Presidential politics impacting South Shore |

Presidential politics impacting South Shore

Jeff Munson

Photo illustration by Jonah M. Kessel

If ever there was a time presidential politics were more accessible to voters, that time is now.

Campaign issues that resonate in New Hampshire or Colorado also can be felt right here at Lake Tahoe. Jobs, the economy, gas prices, national security – these are the bread-and-butter themes that have affected practically everyone because of their direct consequences on our pocketbooks.

With this week’s Democratic National Convention in Denver on the heels of Barack Obama’s announcement of Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware as his running mate, Americans will see the Democratic Party’s vision for the next four years unfold.

And a week later, in St. Paul, Minn., the Republicans will hold their convention, where candidate John McCain will unveil his choice for vice president and the GOP’s four-year vision.

In this mix of diverse opinions, many party faithful on both sides of the aisle say the stakes to this election are perhaps the highest in 50 years.

With someone such as Biden, who sits as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Obama took his campaign to the next level, said Jonathan Mozzochi, a South Lake Tahoe restaurant owner.

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“I’m thrilled and excited about Joe Biden. He’s got a working-class background that people can relate to,” Mozzochi said. “And he has that long-term stability and expertise in foreign policy. This is something that Obama has been perceived as somewhat new at.”

The key to party unity will be to get the backers of Hillary Clinton on the side of Obama instead of leaning toward McCain, Mozzochi added.

“Going into the convention, if this happens and the Hillary supporters climb on board, this will be one exciting race,” he said.

On GOP side of the fence, the national race is exciting and is a lot closer than most people think, said Tom Davis and John Cefalu, both longtime South Tahoe businessmen and lifelong Republicans.

With next week’s Republican convention, McCain’s pick for vice president is up in the air. Davis said he would like to see Condoleezza Rice, Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee as McCain’s running mate, while Cefalu thinks the best and a sure thing for a Republican win would be Colin Powell.

“Whatever choice he makes will be what’s best for the party. While I’m only a common, average Republican voter, I would think someone like Colin Powell would be a natural,” Cefalu said. “He has a super reputation, he brings a lot of experience with diplomacy and is a very smart man.”

In many respects, McCain’s reputation as a straight-shooter among moderate Republicans likely will bring independents over to his side.

“What you have with John McCain is experience with foreign policy, the military, reform issues, his commitment to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and the economy,” Davis said. “He’s a maverick who gets things done. He gets it.”

As a lifelong Democrat, El Dorado County District 5 Supervisor Norma Santiago was excited to learn about Obama’s pick of Biden for the White House ticket. Biden has established his leadership with his long career in the Senate, Santiago said, and he’s a diplomat knowledgeable about foreign policy and has a son serving in Iraq. He has publicly stated his views about torture policies and the Bush administration during the Iraq war, specifically the Abu Ghraib incident, where dozens of Iraqi detainees were beaten, tortured and abused inside the prison.

“I will never forget what Biden said about Abu Ghraib and why the Geneva Convention is so important,” Santiago said. “To paraphrase, he said the Geneva Convention exists to also protect our own prisoners of war. He said he was really affected by the behavior of the Army and was thinking that his own son could be one of those soldiers to receive the same kind of treatment.”

Santiago will join friends and fellow Democrats at Steamers Bar and Grill on Thursday night to watch the last night of the convention. The mood among Democrats certainly will be optimistic this week, she said.

“We are at a point where our country is going through tremendous transition. It is time for a new leadership to step up. We have that leadership with Barack Obama,” Santiago said. “What he is about and what he stands for is not about politics as usual. As he has said so well: ‘We are not just Democrats. We are not just Republicans. We are Americans. We have to work together as Americans.’

“I think this is what is needed right now to make our country, our people and our democracy strong.”