Santa Fe is a Democrat stalwart of a town in the north of an altogether more swingy type of state. New Mexico went Gore in 2000 by about 500 votes, then got excited by national security in 2004 and ran to Bush with a majority of 4000-ish. Due the state's relatively sparse population and its evenly split electorate, the impact of one individual's vote is the highest in the entire country. Whereas my Obama vote in New York has disappeared into a sea of populous like-mindedness, here in NM, my dad's vote goes mano a mano against that of a stetson wearer in Roswell. Consequently, the strategy of the Santa Fe Obama campaign has been to get any likely 'obamanos' out of their houses and into the polling booths, hopefully thereby overcoming the red effect of southern desert towns near the Texas border. This has been done by strongly encouraging early voting, and today, by knocking on the doors of registered Democrats and offering to drive them to the polls.
Early this morning my dad and I turned up to a packed warehouse in downtown Santa Fe, ready to join hoardes and masses of Obama volunteers, hungry to help. Motivational speeches by key campaigners were delivered in a combatively jubilant atmosphere of cheers and air punching...WOOP WOOP YEAH! hollered the man next to me. I turned round and it was my dad. I felt rather British.
We set off with a well-researched list of voters and a map of where they lived... By the time we arrived in our designated neighbourhood at 10 a.m., every single person on our list had already voted (Apart from 1 man who was deceased, and 1 woman who had moved). It felt good, in the way that finding out that everyone agrees generally does. Also, the polling stations we saw were practically empty. This I can only assume is a testament to the success of the early voting allowed in the state, rather than a lack of voter interest in the election. I'm guessing it's probably not the case elsewhere in the country.
Over here it's now 3.30, and we're waiting. It's no-mans hour where polls haven't closed and news hasn't started. So we'll probably go to the shop for beer and crisps in a bit. We're waiting.
Good luck Obamanauts and here's to a happy night...
Colorado Springs is a town at whose heart is a controversial, evangelical church of the type that spawns a safe majority of socially conservative voters whose touchstone issues are abortion, war and faith. Obama is not going to win here. However recent polls suggest that the broader picture across the state of Colorado indicate that McCain is just about to narrowly lose out. As in Missouri, Obama is ahead in the metropolitan centres such as Denver, whilst McCain rules the suburbs. Unlike Missouri, Colorado's huge skies and awe-inspiring Rocky Mountain scenery have drawn artists and hippies to towns like Manitou Springs, where Obama badges are as ubiquitous as dream catchers. Perhaps even more important for the shifting political landscape in Colorado is the changing demographics, which indicate massive increases in the number of young voters in the state.
It's the day before polling, and I am in New Mexico about to tag along with my Obama-loving dad for some last minute campaigning. It currently seems the polls can tell you anything you want - a decisive victory, a tightening race, the unknown but statistically significant effect of the undecideds. However here, and elsewhere, it is known as a fact that early voting turnout - now over - has been huge. Conventional wisdom suggests that this is good for Obama, but confidence makes me edgy: right now I'm closing my ears, crossing my fingers and holding out for wednesday morning...
In Britain, the coverage of likely Republican voters tends towards a narrow but compelling focus on the red state, red neck, god and guns contingent. From a liberal and secular British point of view, this group is motivated by alien priorities, and are unambiguously and aggravatingly in the wrong - and the apparent fact that this voting block has constituted a majority in recent U.S. elections is frustrating as it is weird.
However, our fascination with this minority caricature obscures the observation of mainstream conservatives - normal, intelligent people who don't see a vote for a Republican president as an illogical course of action and whose reasons for doing so are varied and well considered. Among the independents and Republicans heading for Mcain that I have spoken to, I have encountered a shared distaste for the Sarah Palin brand, an common unease with the neo-con agenda and a mutual sense of tragic regret for the last 8 years. These voters have little in common with the loopy crew - here called "social conservatives" - that so inform our understanding of the average Republican.
