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This has been as difficult an election cycle as I remember in more than three decades of presidential elections.

I suspect the primaries had a lot to do with it this time. In elections past, I worked for various Democratic candidates but in the final analysis I accepted with open arms the party’s choice for its nominee. Not this time.

My commitment to Hillary Clinton is deep and long-standing. I have not been so immersed in a candidate’s campaign as I did with hers. To see her lose was crushing emotionally.

So, for several months now I have been wrestling with my options. Would I vote for a Republican for the first time in my life, or would I vote for a Democratic candidate who I see as flawed, untested, and untrustworthy?

On Saturday, after having the candidates’ volunteers knock on my front door once again, my choice became crystal clear to me!

I will write-in Hillary Clinton’s name on my ballot.

Why I am not voting for John McCain.

If I were just voting for the man, McCain would have my vote. After following his political career for at least the last 12 years, I am convinced that he is a man of integrity, honesty, conviction, and a deep love for his country — a love that is not just based on words, but a lifetime of action and deeds. He is a true American hero. I would be honored if I could vote for him.

I won’t vote for McCain because he is on the wrong side of just about every issue and policy that matters to me. The exception — and it is a big one — is foreign policy. Everywhere else our views diverge. I am pro-choice. He isn’t. I believe that universal health care is a right that belongs to every American. His plan leaves too many citizens at the mercy of the insurance companies.

As an entrepreneur and small business owner, I believe that free-markets and a capitalist economy are the best choices for most of the world’s population. But just as we do not have a pure democracy — we have a republic — I do not believe in a pure free-market economy. If we had one, there would be no consumer protection laws and the tobacco companies, as one example, would be allowed to sell cigarettes to children. There are appropriate reasons for government regulation and for government “tweaking” of our economy. We are in such a situation now and proactive government intervention is needed.

McCain is too beholden to the old GOP ideology of less government, less regulation, to see when there is an appropriate time for government to act. My feeling is that if McCain were a true maverick, he would have jettisoned those old trickle-down philosophies.

As for Sarah Palin, I was delighted to see her enter the campaign. Her treatment at the hands of the maintstream media and the Obama campaign has been disgraceful. Do I support her social policies? No, I do not, and I could not vote for her for the same policy reasons that I cannot vote for her running mate. But, rest assured, a “star is born,” and with more seasoning for the national arena, Palin will be a leader in the GOP for years to come.

There’s something to be said for authenticity and integrity, even if you don’t agree with a person’s political views.

Why I am not voting for Barack Obama.

The problem is Obama the man. Not since Lyndon Johnson have I seen my party nominate someone who is less trustworthy, more deceitful, and more unprincipled as Barack Obama. He has lied or dissembled about every major personal issue put before him. That includes Jeremiah Wright, ACORN, Rezko, Bill Ayers, and even his angry, America-hating wife, Michelle. Why is he surrounded by so many people who hate this country?

I believe he not ready to be commander-in-chief and will lead this country into precisely the kind of international crisis that Joe Biden has predicted.

I do not trust the people that Obama will bring into the White House. His closest campaign staff members — Axelrod, Plouffe, Burton — are like the Ehrlichman, Haldeman, and Mitchell of the old Nixon crew. They are mean, callous, unprincipled pit bulls who will do whatever it takes to get Obama’s way. I do not want people like that representing me in the White House.

Do I think America is ready for an African-American president! Absolutely! Just not this African-American candidate.

Why I am voting for Hillary Clinton for president.

I believe that the best politics is a synthesis of political extremes. Hillary represents that synthesis. She combines the integrity, honesty, experience, and mature world view of a John McCain with the basic principles of the Democratic Party.

Here are some of the reasons I will write-in Hillary’s name as mentioned in the Concord Monitor’s endorsement of Hillary —

* Immediately after taking office, President Hillary Clinton would begin preparations to withdraw American troops from Iraq.

* She would send a message to world leaders that the United States intends to rejoin the community of nations.

* She would make clear to federal employees that they must heed the Constitution.

* She would reverse Bush-era policies that have harmed the environment.

* She would quickly sign legislation supporting stem-cell research and expanding children’s health insurance.

*She would lift the gag rule prohibiting international family planning programs from counseling poor women about abortion.

* Hillary Clinton’s unique combination of smarts, experience and toughness makes her the best choice. Before embarking on an agenda of her or his own, the next  American president will be forced to undo the damage of the Bush years: ending the war in Iraq, restoring habeas corpus rights, ending the use of torture, restoring America’s moral authority around the world.

* Clinton knows what she wants to accomplish. She knows how Washington works. She has forged alliances with unlikely political partners, and she has waged partisan fights on matters of principle. Her years as first lady and as a U.S. senator have put her at the center of key policy and political battles for a decade and a half. She is prepared for the job.

* As first lady, Clinton acted as an American diplomat, meeting with foreign leaders across the globe on behalf of her husband and advocating for human rights. She was influential in shepherding the Family and Medical Leave Act into law. Her fumble on health care reform taught her much about the ways of Washington – and it is to her credit that universal health care remains her signature issue.

* As a senator, Clinton has earned a reputation for pragmatic and sometimes creative hard work. She forged a bipartisan plan to expand health coverage to military veterans and their families. She helped secure critical federal assistance for Manhattan after the Sept. 11 attacks. By stalling the confirmation of President Bush’s FDA appointee, she gained over-the-counter access for the morning-after pill. Her work with Senate Republicans, including the leader of the impeachment prosecution against her husband, gives us confidence the cartoon version of Hillary Clinton – as a leading actor in an exhaustingly partisan Washington soap opera – is a 1990s anachronism.

* She can, after all, seem a relentless policy wonk, rather than an inspirational leader. But consider this: American men gave up their monopoly on the right to vote and hold public office in 1920. In the intervening 87 years, progress for women has been slow and uneven: A wage gap persists; reproductive freedom is constantly at risk; and in the 21 presidential contests since then, Americans have never even given serious  consideration to voting for a woman.

* The election of America’s first female president will show more than half the population – including millions of young girls – that their futures are not limited by their gender, that America has moved a little closer to its ideals of liberty and justice for all. There is plenty of inspiration in that. In a talented field, Hillary Clinton has the right experience, the right agenda and the know-how to lead the country back to respect on the world stage and meaningful progress on long-neglected problems.

Finally, Hillary Clinton knows how to handle an economic crisis like the one we are facing now. While this one is deeper than the recession we faced when her husband, Bill, was elected president, she learned from that experience how to balance monetary policies, tax policy, and job-creation programs to turn around the American economy.

There are some people who will question my decision. They will say that I am “throwing away my vote,” or that my vote “won’t count.” It will count to me.

For my entire life the person I have chosen as president has been a matter of personal conviction and values.  My criteria is not some ephemeral political utilitarianism. Perhaps that is why I could never run for political office. In 10 years, in 20 years, I will know in my heart that I voted for the best person to run this country.

November 4th, I will be at peace with myself and my conscience.

— Rake