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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Can you feel it? That unfamiliar energy in the air is good old election buzz. How strange, and how welcome.

For the first time in a long while, you can actually hear political chatter in offices, on buses and at the Starbucks counter.

I'll admit I was skeptical of California advancing its presidential primary to February 5. Seemed to me that the biggest state in the land didn't need to tweak its electoral traditions just to manufacture some excitement.

After all, as Arnold keeps telling us, Kohl-i-fohnia is not Iowa or New Hampshire. This is the sixth-ranked economic power in the world. Stronger and more prosperous than Italy.

Well -- here it is February 5. People are engaged, in both parties. Democrats, in particular, are excited. And it's all good.

Oldtimers say the passion of 2008 reminds them of 1968.

It was the middle of the Vietnam War. Republicans were resurrecting the career of Richard Nixon.

Democrats were obsessing over a successor to Lyndon Johnson, the president who opted out rather than stand for reelection in the face of protests.

Eugene McCarthy had the anti-war vote, Hubert Humphrey was the party Establishment man. But the winner in California was Robert F. Kennedy, who put together a coalition of progressives, minorities, farm workers and new voters.

I lost count a long time ago of how many people I encounter in politics who trace their lives of activism to that campaign.

Some of those same forces are players in today's drama. The surviving icon of the United Farm Workers movement, Delores Huerta, is backing Hillary Clinton.

So are many Latino community leaders, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez among them. Both men are confident that Clinton will receive a large majority of the Latino vote.

Even so, the competition for that fast-growing electoral bloc has turned into a fascinating angle of this election season.

"El Piolín" is the astoundingly popular Spanish-language deejay who filled the streets of Downtown with immigrants two years ago. Last week he gave Ted Kennedy an open mike to make his pitch for Obama.

Opinión, the biggest Spanish-language newspaper, endorsed Obama. So did María Elena Durazo, LA's most powerful labor leader.

You need only look at the lone pair of sisters in Congress to grasp the way this election is cutting across old lines and  family ties. Loretta Sanchez is voting for Clinton, Linda Sanchez for Obama.

Those of who pour over exit polls and election results looking for subtle shifts and trends will be intrigued to see who, in the end, proved to be influential.

I'll also be watching what happens with the gender gap. All the polls show that Clinton has the edge among women. Obama does better with men.

But if the pre-election polls are accurate, the candidates only have to move a few percentage points into their column to win California's popular vote.

So it was no accident that Obama himself didn't even attend his big rally at UCLA over the weekend. He sent his wife Michelle to headline the event...and Oprah Winfrey...and Caroline Kennedy.

Notice a trend?

Maria Shriver was so moved by all that woman power that -– on a whim, she says  -- she stopped by on the way home  from the stables and strode on stage in riding wear to endorse Obama.

Her husband the Governor is endorsing John McCain. The  Republican race nationwide is not quite as intense as the duel between the Democrats, but going into today the polls couldn't agree on whether McCain or Mitt Romney was in the lead in California.

So at least for the primary season we got what we wanted – an election that people are talking about,

It proves that you don't need to make voting mandatory, as they do in Australia. Or change the day, though weekend voting would probably be a good idea.

All you have to get Californians to vote is to give them  something meaningful to vote for.

For KCRW this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.

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