I see in the paper where there's a presidential campaign on.
If we lived in Florida or Ohio, we might have physical evidence that George Bush and John Kerry seek our votes. Each has visited those states about 30 times this year. Aside from a few fundraisers for fat cats, they've given our part of the country a pass.
If we lived where the candidates thought our votes were worth fighting for, we'd get to see those $333 million worth of TV ads we keep hearing about. Not that I'm dying to see more ads on TV, but that's how candidates are sold, so wouldn't it be nice to be in on the show? If you live in Toledo, you've had 15,000 chances to see how the candidates package themselves. In the Washington area, we've had about, um, zero.
"There really haven't been any spot buys in Washington," says Evan Tracey, who runs TNS Media Intelligence/ CMAG, an Arlington firm that tracks political ads. "There's no purpose for a candidate to buy in Washington. Maryland and Virginia are not swing states. In the past, campaigns bought Washington to get to the part of West Virginia that watches Washington TV. But that's not happening this year, because it costs too much money and West Virginia is cutting toward Bush."
We don't matter because we are too efficiently divided. In gross numbers, we've neatly put our conservatives on one side of the Potomac and our liberals on the other. To matter, we need to get out of our comfy red and blue boxes and make some purple.
At first glance, Virginia seems well divided -- Democratic governor, Republican legislature; liberal inner suburbs, conservative outer suburbs. Not good enough: Kerry has pulled most of his staff out of Virginia.
Presidential politics has gone boldly in the opposite direction of much of American society: While we bemoan the loss of local retailers, broadcasters, health care and even funeral homes to faceless national corporations, the business of politics has dropped any pretense of national campaigning. Only 27 percent of Americans live in TV markets where campaign ads are airing this fall.
So politics, which should unite us in purpose, joins the Internet, cable TV and our other micro-targeted media in further dividing the populace: At Fragmented R Us, the marginal voter is the only one that matters.
Still, you could argue that we in the capital region have a front-row seat on any presidential campaign. Bush, Kerry and Ralph Nader live within walking distance of each other in the District. All three have their headquarters here.
I have fond memories of spending many days in campaign offices as a kid; our public school teachers seemed to go on strike every fall, and candidates were happy to fill our idle hours.
So I headed out to the candidates' offices, seeking some of that grass-roots action and maybe some yard signs, too.
Bush '04 is based on the eighth floor of a brick-and-glass building across from the Court House Metro Station in Arlington. Bush Web sites give only a post office box, and there's no sign in the building to indicate this is the place. The elevators are rigged to skip the eighth floor. But ride the elevator long enough and, as campaign workers head out to lunch, you can catch a glimpse of a fabulous view across to the Mall and the Capitol.
But you can't come in. "This is a private office," a young woman told me. No, no yard signs here. "Goodbye."
Downtown on 15th Street NW, Kerry headquarters is less of a fortress. The Democrats also prefer a post office box, but there's no barrier to the seventh floor. The reception, however, is equally frosty: "It's not a public office," says the man at the desk. For a sign, "You could go out to Fairfax." To volunteer, "You could look on the Web site."
Nader's Web site lists no address, but news reports had questioned the legality of the campaign sharing offices with one of Nader's nonprofit groups, so I knew where to go.
So many others had tried this that the other tenant on the second floor of the 16th Street NW building put a sign on its door noting, "This office does not house the Ralph Nader Group."
The office at the end of the hall has no marking. The doorbell is eventually answered by a young man who says brusquely, "This is not a public office." Should the visitor care to help, "You'd have to go on our Web site."
Oh, yes: Vote Nov. 2. Some votes count.
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