SEATTLE (AP) _ A decorated war pilot challenges a powerful foe and escapes extinction by a hair, living to fight another day. Get the light sabres. Cue the musical score.

Only the drama isn't happening a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

Right here, right now, Republican presidential candidate John McCain has found his favorite campaign metaphor: himself as Luke Skywalker and rival George W. Bush as Darth Vader.

McCain, a former Navy pilot who was shot down by the Vietnamese in 1967 and held captive for 5 1/2 years, waved a green plastic light sabre on stage Tuesday after declaring victory over Bush in Michigan and Arizona.

But in Star Wars-speak, he acknowledged the next day that the he hadn't altogether mastered The Force.

``We're still Luke Skywalker trying to escape from the Death Star,'' McCain said aboard his chartered jet.

There, unfortunately, the metaphor broke down.

His chartered flying machine, for example, in no way resembles the X-Wing Fighter; it flies substantially slower.

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BY THE NUMBERS:

21,728 _ number of Democrats in Massachusetts as of Wednesday who have reregistered as unenrolled, making them eligible to vote in either primary March 7. As of Wednesday, 4,091 Democrats had reregistered as Republicans. (Source: Massachusetts secretary of state's office.)

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VOTER'S VOICE:

``He's made the campaign interesting for the first time in my 13 years of voting,'' _ Wendy Fairbrother, 32, of Rockland, Calif., who showed up at 7 a.m. to get McCain's autograph.

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THIS DATE FOUR YEARS AGO:

Calling himself a ``happy warrior,'' Pat Buchanan vowed to ignore his detractors even as he challenged Bob Dole to match his frenetic campaign pace in Arizona. ``They can call me all the names they want. We're not going to compromise. We're not going to apologize,'' a defiant Buchanan said.

Dole rapped Buchanan for his anti-trade positions. ``We're not going to solve it by building a wall around America,'' Dole said of the U.S. trade deficit.

Dole also told senior citizens he would protect their government benefits. ``We're not going to devastate Medicare. Don't let Bill Clinton scare you,'' he said.

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THURSDAY'S ROUNDUP:

Al Gore was endorsed Thursday by the New York League of Conservation Voters. But Friends of the Earth, which supports rival Bill Bradley, accused Gore of selling out on his promise to protect wetlands. Bradley, meanwhile, opened a six-day swing through Washington state.

McCain billed himself as a ``Reagan Republican'' while campaigning in California, the former president's home state. He also picked up an endorsement from San Diego Mayor Susan Golding. Bush was down in Texas.

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FRIDAY'S TRAIL:

Bush campaigns at America Online in northern Virginia, and later in Richmond. McCain campaigns in Ohio. Bradley continues in Washington state and Gore visits Ohio and California.