By Nicole Hemmer
The line outside the Obama for America headquarters in Miami’s Pinecrest neighbourhood stretches the length of the strip mall OFA calls home. The waiting crowd presses up against the building to take advantage of small patches of shade. It’s Sunday afternoon here: the humidity is stifling, the sun unrelenting. But then, this is Miami. Every afternoon for the next two months will be like this.
Miamians abandoned their air-conditioned homes this afternoon in the hopes of snagging the hottest tickets in town. Fresh off his coup at the Democratic convention, Bill Clinton is hightailing it here to see if that old Bubba charm can move more Floridians into the Obama camp.
The high-profile visit comes not long after Mitt Romney dropped by the city. Just days after announcing Paul Ryan as his running mate, the Republican nominee landed in Florida to assure key voting blocs that his new Number Two would not be wheeling grandmothers off cliffs any time soon.
Mitt Romney, Bill Clinton — I must say, a girl could get used to all this attention. It’s one of the perks of living in a swing state: the steady stream of big-name suitors who come calling at all hours, willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that when you finally pull that lever on Election Day, you’re doing it for them.
Florida, along with eight other states, comprise what New Yorker writer Hendrik Hertzberg calls “The United States of Battleground America,” a country with about 23 per cent of the population but all of the power. Thanks to the befuddling Electoral College, it’s these states (Florida, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virginia, and New Hampshire) that determine the outcome of the election. We get the advertising dollars, the marquee events, and all that pandering.
Oh, the pandering. Why else would candidates spend time yammering on about Cuban-American relations? Why would the blandly inoffensive Ohio Senator Rob Portman garner consideration as Romney’s running mate? Or the patently offensive Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, best known for his support of state-mandated transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions? For that matter, why would Romney offer Fox News’s Chris Wallace New Hampshire maple syrup during the nominee’s at-home interview, when everyone knows syrup from neighbouring Vermont is vastly superior?
We know it’s pandering, of course, but it’s still flattering. At least, for those of us in swing states. The three-quarters of Americans living outside these hallowed battlegrounds see things a little differently. Reduced to voyeurs, they can only watch the courtship from the sidelines. They may catch some collateral coquetry if they border a swing state. Obama could pass through Indiana on the way to Ohio, if he has time, and Marylanders can catch all the radio and television ads flooding Virginia’s airwaves. But it’s not the same.
Nor is the disappointment of the unswinging something to shrug off. American presidential elections are predicated on this simple fact: some votes — and some voters — matter more than others. Casting a ballot for Al Gore in Indiana in 2000 was an act of futility on par with casting one for George W. Bush in New York in 2004. The results in those states were known well in advance of Election Day: Indiana was always going to go for the Republican that year, just as New York was always going to go for the Democrat.
So we end up with contorted campaigns, where clout concentrates in just a few places. In swing states, voters wield power at the ballot box. Non-swing-staters measure their influence by a different metric: how many doors they knocked on in Nevada, how many calls they made to Colorado, how many pamphlets they posted to Pennsylvania.
In other words, how much they interacted with the voters who actually matter.
And while all the attention is flattering, swingers also have something to fear from this distorted system. There was a time, after all, that New York and California were key swing states. A few election cycles from now, Miamians could be spending these sweltering afternoons indoors, swapping stories about the time Bill Clinton came tramping through town and treated them like the only state that mattered.
11 September 2012