At least until earlier this year, when workers for both presidential campaigns arrived here with maps and satellite images to walk the dirt roads and ask residents where, exactly, Iowa ended, and where, exactly, Missouri began. They knocked on doors in Iowa to recruit volunteers but walked past houses in Missouri. They built a combined 74 campaign offices in one state and only six in the other. They bombarded one side of town with so much mail that the brochures filled a storage room and the postmaster extended his hours.
“Iowa, you could determine the next president!” read one glossy flier, sent to Lineville by the hundreds.
Meanwhile, less than 100 feet away in Missouri, the only hint of an upcoming election was homemade fliers gathering dust on the counter of the liquor store: “Missouri Tobacco Tax Initiative, Proposition B — the No. 1 Issue for Missourians in 2012.”
Here in Lineville and so many other places around the country, the presidential campaign has crystallized geography, turning a rural state line into a hard divider. Voters on one side are regarded as all-important. Voters on the other side are all but disregarded. A close national campaign has become increasingly hyper-local in its final days, with both President Obama and Mitt Romney devoting their time and money to winning over a small number of swing voters in a smaller number of swing states. Iowa is one of them. Republican-leaning Missouri is not.
One of the dividing lines between them is a potholed road that bisects the cornfields and cattle herds of Lineville, where residents experience contrary versions of an American presidential campaign.
“I’m not sure anybody gives a lick what I think,” said Nancy Snow, the town secretary, who lives on the Missouri side.
“You’d think we were all rich and famous the way they’re coming after us,” said Jack Shields, the mayor, who lives on the Iowa side.
‘We keep our politics quiet’
Shields has been the mayor of Lineville for 15 years without ever running for office. He had never once declared himself a candidate — never raised money, ordered yard signs or campaigned. People in town had started writing down his name on their ballots for mayor because they trusted his judgment, knew most of his five siblings and admired the way he ran the local grain elevator. He had accepted the job each time even though it barely paid, because he had never lived anywhere else, and because serving Lineville seemed like the right thing to do.
“If somebody else wants this job, they can have it,” he liked to say. “You can’t afford to disagree with people in a town this size. We keep our politics quiet.”