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No child left behind in this election

TV shows featuring kids and websites offering partisan baby wear make this election a family affair.

September 11, 2008|Lea Lion | Times Staff Writer

"Cindy McCain has 29 pets," says Danielle Soibelman.

"The McCains have paid servants to take care of the pets, and the Obamas know what it is like to take care of the pets themselves," retorts Ariel Hyman, snapping her fingers in her opponent's face.

"But they don't have any pets, so how can they take care of them?" Soibelman asks, throwing up her hands.

"Well, they want to get a dog during or after the campaign," Hyman says.

When Soibelman and Hyman (ages 9 and 8, respectively) debate the presidential candidates' household pets as part of the documentary "Kids Talk Politics," it is just as heated as any grown-up argument over the candidate's stance on the economy or the war in Iraq.

Thanks to the 26th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, you have to be 18 to vote, but in today's politically charged climate, lots of kids seem to be as wrapped up in politics as their adult counterparts. Across the country, the younger-than-18 set has picked their favorite candidates, debated the issues and sworn allegiance to a political party. The only thing they haven't done, it seems, is cast an official ballot.

One of the easiest ways for kids to get involved in politics is simply by getting dressed in the morning. A quick Web search reveals dozens of sites hawking pint-size T-shirts emblazoned with messages such as "My parents are raising me RIGHT" ( www.cafepress.com) and "Baby got Barack" (www.barackbaby.com). You can also pick up a "Kids for Obama" shirt on Obama's official site or a onesie with "McCain" spelled out in building blocks on the Republican candidate's official site.

Some think these fashion statements are akin to making your baby a billboard for your beliefs, but Jennifer Weiss of www.babypolitico.com disagrees.

"Part of being a parent is imparting what you hope are good values to your child," Weiss says. "This really comes up during the election season, when you're talking about the issues at the dinner table. I think this is part of one's role, the same way you want to teach them to be polite."

With offerings such as "My mama's for Obama," babypolitico.com is decidedly left-leaning, but Weiss says her most popular design is the nonpartisan, "I'm too young to vote . . . What's your excuse?"

Sure, kids can't vote, but that doesn't stop them from having strong convictions about politics, says Ken Sheetz, who directed "Kids Talk Politics," which can be viewed at www.kidstalkpolitics.com and on YouTube.

"These kids are set on who they would vote for months in advance of the election," Sheetz says. "At this age, they are very much in line with their parents' thinking. If their parents are Republican, then the kids are Republicans; if the parents are Democrats, then the kids are Democrats. It's very much a family thing."

There is at least one place where kids can actually cast a vote, even though it won't count toward electing the next president.

Nickelodeon's "Nick News" is showing a yearlong series called "Kids Pick the President," which has included a primary election (Obama and McCain won), an episode about election issues and coverage from the campaign trail.

"What we know that perhaps a lot of people don't know is that kids do have an interest in their world and, of course, politics is part of their world," says host Linda Ellerbee.

Of course, the real drama is yet to come. On Oct. 12, "Nick News" will pose questions culled from young viewers to the candidates, followed by the kickoff of a mock election. On Oct. 20, the kids' pick for president will be announced.

"What we are hoping is that by getting kids in the habit of getting involved and voting early that they will not drop that habit when they turn 18," Ellerbee says. "Citizenship does not begin at 18 in this country; it begins when you are born."

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lea.lion@latimes.com

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