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Biden's visit rare for a blue state on the sidelines

Peter Callaghan // Published October 21, 2008 in The News Tribune
Having Joe Biden make a campaign appearance at Cheney Stadium on Sunday was special because it gave me a chance to slide into second base without the mascot there to tell me not to.

I mean why Run with Rhubarb if you can’t slide into the bases?

But mostly it was special because it was so rare.

Washington hasn’t seen a real live candidate since before the state’s primary and caucuses last winter. Nothing. GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is from neighboring Alaska and even she’s stiffed us.

No wonder people waited in line for hours to get a glimpse of Biden. State voters had started to wonder whether the candidates were real or just made-for-TV characters.

Biden’s visit was enough to remove us from a list of so-called spectator states. That list is compiled by FairVote, a national organization that is pushing for the states to sign an agreement to give all of their Electoral College votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote.

Two thirds of the states have not received a single candidate visit since the conventions. A dozen or fewer have gotten all the campaign visits and most of the campaign money as well.

What makes them so special? They are swing states, the same too-close-to-call states that received most of the attention last election as well.

Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Virginia, Wisconsin, Missouri, Colorado, New York and New Hampshire have seen most of the candidate visits and most of the campaign money. Michigan was there too until John McCain pulled out a week ago.

With the winner-take-all Electoral College system, once a state tips to one candidate there is no reason for either to campaign there. Losing a state by one vote or 10 million votes has the same result – zero electoral votes.

So safe states watch, swing states play. Safe states are disregarded while swing-state issues are exaggerated.

Rob Richie of FairVote thinks a popular-vote election might change these dynamics. Candidates couldn’t write off big states like California because they have so many votes. Even mid-sized states like ours might get some candidate love if it were a close election and every vote counted.

I’m an old-fashioned guy and have liked the Electoral College. What was good enough for George Washington is good enough for me.

But that was before I noticed that we see less and less of the candidates, that issues that are important out here barely get a look-see. If it weren’t for all the money up in Microsoft country we wouldn’t see them at all.

It isn’t just our self-esteem that’s at stake. National campaigns pay for things like voter identification, for state-specific polling and for get-out-the-vote efforts. Those not only help the presidential candidate but so-called down-ballot candidates too.

Republicans have done poorly in Washington lately for many reasons. But one is the tendency of the national campaign to write us off, to spend money and resources elsewhere.

Biden’s appearance doesn’t counter this trend, it confirms it. He didn’t venture north to help Barack Obama win Washington, which Obama likely will do regardless. He appeared at Cheney Stadium to boost the rest of the Democratic ticket, especially Gov. Chris Gregoire and 9th District congressional candidate Darcy Burner.

(And yes, to raise some money. After the stadium rally, Biden went to Seattle for a $1,000-a-head reception and $25,000-a-head dinner.)

Such is the luxury of a party with a national lead. It can afford to help its candidates in a state that it wins – almost by forfeit – presidential election after presidential election.

And it might just add to national political polarization – the so-called Blue-Red divide. As state after state gets pushed further into one party camp or another, it further reduces the number of swing states and further narrows the stage where presidential campaigns are waged.