Despite what the man said, when it comes to American politics, all men are not created equal. And at this point in the election, they know it.
If you live in south eastern Ohio, the odds are you’re currently drowning in attempts to influence your vote: TV ads, mail shots, home visits from terrifyingly enthusiastic volunteers, phone calls from campaign staff, phone calls from robots, phone calls from friends which keep mysteriously turning to politics, even when you think you’re talking about football or the weather or something.
Some of them will tell you how great their candidate is. Some will intimate, with varying degrees of subtlety, that his opponent is in league with Satan. Every one of them will be begging for your vote.
If you live in true blue Connecticut or solid Republican Utah, though, you’ve probably survived the last six months of non-stop, hyperactive 24/7 campaigning without anyone showing even the slightest interest in you or your vote. No one cares. Sorry. Still, at least you can watch House without being interrupted by John McCain calling you “my friend” every seven minutes.
The reason for this disparity, of course, is that the voters don’t elect the President: they elect the people who elect him. What matters isn’t who wins the most votes, but who wins the right states to get to the magic figure of 270 in the electoral college. Eight years ago Al Gore managed to win a clear, if slim, majority of the popular vote. Fat lot of good it did him when, with half a million votes fewer, George Bush won the election.
That was an anomaly – the first time the popular and electoral college votes have diverged since 1888 – but this system nonetheless has a big impact on the way every presidential election is run. It explains why people have begun seriously talking about an Obama landslide, even though he’s only a few points ahead: if he wins all the states where the polls have him ahead, he’ll win the electoral college by more than two to one.
It also explains why most states in the union could be forgiven for feeling a little neglected this year. Since the beginning of July, Ohio, a state which has voted for the winner of every presidential election since 1960, has received 13 visits apiece from Barack Obama and John McCain. Texas, a state with twice Ohio’s population but that’s all but guaranteed to go to McCain, hasn’t seen either of them since June. In all, most of the campaign efforts have focused on as few as a dozen states.
From this weekend, I’m visiting some of those unfamous places that will decide who leads the free world for the next four years. In two weeks of frantic motion I’ll go to states, such as Kentucky and New York, which have been roundly ignored as too red or too blue to be worth campaigning in. I’m also visiting key swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, and Republican strongholds, like North Carolina and Virginia, which might just go for Obama this year. I hope that this will give me an idea of what the voters are thinking as they decide which lever to pull.
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