by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist

Well, there are only two short weeks until the primary election is over. And although the yards in my neighborhood are quickly turning to dust in the July heat, most passers-by hardly notice for all the yard signs. Looking around, it seems like all my neighbors have a horse in this race, a dog in this fight or a worn-out metaphor in this sentence.

Most of the yard signs are fairly easy to read, but a few are in such small type that you have to get within a couple of feet to be able to tell whom the homeowner is supporting.

Others have color schemes that can make them difficult to read. Being slightly colorblind, I have had to assume the signs about town that say “Webber” are not about a summer sale on grills at Westlakes but are put up by supporters of Stephen Webber – the details are printed in red letters on a blue background, so it just looks like one large purple blotch to me.

There is a distinct chance that the field of candidates will be winnowed down before the first primary ballot is cast just because of heatstroke. I don’t know how these candidates have the stamina to keep going door to door each night. When Cavanaugh Noce ran for judge in 2006, he decided that since he was going to be outspent by the two other candidates, his only chance to win was to meet every potential voter face to face, and he launched his one-man door-to-door canvassing effort to do just that. Despite knocking on thousands of doors, he came in last place. But on the upside, he lost about 20 pounds!

Of course, we voters don’t make it any easier sometimes, talking with candidates for hours on end about problems that have nothing to do with the office for which they are running. Or avoiding them all together by cloistering ourselves in the back rooms of our houses from 5 to 9 each night. But with so many candidates running for office, it does seem like there is always one at your door. I have to admit I was relieved when I answered the door last night and it was just a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses trying to get me to take the latest edition of The WatchTower.

For us hard-core political junkies, primary season is a great time to collect political swag – free, or nearly free, promotional items given out by the candidates. This year, there are Karen Miller moist towelettes, Lyndon Bode emery boards and Chris Kelly polo shirts, along with the usual assortment of buttons and bumper stickers.

Because of the unforgiving math of elections, most candidates who run for office don’t end up winning. Instead, they end up in the history books as one of those who “also ran.” And in November, either John McCain or Barack Obama will become president and the other will become an “also ran.” But luckily for the loser of the presidential contest, he will not be forgotten. Instead, his portrait will be enshrined on the second floor of the First State Bank in Norton, Kan., home of the They Also Ran Gallery.

Inspired by the Irving Stone book of the same name, the “They Also Ran” exhibit honors all the men – sorry, Hillary Girls, still all men – who ran for president and didn’t win. It starts with Thomas Jefferson and his unsuccessful first try at the presidency against John Adams and ends with John Kerry and his loss to George W. Bush. In between are lots of interesting characters, many who probably would have made much better presidents than the men to whom they lost.

If you ever have a chance to drive through Norton, I highly recommend you stop by; it is on Highway 36 on the way to Denver. What the gallery lacks in frills – it is simple portraits on the wall accompanied by short biographies – it more than makes up in the hospitality of the staff. We had our own tour guide while we were there, plenty of coffee and cookies, and we were offered a fair amount of First State Bank of Norton swag during our visit. I’m not sure they get a lot of visitors.

It is a long time between now and November, and there plenty of time to collect yard signs, bumper stickers and emory boards. I just hope that the right man ends up in Norton this fall.