Presidential Tracker: "Every Corner of Every Swing State"

by Katie P. Kelly, Presidential Tracker // Published September 14, 2011

FairVote is now starting to update our Presidential Tracker daily. You can see a state-by-state rundown of presidential visits on our tracker page by looking at the map. We will periodically post an updated spreadsheet detailing presidential travel. Once the Republican Party has nominated a candidate, we will also start tracking the nominee’s travel. This blog helps explain the reason for our project.

During his address to Congress on jobs last week, President Obama declared that he would take his message “to every corner of this country.” Although it has only been six days since his speech, the President has already made visits to tout his jobs plan in three states (with trips to New York and Pennsylvania exclusively for the anniversary of September 11th): Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina.

We suspect it’s no coincidence that these three states are major battleground areas for the 2012 election – based on the 2008 elections, our analysis of state partisanship , and Ohio and Virginia being among the seven states that “Crystal Ball” analyst Larry Sabato recently pronounced as the "super-swing states" for the 2012 election.

As we pointed out in our June 2011 tracker blog, attention to more crucial battleground and swing states will likely only increase as the November 2012 election approaches.  Just as with George Bush in his 2004 re-election bid, Barack Obama can look straight to the general election; that year, Bush aide Matthew Dowd admitted that for the last 2 ½ years before the election, one of the richest campaigns in history never wasted a dime on polling a single person living outside of 18 potential battleground states.

The pattern is becoming clearer in our analysis as the election and full-swing of campaign season draw near. Virginia and Ohio are both already in the top 10 ranking of President Obama’s most visited states since 2009, with Virginia at 31 total events held, and Ohio at 23. With the recent American Jobs Act proposal and the election cycle gearing up, FairVote is keeping an eye out for patterns like this and increases in the number of visits to more battleground states like Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina and Florida.

The Republican party knows the value of swing states, too, of course and the Republican National Committee has planned accordingly, as evidenced by their announcement of a series of press conferences in major battleground states (see our July 2011 tracker blog for more details).

Partisan emphasis and political catering to niche populations are characteristic of campaigning today. When one party’s nominee is comfortably or hopelessly behind in a state, both major parties will ignore the state. Unfortunately, the political climate and campaign strategy that both parties employ are a result of the current winner-take-all system in which they are forced to operate.The winner-take-all rule adopted by states for allocating their electors makes it politically useless for candidates to do what President Obama declared was his goal: “going to every corner of every state in the country.”

As a result, the president and his Republican opponent next year are far more likely to focus on every corner of a dwindling number of swing states. The incentives of the current system and the emphasis placed on just a few states every four years leaves more than two-thirds of Americans ignored, as their votes are discounted for living in states that are too “safe” and “predictable”.

The only way this reality will change is if states institute the National Popular Vote Plan. Only then will every state become a part of the campaign process and all Americans will see that their votes matter.