Steamboat Springs 7-11 store employee Jake Goodwin makes coffee Thursday morning at the store, which is participating in the 7-Election 2008 promotion.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Steamboat Springs 7-11 store employee Jake Goodwin makes coffee Thursday morning at the store, which is participating in the 7-Election 2008 promotion.

7-Election offers alternative test for presidential candidates

Polling with coffee

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In the back of the 7-Eleven store at U.S. Highway 40 and Elk River Road, stacks of politically branded coffee cups are filled with dark and house blends by politically minded coffee drinkers.

At the counter, each color-coded coffee cup purchase is recorded as a vote for Republican presidential candidate John McCain or his Democratic opponent, Barack Obama. Cashier Jake Goodwin said there's a rush on coffee in the store each morning, with one candidate's cups moving faster than the other.

"Our inventory is more Obama than McCain," Goodwin said. As news polls collect public opinion through more traditional forms of information gathering, forums such as the 7-Election coffee contest offer an alternative political litmus test. The convenience store sales competition has a track record for accuracy - George W. Bush coffee cups outsold those for Al Gore by 1 percentage point in 2000, and Bush edged out John Kerry by two percentage points in 2004.

For this year's presidential bid, National Public Radio reports 51 percent of Colorado voters leaning toward Obama, 44 percent for McCain. 7-Eleven reports a larger gap among Colorado coffee drinkers, with 64 percent of cup sales going to Obama, and 36 percent going to McCain. NPR's national projections mirror those percentages. 7-Eleven's national projections are only a few percentage points away from NPR - though franchises of the convenience store are virtually nonexistent in traditionally red states across the Midwest and into the South.

The race looks closer when measured by sales of candidate Halloween masks. Celebrations costume shop had sold out its stock of Obama and McCain likenesses by Friday afternoon, said store owner Sandy Pugh.

"It's really kind of been a 50-50, because usually people are going to be the opposite of what (candidate) they're going for," Pugh said, adding that the store ran out of McCain masks first, and still had one Hillary Clinton mask and one Bill Clinton mask available.

At local offices for the presidential campaigns, volunteers have noticed a rush on bumper stickers, lawn signs and other expressions of support.

"I would say we get probably, on an average day, about 30 to 35 people," said Carol O'Hare, a volunteer at the Steamboat Springs support office for McCain and other Republican political candidates. Judy Hodgson, a volunteer at Steamboat's field office for Obama, said that office had seen a similar rush.

"They come in for a lawn sign, and we turn them into a volunteer," Hodgson said.

- To reach Margaret Hair, call 871-4204

or e-mail mhair@steamboatpilot.com

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