3 Nov 2012

‘If a state doesn’t swing, the voter’s phone won’t ring’

In the final feverish days of the campaign both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are outdoing each other in air miles, rally counts, hands shaken, cheeks squeezed and flossed smiles flashed across this vast country.

It is like the political version of that film Up In The Air in which George Clooney, the downsize hatchet man, criss-crosses America indefatigably to deliver bad news. The campaign differs in one crucial aspect and it’s not the negative nature of the message.

Both Romney and Obama are back in full fear-and-loathing mode. It is down to geography now. The 30 or so rallies that both candidates will hold in the last 48 hours will take place in the same states they have spent almost all of the campaign in: Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin. New Hampshire might get a look in. Nevada may get lucky.

Face time

But if you live in New York, where one can imagine voters might want – or even deserve – some face time with Mitt and Barack after the thrashing of Sandy, forget it. They are not swing states. So they won’t be on anyone’s travel schedule. Nor will Los Angeles, or Chicago, or Phoenix or Dallas or Washington DC. I asked a colleague of mine who lives here if he had already voted. A native Ohioan, he looked crestfallen and muttered a desultory “yes”, adding: “But my vote doesn’t count.”

DC always votes Democrat. So he is right. If a state doesn’t swing, the voter’s phone won’t ring. We, who live in the District are spared the campaign robo calls, the nasty TV ads, the knocks on the door. 

Mitt RomneyBut then again, the only time we get to see the candidates is at fundraisers when they want big city cash. It wasn’t always like this. In the 1960 election, which was as razor thin as this one, Kennedy visited 49 states and Nixon all 50. It was a badge of honour for the candidates to cover the entire country from sea to shining sea and the big bit in the middle. But over the years the electorates have become more entrenched and most states now have a winner-takes-all system, where the majority of ballots dictate that all the votes from the state’s electoral college will go to one candidate.

All this would change dramatically if the vote could be apportioned on a proportional basis. If that were the case, Iowa would get ignored and New York or Chicago would be wooed relentlessly. Part of me likes the idea that the men hoping to run America have to spend a lot of time in states they would otherwise only see from the window of their plane. But to do so at the detriment of the big population centres seems absurd. 

I once interviewed a hog famer in southern Iowa and asked him if he had made up his mind about John Kerry, the Democratic nominee in 2004. He stroked his chin, sniffed the pungent air, spat out a corn husk and finally ventured: “I really don’t know yet. I have only met him three times.”

Follow @mattfrei on Twitter.

Tweets by @mattfrei