Mitt Romney flew into Arkansas Wednesday, made a brief speech before a small crowd of committed supporters, met some donors, spent the night, and left.
That’s what happens when everybody knows which direction your state will vote in November. In the past three presidential elections, the Democratic nominee has received the following percentages: Gore, 46 percent; Kerry, 45 percent; Obama, 39 percent. If Obama gets 35 percent this time, it will be a surprise.
That means Romney won’t waste his time campaigning or take a chance on saying something he would regret. President Obama, meanwhile, won’t come here at all. In fact, he hasn’t been to Arkansas since he was a rising star back in October 2006.
Arkansas mirrors the rest of the nation in its decisiveness. Gallup says between 6 and 8 percent of the American electorate is still weighing its options, while an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll said the number is 3 percent.
Clearly, the two candidates are polarizing figures who represent different viewpoints, so it’s not surprising that few voters remain on the fence. But there are consequences of having such an evenly divided and decided electorate.
Presidential elections are supposed to engage voters in a discussion about the nation’s goals and ideals, but that won’t happen in a year when everyone’s mind is made up. Obama and Romney will not try to persuade the nation’s undecideds because there are so few of them, and they will not attempt to speak to the country as a whole because they know half won’t be inclined to listen.
Instead, they both will focus on motivating their supporters to vote on Election Day. And how will they do that? By pandering to them, and by scaring the pants off them. For the next two-plus months, they will hold a private conversation with their halves of the country, worrying little about what the other half thinks because those folks aren’t going to vote for them anyway. They will speak using prepared texts to relatively small, hand-picked crowds of cheering supporters to minimize the chance that some Joe the Plumber will ask a difficult question. During the debates, their main goal will be to avoid saying something that might depress their own turnout.
Meanwhile, they and their allies will spend billions – that’s right, billions – to convince their supporters that their opponent is so fearful that he must be defeated at all costs.
That’s bad. Fear is one of the most effective tools used by those in power. It’s how Romney obtained the nomination in the first place. Republican primary voters – few of whom really supported Romney with their hearts and minds – accepted the argument that he was the one candidate who could prevent the threat of four more years of Obama. It’s also how Democrats and Republicans year after year shut out mavericks like Ron Paul, third party candidates and independents. We’re told we must vote for the major party candidate we might dislike lest we help elect the one we should fear.
The other problem is that, while most states’ electoral votes already have been counted, a few states could go either way – and it’s pretty much the same states as always. Once again, this election is going to come down to Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and maybe a couple of others.
Guess who’s going to get the campaigns’ attention? Not Arkansas.
What to do? Well, we can’t all become a bunch of undecideds, but we could turn a deaf ear to the political professionals and media blowhards who play to our fears and paint opposing candidates as enemies of the republic.
We also could be willing to at least give other candidates a second look. Few Arkansans would probably consider changing their votes from Romney to Obama or vice versa, but other candidates will be on the ballot. The Libertarians offer Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico who believes in less government – a lot less, actually. The Greens offer Jill Stein, who is, well, really liberal. But so are some Arkansans who justifiably believe that neither party speaks to their beliefs.
Don’t want to "waste" your vote on a candidate who won’t win? Don’t worry: Your vote is already counted. Both parties long ago placed Arkansas in the Republican camp.
They’ve already decided what our votes are going to be.
We should decide that’s a bad thing.
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His blog — Independent Arkansas — is linked at Arkansasnews.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org