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US Presidential Campaign Inspires Global Interest, Activism

Both presidential candidates can brag that they have strong supporters who are real Washington outsiders … as in thousands of kilometers and an ocean or two away from Capitol Hill. These foreign supporters can't vote in the United States and don't live in the country, and the eventual winner won't represent them. But many are dedicating countless hours to getting their man elected. Nancy Greenleese reports from Italy.

There is a YouTube video making the rounds. The scene is a classic Italian backdrop. In Venice, a gondola with two gondoliers aboard bobs on the Grand Canal in front of the Piazzo San Marco. It's the postcard view ... with a message.

"We, like many other Italians, wish that we too could vote for Senator [Barack] Obama for president," Gondolier Roberto Nardin explains. "But since we can't, we want to contribute to the grassroots effort of Americans in Italy by doing what we do best: singing."

And then he does, starting on a melancholy note.

"People are hurting, and the world is falling apart," he sings, as the gondola slowly sways on the water. "Now there's Obama to bring back the American dream."

He picks up a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan "Americans in Italy for Obama" and continues, to the tune of the pop hit, Volare: "Obaaama! Goooo vote! Joe Biden, vice president. Yes, this time. Yes, you can elect Obama your next president. Obaaama! Goooo!"

Foreigners are getting into the swing of the U.S. election campaign, joining rallies and helping with get-out-the-vote efforts. Roberto Nardin is politically active but says he's never gone to these lengths, even for an Italian politician. However, Obama's message of unity and peace spoke to him.

"Senator Obama is fresh. He's new. He's clean. He's crystal clear," Nardin says. He sighs heavily and adds, "Look, Italian politicians, I don't trust them as much as I trust Senator Obama."

Abroad, the Democratic candidate is heavily preferred over his Republican rival, Senator John McCain, even though the race at home is somewhat tighter. The BBC conducted a poll of people in 22 foreign countries in late summer. Foreigners supported Obama by more than 4 to 1. In Italy, Obama might consider running for pope.

Ugandan Johnbaptist Lusala, 27, is studying religion in Rome. Like many foreign Obama campaigners, he believes the Bush administration has trampled civil liberties, bullied other countries and conducted wars that wasted money that might have been better used in places like Africa.

"I'm so excited to have the Obama election campaign in full gear to which I'm a member," Lusala says.

Lusala predicts that Obama - the son of a Kenyan - would look beyond U.S. borders if he is elected.

"Because at the end of the day, he's an African," Lusala points out. "I don't think he's going to forget about his people."

Lusala calls it "a blessing in disguise."

Lusala has never visited the United States. In fact, he was denied a student visa several years ago, but he doesn't hold a grudge. He says he realizes the global ramifications of this election, so he's signed on as a volunteer with the local chapter of Democrats Abroad. That is the official overseas arm of the Democratic Party, with offices in 30 countries. Like its Republican counterpart, it works to keep the six million American citizens now living outside the United States plugged into the presidential election process and, naturally, encourages them to contribute funds and cast their absentee ballots for the party's nominee.

Lusala says through his volunteer work for Democrats Abroad, he's reaching out to his American friends, making them understand the issues and what is at stake in this election.

"Not all Americans are interested in politics," he admits. "I may not force them to vote the way I would love, but then through our discussions they get to understand the issues in a better way."

But not everyone is giving the classic American thumbs-up to these foreign campaigners. Claudio Lodici, American University of Rome political science professor, says they don't make a difference.

"They can't grasp the complexities of the political process in the United States," Lodici says. He says foreign campaigners don't know that the U.S. president has limited influence on foreign policy and don't understand American domestic issues very well.

He says the campaigners just think Obama is cool.

"It pretty much comes from the fact that Obama is an African-American," he says. "But I'm not sure they know much about him as a legislator, as a U.S. Senator, as a former organizer in South Chicago. It's a very superficial, very superficial perception."

He calls it, "Obamamania."

Meanwhile, McCain isn't getting as much amore. But Frenchman Jean Louis Lozier, who is working in Rome, confesses that the Republican is his preference, adding with a laugh, "I know that I'm really in a minority in Europe. But why not?"

He's not campaigning for McCain, though. For Lozier, that's a job for American citizens.

Lozier believes McCain is a pragmatist with experience. He thinks Obama is too idealistic. But there is another reason why he supports McCain: he's not George W. Bush.

"I, like most of European people, are quite happy to see the end of the Mr. George W. Bush era, because I think it's been really dreadful," he says.

That's the campaign rhetoric heard most often from foreigners of every political stripe - along with a rallying cry for all Americans to make certain they vote on Election Day, Nov. 4.

Even religion student Jeanbaptist Lusala sounds a nonpartisan tone about the election's final outcome.

"As a Christian, I pray for all the people," he says with a laugh. "Because I believe God has a purpose for each person. Whether Obama or McCain, God knows what is good for them and who the country deserves."