursday, January 10, 2008


Diana Nethercott photograph

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
January 9, 2008


Richard Pecoraro filled in the penultimate oval before slipping the paper into its envelope.

The ballot listed alphabetically eight candidates vying to be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States.

“Snow White and the seven dwarfs,” he said.

Snow White would be Hillary Clinton. As for the others, two have since dropped from the race, with more to follow. For whom did Mr. Pecoraro vote?

“For Happy.”

Happy would be Barack Obama, the smiling senator from Illinois, whose feel-good rhetoric has turned a long-shot candidacy into a remarkable phenomenon.

Mr. Pecoraro is an Obamaniac who jumped on the bandwagon months ago. An American by birth and a Canadian resident by choice, he launched a local online chapter of “Americans for Obama.”

At 74, the retiree does not fit into the youthful demographic that is threatening to overturn decades of conventional wisdom about presidential politics. The presidency of George W. Bush seems to many to have been such a fiasco that a fresh approach is needed, even if the specifics of change remain unclear and the champion of change untested.

“Why am I for Obama? I immediately knew that he was the man I wanted.” Mr. Pecoraro made a few false starts in trying to explain his choice.

“I can't put it in an exact phrase. He just seems to be what the U.S. needs. They need some real leadership. I know the U.S. is in terrible, terrible, terrible trouble with Bush.”

After a long career as a mechanical designer in the aerospace industry, followed by a stint as a salesman for Pitney Bowes, the company that introduced the postage meter, Mr. Pecoraro retired to Victoria 20 years ago. He has been here long enough to refer to Canadians as “us” and “we” and to Americans as “them” and “they.” He's even figured out the parliamentary system.

As an independent, the former California resident is allowed to vote in the state's Democratic primary. He made his choice for president and voted in seven referendums.

The envelope promised paid postage but only if mailed in the United States, so he went to the post office for a 93-cent stamp. It was a small price to pay for democracy.

Besides, he had already made a $400 donation to his candidate, the first time he has ever sent money to a politician.

Politics used to be an in-person experience. A voter attended an all-candidates meeting, waved a placard at a rally, tromped to the polls to cast a vote. Now, a voter trolls partisan websites, watches speeches on YouTube, casts a ballot by post. The hustings is as near as the closest computer screen.

Mr. Pecoraro even ordered his-and-hers Obama T-shirts online for himself and his wife, Elizabeth Murray, a Canadian. His is navy blue, hers white.

Mr. Pecoraro is taking part in a political campaign miles removed from his home in the suburban Broadmead neighbourhood. His ballot won't be counted until Feb. 5 when the California primary is held, a day so crowded with caucuses and primary elections that it has been dubbed Super Duper Tuesday. The likely presidential candidates for both major parties are expected to emerge from the day's battles in 24 states.

In Vancouver, a group called Democrats Abroad was to hold a meeting last night at a West End church, where they were to chew over the New Hampshire results and prepare for a primary of their own.

The Democratic Party treats party members living abroad as though they were a state of their own. Democrats Abroad will be sending 22 delegates to the party's national convention in Denver, which opens Aug. 25. The group will have one more delegate than South Dakota and one less than Idaho.

Democrats living around the globe can vote in person, by mail, and even online for their favourite candidate from Super Duper Tuesday until Feb 12. The results will be released 10 days later. The delegates will then be selected at a caucus to be held at a Vancouver hotel in April.

The co-chair of the Vancouver chapter is Sean Lauer, a 39-year-old assistant professor in sociology at the University of British Columbia. Mr. Lauer was born in Philadelphia to a social worker father and a journalist mother. “I've been a Democrat my whole life,” he said, “even before I knew I had a choice.”

Republicans living in Canada have to cast absentee ballots in the state in which they were last registered. The group Republicans Abroad Canada, based in Toronto, also promotes voter registration.

As a voter unaffiliated with either party, Mr. Pecoraro cast an absentee ballot based on his former residence in Folsom, Calif. “I did a lot of years there,” he said jokingly of the city, not the prison for which it is best known.

Mr. Pecoraro – “not Italian, Sicilian,” he says of his family name – was born in St. Louis, where his mother was as a department-store sales clerk, and his father and, later, his stepfather worked as truck drivers. He grew up near an Italian-American neighbourhood now known as The Hill, which produced two baseball catchers in Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola. As a boy, he preferred baseball's successful Cardinals to the city's sad-sack Browns. He wanted to be with a winner.

He has a concern about the campaign for which he makes a confession.

“I have never voted for a candidate who won,” he said. Although born and raised a Catholic, he did not vote for co-religionist John F. Kennedy in 1960, preferring instead the more experienced vice-president, Richard Nixon, a California Republican. Mr. Kennedy won. Eight years later, Mr. Pecoraro could not again bring himself to support Mr. Nixon. Mr. Nixon won.

“That's the fear I have for Obama,” he said. “I didn't want to go for him because I might make him lose.”

In a campaign year in which old truths are being discarded like so many unwanted pamphlets, the unknown Pecoraro Curse might also be overcome.

2008 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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