Loop Fans are noticing that the traffic around town has been lighter than usual in the past couple of days. Unclear why that is, but a major factor may be the number of folks from the departments of Labor and Commerce who find themselves in China this week.

Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao is leading a "high-level" department delegation in "the most comprehensive engagement ever by the United States with China on labor issues," the official announcement says, and "the visit is part of an ongoing review of America's economic relationship" with China, which got a big boost a couple of years ago when China got a $4.1 million Labor grant for a "Rule of Law Project" and a $2.3 million mine-safety grant.

So Chao's there to tour U.S. companies in China and check out a training center for rural women and an orphanage for disabled children. To make sure everything goes well, she has taken 15 staffers in all, including four assistant secretaries, a confidential assistant, a speechwriter, three advance people, the acting assistant secretary for public affairs, the deputy assistant secretary for public affairs and the Bureau of International Labor Affairs chief. A security detail accompanied the delegation.

Good thing Congress rebuffed her earlier efforts to gut the International Labor Affairs Bureau, which gives out these kinds of grants.

Meanwhile, Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans is also in the Middle Kingdom this week, part of an 11-day jaunt that includes Ireland and Mexico. He spoke Monday to university students in Harbin, toured a factory and "witness[ed] the signing" of three U.S.-China business agreements. (Apparently these documents need a Cabinet-level witness.) The agreements "will grow American jobs," his news release said.

Then it was a visit to the Johnson Controls Inc. manufacturing plant near Beijing. The plant is so important that Chao joined him on that visit. And Evans also visited an orphans home, which seems a mandatory stop for any Cabinet official in China.

Evans took seven or so Commerce officials with him, plus security and an advance team. J.W. Marriott, chairman of the President's Export Council, and seven other council members also showed, on their own dime. Marriott, Evans and Chao talked jobs and trade and markets with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and other officials. The Chicoms have been upset of late about U.S. anti-dumping actions against them on furniture.

We hear there has been some grousing about inadequate time for shopping. But these tours will doubtless greatly benefit U.S. and Chinese workers. And if they don't, they've already done wonders for local traffic.

Presidential Slogan Contest

Don't forget! Today's the deadline for entries to the In the Loop Presidential Slogan Contest! (E-mails by midnight. Regular mail postmarked today.) This is our effort to help the Bush and Kerry presidential campaigns come up with a memorable slogan to fire up their troops and move on to victory.

Think snappy ones such as Wendell Willkie's 1940 slogan: "Perhaps Roosevelt is all you deserve." (Sounds a bit peevish, though.) Then there's incumbent Harry S. Truman's sophisticated 1948 appeal: "Phooey on Dewey."

Send in your suggestions, no more than one per candidate, to: In the Loop, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or e-mail to: intheloop@washpost.com. Include your name and home and work phone numbers.

The 10 winning entries for each campaign will be rewarded with classic, dark-blue-with-white-lettering In the Loop T-shirts.

Hill folks and administration officials may, of course, enter "on background."

Watch the Price of Gas

The Bush and Kerry campaigns and their allies are going to spend more than half a billion dollars in ads and other activities in this presidential season. Beleaguered voters in the "battleground" states will have their brains pickled by hundreds of hours of television and radio ads talking about terrorism and unemployment and such. There'll be bitterness and anger everywhere after what looks to be a close campaign.

Pollsters and talking heads are going to be taking in millions jabbering about this and that. But now Keith Koffler, White House reporter for Congress Daily, has discovered a way to save us from the pain. Everyone might want to just sit back, relax and watch gasoline prices. Then you know who'll win.

"In the past seven presidential elections going back to 1976," Koffler reported last week, the average October price of gasoline in the weeks before the election predicted the winner.

If the price, in constant 2004 dollars, was lower than four years earlier, the incumbent (or, in one case, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush) won. If not, it was all over. The average price in October 2000 was $1.67 a gallon, Koffler said. It's around two bucks these days.

Of course, people don't necessarily vote only their gas tanks, Koffler concluded.

Still, the Bush folks might do well to ramp it up to get those prices down -- or at least spin the problem away.

High Court Milestones

Sorry, but it's too late to sign up for tonight's Supreme Court spouses dinner, celebrating Justice Clarence Thomas's 56th birthday, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's 50th wedding anniversary and 10 years without a new justice -- a modern-day record.