I am ready for this election to be over.
I am tired of interviewing voters. Nothing against the electorate, mind you. These are my people. It’s good to leave the office, get out there in the real America, to see the landscape, to hear the concerns, to document the political vernacular of the people behind the statistics of the campaign. But I am ready to write “-30-” on this election.
Here’s my latest (and last) dispatch from the road, on Obama’s firewall, or really his levee, along Lake Erie. Make sure to check out Michael Williamson’s photos and Whitney Shefte’s video. These are real pros, the best at what they do.
CLEVELAND — Tall, strapping, wearing a pinstriped suit, and with his head shaved like Mr. Clean, Tim Misny stood in a parking lot and declared a winner in the presidential election. Misny’s a personal injury lawyer. He’s famous for TV ads with the slogan “I’ll make them pay!” He’s not the type of person who’s afraid to express an opinion.
“Nothing to discuss. Nothing to discuss. Obama’s got it,” he said.
He made a grand pronouncement: “You are standing in the exact spot where the election is going to be determined.” He explained that Ohio is the crucial swing state, and Cleveland is the key to Ohio, and “this exact intersection, St. Clair and 55th” is the heart of Cleveland.
“People don’t have to watch any television commercials to know that unless you’re a millionaire, you have no business even thinking about voting for Romney. These people think Romney should run for president of the Cayman Islands,” Misny said.
This is, indeed, a Democratic city. Pundits talk about the president’s political firewall, but levee might be the more apt metaphor around here, because President Obama hopes to shore up his base in the industrial strip that formed in the 19th century along Lake Erie. Mitt Romney wants to poke a hole in that base.
Some of the most hotly contested terrain in the final weeks of the campaign is along the Great Lakes, the inland seas left behind when the ice sheet retreated 10,000 years ago, back when this campaign season began. The Romney strategists this week generated headlines with their contention that Michigan, Pennsylvania and even Minnesota are in play, in addition to Ohio and Wisconsin.
Both candidates are traveling to these states in the final days of the campaign and spending millions in advertising. The polls in these states still favor Obama, but by margins ranging from narrow to minuscule. There are many paths to 270 electoral votes, but Obama’s is nearly assured if he holds all five of these Great Lakes states (not to mention his strongholds of Illinois and New York). If Romney can win even one of these states, he has a dramatically better shot at becoming the 45th president.
The battle for the Great Lakes has affected the tone and lexicon of the presidential race. Four years ago, Sen. Obama expanded the electoral map for Democrats, winning former Republican strongholds such as Virginia, North Carolina and Colorado, and he did so in part with an appeal to suburban swing voters, people with college educations and well-paying New Economy jobs — what economists call “knowledge workers,” and members of the “creative class.”
This time, Obama is back to basics, focusing a great deal of energy on traditional Democratic voters, particularly here in the industrial north — urban minorities, union members, working-class whites, college students and older voters who remember voting for JFK or maybe even FDR.
Obama has wanted to be a transformative 21st-century president, but to get another term, he needs help from a constituency that dates to the New Deal.