The primaries, of course, are another matter. There, you do your best to figure out who really is the best person for the job and make every effort you can to get that person the nomination. Even school board elections are important (remember Spiro Agnew?); at the lowest, local levels you have the most power. Seats really have been won by only one vote, so people who moan about the nominees in the GE frequently have only themselves to blame. If you think about all those people who voted for Nader in 2000, imagine what they could have accomplished if they'd put their efforts toward getting progressive Democrats onto the ballots and working for them throughout the campaign. To win, candidates need more than just people who will vote for them in November; they need people who will work for them long before the general election. One reason progressive candidates have been doing so badly in the Democratic Party is that so many progressive activists have abdicated in favor of spoiler politics or even just staying home. (As I keep reminding people, Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980 with fewer votes than George McGovern received when he lost to Nixon.)The greatest weapon the right has is apathy and "moral purity" on the left. Primaries are the place to ensure you get the candidate you want, but once it comes down to November 4th Avedon's got the right of it when she says "I've become one of those people who would vote for a yaller dawg if it was the Democratic nominee, rather than do anything that would help a seat go to a Republican."
Liberals and progressives need to nominate real Democrats and then get behind them all the way. Anyone who believes in democracy, anyone who believes in civil liberties, needs to get on board. The Republican leadership has made it clear that the only thing they care about is their own power. They'll protect their own property, but not yours. They will talk about "rights" when it suits them, but they won't enforce your rights because, frankly, they don't believe people like you are entitled to rights.
This is probably one of the most important elections in decades. If the Republicans take all three elected branches, they'll make damned sure they can push through as much as possible on the chance that Bush might lose the presidency in '04. They're also largely united- there's a sense of movement identity on the right (and hatred of RINO-ism) that makes them much more dangerous than any equivalent electoral makeup would on the left, and a ton of holes in the judicial system that will be filled by only the most conservative nominees possible. They could push through a ton of bills, making sure that each of their sacred cows becomes law. Heck, they could even work against any sort of democratic backlash in the future, because if the Repubs win, then Scalia's probably going to become the chief justice. Then they'll follow it up by placing a conservative on the SC that will easily on Scalia's level. If not more so. And we know that the presidency work to push the whole thing even further to the right- we have a deeply conservative administration and president, and we can be sure that the cheerleading from the right will only push him farther over. Sure, he's looking at election in two years, but two years is a long time in politics, and he can do an awful lot.
If any election should inspire progressives, liberals, leftists or whatever to get out there and vote, then this is that election.