Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Early voting and the Electoral Map

I just voted today. I realize I live in Cook County, Illinois, home of the Democratic machine, but I couldn't help but be impressed by the early voting turnout. I've been a very big proponent of citizens voting since I was in college. I'm proud to say that I helped organize a non-partisan GOTV effort at my then-1200 person college that had a 62.5% turnout rate. Sure it helped that Wisconsin had same day registration, but overall I believe that people should vote, regardless of political affiliation and if for no other reason than voting is the epitome of our freedom as Americans. But I digress. Today, I decided to vote. And waited over 30 minutes to do so. I estimate that over 200 people were in line when I showed up and I'd estimate that at least as many were in line there when I left. It was a beautiful thing.

Some of my own ramblings, as I stood in line to vote today, I couldn't help but think about why we so desperately should have a voting holiday in this country. I think it is such a positive step that many states now have early voting, but I can't understand why we don't support a national day to vote. Every 4 years, we, as citizens, are asked to elect a person to set the agenda and lead us as a country (and in some respects, lead the world), but we as a nation don't support those voters in the same way. I understand the politics behind not having a national day of voting -- especially from particular parties that don't want high turnout. But if our country can support national holidays for dozens of days throughout the year, why shouldn't we have one on what -- from a nationalistic/democracy perspective -- is the most important day of the year?

Lately, I also have found myself looking at the election map and trying to project what might happen on election day. I typically use MSNBC's map because, well, I'm addicted to Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, and that tends to be convenient for me. Anyway, right now that map has Obama ahead with 264 electoral votes to McCain with 163, and 111 in the toss up category. It seems every night I turn on the news, it seems that some newscaster is trying to temper my enthusiasm -- talking about races tightening in battle ground states, a potential bin Laden-like message in 2004, or just generally about how this race isn't in the bag. As a Cubs fan, I'm predisposed to panic at the first sign of problems, so I've found myself doubting an Obama win more and more. And then I started doing some trusty math. You see, if Obama does hold onto the states he is currently projected to win, he only needs to win one of the following states: Colorado or Missouri or Indiana or Ohio or Virginia or North Carolina or Florida. McCain on the other hand? He'd need to win ALL of those states to win the election. Oh and he'd still need to win Nevada as well. In other words, in order for McCain to win the election, he needs to win each and every single toss-up state on MSNBC's map. When I think about it like that, I can't wait for election night.

Finally, when I watch Obama and McCain's campaigns, I can't help but notice what a contrast in difference each is. Usually every year I curse Democratic candidates for their lack of unity, clarity of message, and inability to set the agenda. And if one thing is certain about presidential politics, whoever sets the tone/message of the campaign season will almost definitely win. Republicans seem to be masters at that. Especially Karl Rove and his disciples. But this year it is so wonderful to see the shoe on the other foot. For once, it is the Republican party that seems to be lacking a coherent message, has no campaign discipline, and is mired in negative press coverage over inane things. (Honestly, John McCain, do you really think it is a smart idea to banish Maureen Dowd (New York Times) or Joe Klein (Time Magazine) from your planes? Do you really think it is a good idea to indirectly bash George Will as a Georgetown socialite? You may be trying to win the hearts and minds of Joe Six Pack or Joe the Plumber, but at the end of the day is it really the best idea to alienate the reporters who cover your campaign and send your message to millions of Americans?)

And now the Republicans find themselves about to become embroiled in an even bigger sensation than McCain suspending his campaign: McCain and others questioning the patriotism of Americans. You see, this country will put up with a lot of things, but when there isn't a reason to be afraid, it is hard to convince Americans that the boogie man is waiting around the corner. You might have been able to get away with McCarthyism during the Cold War and you might have been able to get away with claiming that Democrats couldn't react to a terrorist attack post-9/11, but it doesn't work as well when you are trying to drum up the same message on the economy. Because, here's the thing: Democrats are seen as infinitely better at dealing with the economy and this message isn't and doesn't resonate with swing voters. On the economy, between FDR and Clinton, some of the biggest and best bull markets have seemingly come on Democrats watch. Voters seem to trust Democrats to deal with the economy. I sincerely doubt how much Dems have had to do with that, but they seem to be the party people trust in times of financial crisis. And on the swing voters, one thing seems to have become abundantly clear in the post-debate independent voter polls: Indies aren't interested in hearing partisan bickering. They want solutions. Claiming that certain portions of the country are true Americans and others aren't isn't the way to convince Indies.

What seems so incredible to me is that McCain's staff should know this. McCain is acting almost desperate now. Focusing on states that should be in his bag, abandoning all Blue states, but Pennsylvania, and rallying a base with divisive messages and anti-media rhetoric. If I were a political historian, this might look a lot more like a guy who is trying not to get blown out by McGovern-like proportions than a guy trying to win a seat in the Oval Office ...

1 comment:

TR said...

Good post JB, we're definitely living in historical times, and one can only guess what the outcome of the election will be (truth to tell, i don't quite trust polls; look what happened in 2000/2004). But you're definitely right about the danger in calling out Americans as being too 'un-American.' I think if we should be calling anyone 'un-American' it should be George W. Bush and all his cronies for getting us into the mess we're in today (i.e., financial crisis; global mistrust of the US; the environment; etc.). Keep on fighting my brother!