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Head count? Let's just say 'thousands'


One of the many, many imprecise aspects of daily journalism is estimating a crowd size -- especially when the gathering is large and sprawling. In such cases, reporters learn early not to hazard a guess of their own but to rely on officialdom.

But sometimes, in another sign of the vagaries of pinning down a count at an event for which tickets haven't been allotted, the figures from the local authorities vary.

Such was the case Wednesday as John McCain and Sarah Palin wrapped up the road tour that took them to several states since the Republican National Convention ended a week ago.

The GOP presidential ticket ventured into the heavily Democratic Virginia suburbs adjacent to Washington, where a boisterous and undeniably large audience greeted the pair. But exactly how large? Most news reports, such as CNN's, went with the police estimate of at least 23,000 (a number eagerly embraced by the McCain camp).

The New York Times, though, used in its story the reckoning from fire marshals: 15,000. Meanwhile, Marc Fisher of the Washington Post, a columnist for the local section, wrote that he counted it at 8,000 (though he also noted the 23,000 police estimate).

Regardless, there wasn't much question who the star of the show was.


Obama is far ahead -- abroad

This is the way matters have been going of late for Barack Obama. New poll numbers are in that give him an overwhelming advantage over McCain -- and they will help him not one whit.

Indeed, Republicans will probably figure out a way to spin the results against him.

The BBC World Service poll gauged attitudes toward the U.S. presidential race in 22 other countries -- and found Obama the preference in every one, in many cases by overwhelming margins.

Obama's best showing was in Kenya, his father's home country, where a whopping 87% supported him. Five percent backed McCain. Italy emerged as his second-place hotbed of support: 76% favored Obama, 12% McCain.

The Democrat's overseas trip this summer that included stops in France, Germany and Britain may have sparked taunts from the GOP, but it paid off in this poll. In each of those countries, support for Obama swamped McCain's showing.

The findings for America's two closest neighbors? Canada: Obama 66%, McCain 14%. Mexico: Obama 54%, McCain 16%.

The race was closest in India, where the figures were Obama 24%, McCain 15%. As those numbers indicate, a large proportion of India's citizens didn't care to pick between the two. Russians shared that attitude: There, fully 75% did not express a preference. Among those who did, the findings were Obama 18%, McCain 7%.

Overall, among the 22,000 foreigners interviewed, Obama was backed by 49% and McCain by 12%, with the rest of the respondents taking a pass.

The survey also found that in 17 of the 22 nations, the most common view is that an Obama White House would mean "America's relations with the rest of the world are likely to get better." Under a President McCain, "relations will stay about the same as they are now," 19 countries opined.


Excerpted from The Times' political blog Top of the Ticket, at

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