Election 2004

Swing State Envy

Kerry and Bush are almost colliding with each other as they crisscross smaller and smaller areas, hoping to stumble on the last swing voter as she waits to cross the street. But what about me?
As the presidential race heats up I find myself wishing I were a citizen. Not just any old citizen, but a swing state citizen. In post-2000 Florida USA, where elections are being determined by hundreds, even scores of votes, everyone is looking for the new swing voter. It could have been me.

Armies of consultants, pollsters and pundits scour the swing states, looking for that legendary, semi-mythical "swing" beast. But who is he or she? What do they look like? Can they be lured out of their condos? What are the swing issues for the swing voters in swing states? Is it Iraq, or education?

Every group with an acronym to its name is jumping into the Swing Voter of 2004 pageant. Latinos, the perennial swing voter bloc, are being sliced and diced. Maybe the Cubans will be all that's needed to swing Florida. Or Mexicans who have recently become citizens.

Ex-felons, if they could get their right to vote, could swing the state as well. As could Latino business owners, religious women or Indian American doctors who don't like John Edwards' trial lawyer background. It seems any group that can count more than 200 people on its membership rolls in a swing state can issue a press release announcing itself as swing voter du jour. At this rate, gay bridge players in Denver who organize an election day carpool might just be the voting bloc that gives us our next president.

The key to being a swing voter, of course, involves residing in a swing state. Ever-increasing swathes of the country are being unceremoniously dumped as states-that-don't-matter, as the hunt for the swing voter closes in. Kerry and Bush are almost colliding with each other as they crisscross smaller and smaller areas, hoping to stumble on the last swing voter as she waits to cross the street.

Even if you live in a state that doesn't swing, you can get in on the action. Just tell the candidates your organization can reach 350 people of your ethnicity/stripe/orientation/penchant-for-growing-orchids in Ohio. That could earn you "friend of swing voter" status. You can still enjoy your latte in San Francisco as you dangle your e-mail blast list in front of the campaign managers as the key to the last undiscovered trove of swing voters in some other state.

There are a few other things you need in order to get ahead in the race to be swing voter of the year. It would help if you were ethnically similar and shared a language; for example, Spanish. Asians have a hard time being swing voters, since they speak too many different languages and thus give pollsters and campaign managers a headache.

You could also belong to a particular organization that believes strongly in a single issue. A good swing voter has a manageable issue that is easily explained in a 30-second ad – like gun control, protecting the redwoods or school vouchers.

A Yahoo! group is a definite plus. Though Howard Dean never made it on the Democratic ticket, everyone is now enamored of the internet as a way of getting the message out. If your swing voter bloc doesn't yet have an email list, consider getting one. Karl Rove would love to send you a personalized message. President Bush did just that for Indian-Americans recently. "No administration in the history of this nation has been more committed to providing opportunities for politically active Americans of Indian origin," wrote Marc Racicot, chairman of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in a 1,200 word e-mail specifically targeting Indian-Americans.

My hope was all of this would give the election a new charge, making everyone feel counted. But it's having the opposite effect. The neck-and-neck race could have meant the parties would fan out horizontally, trying to drive everyone they could to the polling booth. Instead they have burrowed vertically, going deeper and deeper into an ever-dwindling number of states, looking to hit the last undecided voters with that perfect TV ad spot that will send all 350 of them out in a wildebeest stampede on Nov. 2.

Meanwhile, I am busy downloading the citizenship forms from the Internet so I can be ready in 2008. As a first step, I am building a list of at least 300 former software engineers who like to hang out at all-you-can-eat Indian lunch buffets. And if that doesn't make the "Swing Voter of 2008" list, we can always start a support group for former swing voters whom no one cares about anymore. Remember the soccer moms?
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