Our “national” elections have become increasingly odd. Many states are written off by the campaigns from the start as being solidly in one column or the other. Residents of those states never see candidates (except for the occasional quick fundraising trip) and don’t have to endure the avalanche of TV commercials, robocalls, in-person visits, and candidate motorcades.
If you look at the RealClearPolitics electoral map, you see huge states that have become “flyover country” for the campaigns. In California, Illinois, and New York — three of our most populous states — the President is far ahead. The average of recent California polls, for example, has the President up by 14 points. I’m sure many people in those states wonder what the heck the fuss is about; they go about their daily lives and rarely encounter people who support the other guy. The same is true, but in the other direction, in states like Texas — where the most recent poll, taken at the end of September, has Mitt Romney leading by 19 points — and across a huge swath of the South and Midwest. People in those states no doubt are similarly astonished that President Obama is even keeping it close.
That’s why it is so curious to live here in “Battleground Ohio.” Everyone is focused on us. The Washington Post carried a story yesterday calling Ohio the “Bull’s-Eye State.” The National Review website has a special section called “Battleground Ohio” that features stories exclusively about Ohio. The National Journal running total of ad spending shows that more than $160 million has been spent in Ohio alone, and as the last week before the election approaches the spending of the President, Mitt Romney, and their supporters are spiking.
Here in Ohio, you can’t watch any TV program without seeing a host of political ads. Yesterday, in our tiny sliver of northeast Franklin County, located in the middle of the state, we had campaign workers visit our door (we used hyped-up Penny and Kasey as an excuse not to talk to them) and today we’ll probably see more. The candidates keep coming, and coming, and coming, holding rallies on airport tarmacs and in high school football stadiums. We’ve grown used to the ads, the stopped traffic as candidate limousines barrel past, and all of this attention.
I do wonder, however: what is the reality in this supposedly national election? It is the frenzied activity in Ohio and a handful of other “battleground states,” or is it the quiet inactivity in the vast majority of the country? How can an election produce any kind of meaningful mandate when the experience of voters during the campaign is so profoundly, diametrically different?