I live in California and I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of not mattering. We are the most populous state in the union, a state with the fifth largest economy in the world, and yet when it comes to this year’s presidential race, neither candidate cares about our vote. California is a solid blue-state.
So I was relieved, to say the least, to head north for the weekend to Portland, Oregon. As Robert Eisinger, a political scientist at Lewis & Clark College told the Portland Tribune, “Oregon is a battleground state, period.” Here, I expected, would be the home of the swing voter, that undecided creature who will determine the course of the country for the rest of us.
But the funny thing is that Portland seemed every bit as decided as Berkeley.
The Kerry signs outnumbered the Bush signs a dozen to one. I attended an art exhibition in which every third gallery had anti-Bush literature. I overheard conversations about this week’s Moveon.org volunteer event. And Portland even had a liberal weekly that would make San Francisco proud. The Portland Mercury called Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi Bush’s “little puppet.” It advertised a local place to watch the first presidential debate as an opportunity “ to laugh and heckle your lungs out” at President Bush. And the photo caption for the review of Going Upriver, a film documenting John Kerry’s life, reads: “Another great reason to vote for Kerry.”
I spent two days here and all I saw was Kerry, Kerry, Kerry. And then on Sunday something strange happened. I left Portland and, suddenly, the Bush signs outnumbered the Kerry ones. Taking a ride on the historic Hood River Railroad, I passed through rural and low-populated areas where all I could see was a Bush sign, an orchard and a house. Kerry territory ended as soon as the houses stopped having yards and started having farms.
Oregon may be a swing-state, but that looks to be more a result of geography and demographics rather than real “swing-voters.” The urban Portland (and the whole of Multnomah county) goes heavily for Democrats while most of the rest of the state goes for the Republicans. California, it seems, just has one too many Democratic urban bases (both San Francisco and Los Angeles) to be in play. So while the pundits and the pollsters keep chiming in about red-state this and blue-state that, the real divide might not be between states, but between rural and urban populations.
Either way, it is back to Berkeley where the most competitive race I will be voting in is for City Council.