Picking the purr-fect candidate

This weekend both Barack Obama and John McCain will appear at New York's Madison Square Garden. They won't debate, give speeches or sign autographs. They may not even make eye contact.

Any expressed hostilities are likely to be, well, catty.

That's because this Obama and this McCain are cats.

Barack Obama, a Bombay, and John McCain, a silver tabby, will star at the Cat Fanciers' Association-Iams Cat Championship. Balloting stations will be near their cages, and visitors, especially children, will be encouraged to vote in what promises to be a rather unorthodox election.

“Our intention is that people will vote for the cat that they like,” said Allene Tartaglia, executive director of the CFA, which sponsors the show with Iams, the pet food company. The championship, she stressed, is never political, at least not in the Washington sense.

“We became aware of this Bombay cat named Barack Obama,” she said, “and we thought this could be fun.”

Fun is emphasized at the show, which is a family event, as well as a serious competition. Young spectators can learn more about the 41 feline varieties, including the American curl, the Russian blue and the Egyptian mau, at the Breed Showcase, which will also offer information, such as how to bathe a cat (without water, and, yes, carefully).

And while domestic cats aren't exactly known for jumping through hoops for humans, many are expected to do just that. Cats from TV commercials will demonstrate their abilities, and ordinary pets will show off in the Feline Agility Competition, which involves navigating tunnels, mazes and stairs.

“When food is introduced, it is amazing what cats will do,” Tartaglia said.