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Jack Knox: Signs of a heated U.S. election trickle north

Oct 02 2012
Obama billboard on the Pat Bay Highway. 

Obama billboard on the Pat Bay Highway.

Photograph by: Adrian Lam, Times Colonist , Times Colonist

'Obama 2012," shouts the red, white and blue billboard beside the Pat Bay Highway. "Yes! Yes! '1,000' Times Yes!"

That 1,000 reference is a bit of an in-joke, an allusion to the wager Reg Mooney has made with a friend. Victoria's Mooney has a cool grand riding on Barack Obama's re-election.

Indeed, the 79-year-old management consultant thinks the whole world has a lot riding on the president's return. Hence the decision, made with his U.S.-born wife, Karen Mooney, to

erect that full-sized billboard in Central Saanich a couple of weeks ago.

Just another sign (no pun intended) that Victorians are as fired up about U.S. politics as their own.

Even Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard is registered to volunteer on the Obama campaign, again.

Just across Juan de Fuca Strait, Democrats in Clallam County report a steady stream of Canadians visiting their Port Angeles headquarters, scooping up Obama buttons and bumper stickers, posing for photos with life-size cut-outs of the president and his wife, Michelle. These are the same people who recoil from Canadian political paraphernalia as though it were dipped in anthrax.

Obama cut-outs will also be on display when the Victoria chapter of Democrats Abroad gathers at the Sticky Wicket to watch Wednesday's televised Obama-Romney debate. The event is all but sold out.

As for that billboard, it's the second time that Mooney, the former president of Goodwill Bottling, has dug into his pockets - he won't say how deeply - to pay for a roadside Obama endorsement.

In 2008, a similar Pat Bay billboard reflected his dismay at the way Canada had lost its image as a global peacekeeper, its independence. "I wanted to see an end to the constant warfare that we seem to get pulled into by following the Americans," Mooney, a Canadian Army veteran, said Monday. "We need to back off of being a warrior nation."

This time, he said, he just wants to see Obama win because he's "solid."

Not everyone agrees. Mooney has taken a couple of abusive phone calls. That happened in 2008, too, but he also fielded maybe 100 messages from people who wanted to help pay for the billboard. The Mooneys decline such offers, saying the message is their own.

They aren't involved with the Democrats Abroad, a group that draws on the 92,000 U.S. citizens living in B.C. Many of them have a foot in both countries, and two passports.

Typical is Sandra Jones, who moved here after meeting her Victoria-raised banker husband in her native New York City. Jones was active in a voter-registration drive that signed up about 200 Americans on Vancouver Island this summer.

It doesn't surprise her that so many Canadians are involved in the U.S. campaign, given the non-stop news coverage. "It's so ingrained in pop culture.

Everybody watches Saturday Night Live and all of that," she said Monday from Brooklyn, where she spent the weekend volunteering at an Obama phone bank while visiting family.

Canadians can also justify wading into American politics (can you imagine the fuss if the reverse were true?) by arguing that the president's influence extends well beyond U.S. borders.

Leonard has pencilled in three Saturdays this month that he hopes to spend volunteering in a Seattle-area Obama office, should his mayoral duties allow it.

His motives are not altogether altruistic, he said.

Part of him just wants to learn new campaign techniques. ("There's a bit of spying.")

Part wants to enjoy the political process in relative anonymity. ("Up here, my first name is 'the,' as in 'the mayor.' ") Part finds Obama's volunteers inspirational. ("I must say it gets my juices going. Almost all are young people who are pumped up about democracy.")

Leonard is also driven, as he was when he volunteered in 2008, by the desire to be around history in the making - though that sense has diminished now that Obama has lost his new-car smell.

"He was 20 years younger four years ago."

Still, what other politician has a billboard on the Pat Bay Highway?

jknox@timescolonist.com

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