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Call me a flip-flopper, although I don't really think changing one's mind based on a shifting landscape over a period a many years constitutes a real flip-flop.

In the beginning, 1990, we made the decision not to endorse anyone for anything. We were a monthly publication covering "politics, people and art" staffed by three part-timers, with the help of some talented freelance writers, in one small room in Old Town Eureka. Sort of like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain.

In 1998 the Journal and its staff had grown considerably and we began weekly publication. The state of local news coverage at the time was still pretty dismal, with the daily missing or poorly reporting so many stories and filling its pages with cheap wire copy. (Don't take my word for it. Back issues are on file at the county library.) We began to endorse partly as a counterbalance to the daily's rather predictable editorial endorsements, but also because of the belief that those working full-time in the business of gathering news and checking facts might use that information to guide readers during elections time. Yes, rather pompous, I know.

Fast forward to today. We have two daily newspapers competing vigorously, and reporters and bloggers everywhere. There is no shortage of information. We dropped endorsements in the belief that, well, people can make up their own minds.

But, but ... that doesn't mean that after 27 years of covering politics, I don't have a personal opinion. I do. And it's my column. If you don't want to hear it, you can quit reading.

So here it is: After seven years under President Bush's misguidance, this country is so far off course that it is embarrassing to travel abroad. Who would have thought a Republican would take us so deeply into debt, invade another country without provocation and completely transform the image of the U.S. in the eyes of the world into a cop gone very bad? We need to go to the polls next week — young voters and old — and throw the switch on this train. But we need to throw that switch hard. That's why I'm voting for Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton isn't enough.

Last year in this column I expressed hope for a change in direction of the country and I was pretty smug. Besides the two above, the Democrats had John Edwards, making a total of three good, viable candidates. The Republicans had none. I'm not so sure anymore. I'm writing this before the Florida primary results and of course, Super Tuesday, but the patronly war hero John McCain could emerge his party's banner carrier. With Edwards out of the picture, that would pit McCain against Clinton? Or Romney against Clinton? If you think the country's polarized now, just wait for that matchup.

Obama was right about Iraq from the beginning. He doesn't have to check the wind direction to find his moral compass. And he has demonstrated time and again his unique ability to mobilize a broad coalition of people toward a common purpose, including the young and many who have opted out of the system in the past. I think he would do very well against either McCain or Romney without tearing this country apart. Coupled with a supportive Congress next year, we can and will correct the direction of this country.

And that Obama speech last Saturday? As good as any John Kennedy ever gave. He has even given this cynical old reporter hope.

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Judy Hodgson

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Judy Hodgson is the publisher of the North Coast Journal.

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