The latest Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll puts Barack Obama ahead of Hillary Clinton — a first for this pre-election cycle. But in a general election, it says he'd have a tough battle against apparent Republican nominee John McCain.

Clinton, on the other hand, leads McCain on some issues where McCain beats Obama, including the economy and illegal immigration. And both Obama and Clinton beat McCain on health care.

If you're looking for the "right experience" to lead the nation, it's McCain, then Clinton, then Obama, according to this poll.

Mike Huckabee's still in the race, although it's clear he has no chance of actually winning the nomination.

And people from both parties are crying because that "spoiler," Ralph Nader, has thrown his hat into the ring yet again. Since he made the announcement, I can't even count how many times I've heard the opinion that third party candidates "steal" elections, as if their mere presence means the person who is entitled to the victory won't get it.

I think the Republicans and Democrats both need to get over themselves. Although we've got a two-party system going, the beauty of an American election is the people get a choice. And if they don't find their choice on the ballot among the representatives of the two political parties, they're free to write in someone else or vote for a third-party candidate. That's not stealing votes. It's casting them for someone other than the anointed two.

If you're not what I want in a candidate, why would I vote for you?

The two parties run American politics, but I like to think that's a privilege granted by the voting public — and something that can be taken away by them, as well.

Nader would not be my choice. I think he's run his course when it comes to presidential-candidate viability. And this year I'm not feeling distraught by the selection of main-party candidates as I prepare to vote. I'll be in the mainstream this time around.

But Nader is a choice and I think that's a healthy thing. Were a strong and serious third-party candidate to emerge, I'd take a look and perhaps even vote for that individual. I doubt that I'm alone in that.

You hear a lot about voter apathy. I think many people are written off as being apathetic when they are, in fact, simply not represented by the choices being offered. Although I'm sure there must be people who genuinely don't care, all the people I've ever talked to who said they didn't vote have cited a feeling of disconnect not with elections, per se, but with the two political parties or with the year's selection of candidates. They see a variety of colors, shades and degrees in the landscape of their very complex lives. They don't relate to the two parties, which are increasingly black-or-white, either-or.

There's some major distrust and disillusionment with politics and it appears to run much deeper than either party realizes. Yet our policies are becoming increasingly partisan. Forget the art of compromise or building something valuable on a foundation of genuine good will and the need to work together for the sake of the nation. If the idea comes from the other side of the aisle, it must be destroyed.

I don't know anyone who's feeling confident they can predict who will be taking up residence in the White House next year. But it is a decision that will affect everyone. What happens in November will greatly impact health care and immigration reform, energy policy, the economy, national security and what this country does about the war in Iraq.

Your life, your choice.

Deseret Morning News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by e-mail at [email protected]