The reasons for voting for McCain that I have encountered, often centre on the great respect and trust built up through his years as a Senator, his proven record on working with both sides, and enthusiasm for his original run in 2000. Years of exposure and accountability mean entail a sense of understanding of what McCain is likely to offer as president - which for newbie Obama and his comparatively short record is less guessable. This cautious stance is of course pretty much the hallmark of 'conservatism' in its most clean of definitions. I have also heard less obvious reasons for supporting Mcain - an instinct to go right from those who've grown up under the stifling constraints of Communist Eastern Europe or the view that McCain is the most trustworthy candidate when it comes to managing a future trade relationship with China and attempted diplomacy in Afghanistan from an ex-State Department employee. At this stage, I am completely hardwired to find these standpoints unconvincing, however I do find them worthy of respect, and have been grateful for the opportunity to discover something recognisable in the reasoning that ends up with Republicans winning elections. And perhaps in some quarters the feeling is mutual. From one McCain voter: "my head will be happy if McCain wins, but my heart will be happy if Obama wins".
At the turn of the previous century, St Louis, Missouri equalled New York as a centre of trade and commerce and was labelled The Gateway to The West. The last time I was here, the city centre consisted of parking lots and empty streets, with no visible shopping areas, cafes and fewer and fewer reasons for people to spend time there. Even since that trip, the airport has downsized considerably - it has stopped receiving international flights, and has broken up its internal flights so that it serves just a few big airline hubs. My uncle and aunt tell me that businesses have been leaving, and the city centre schools are in a mess. Many are no longer accredited, meaning they cannot offer their students a high school diploma of any recognised value. The redundant school system means that middle class families who have the choice, simply do not choose to buy the beautiful old riverside houses in the downtown area. Meanwhile suburbia continues to be developed: property is bought, houses are built, lived in, knocked down, resold, rebuilt. The trend is to live is history-less houses in 'neighbourhoods' - or residential cul-de-sacs - just off inhospitably fast carriageways. Like so many cities in the U.S., car is king here, and concerns about the price of fuel will resonate, as will education and the take home wages of the average Joe (plumber or otherwise).
As an assumption (though perhaps a dangerously complacent one) emerges nationally that Obama will win next Tuesday, Missouri continues to exemplify the neck and neck race of an important swing state, with Mcain a statistically insignificant 1 point behind. In the St Louis suburbs, Mcain-Palin billboards are in the majority, including a homemade attempt: "Don't let the people who stole my sign steal this election!!". Bush has won the last few times around. However indicators of Obama alliegance remain persistent, not least in the 100, 000 strong crowd who turned up to see him speak just days before I arrive...
As polling day draws near, the machinations of getting out the vote, stopping the vote, and mainpulating the vote becomes a compelling topic. Mobilising turnout among untapped sections of the population whose blood ran Republican red proved to be a highly effective strategy in 2004. This year, the Democrats twist on this tactic is to promote the registration of new voters, especially those who are young, black or Hispanic. Enfranchisement is universally considered A Good Thing, however double enfranchisement, or enfranchisemet of the dead and fictitious is really not as Good. The McCain campaign have therefore been questioning the legitimacy of Acorn, an organisation that promotes the registration of those from low income, minority communities, and who have unfortunately been receiving registrations from Florida's most famous resident Mr M. Mouse... Whether or not such dodgy registrations in fact translate uncritically into a polling card is another question, but nonetheless the FBI are investigating.
While Democrats tradtionally get the lions share of accusations about electoral fraud, the Republicans tend to get the accusations of voter intimdation. When I meet up with an old friend from the Bradley campaign we reminisce about the final few weeks of the 2000 primaries which in our office meant a series of disorganised coups, and, at grass roots level, a flailing attempt to offer management to the sudden influx of interested and kind people who came through the doors looking for some way to help, and also to a number of unhinged people who came to us simply looking for somewhere to be. He also tells me about the blog he works for now and his recent story concerning a tennis game of accusations subject to investigation in New Mexico, first of fraudulent voter registration - bang -and then voter initimdation - wap: (http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2008/10/voting-rights_group_calls_for.php)
The American part of my family keep some of their heart, and also their real estate, in New Mexico, and my uncle proudly announces that the wild piece of land he and my dad own is bang slap in the middle of the most corrupt district in the state... and perhaps ripe for use as an address for the registration of W.E Coyote and friends. He tells me about the U.S's long and illustrious history of murky voting, and shows me a picture of a group of jubilant, but rather well built, white Texans celebrating next to the ballot box that contained the 213 votes that won that state's 1936 election. It later turned out that these beefers had 'suggested' to the Hispanics on their payroll that they do them the favour of filling out their voting papers for them.
Although my uncle admits to becoming a swingier and swingier voter by the day, one thing he definitely wants from this election is a clear outcome. If what happens on November 4th turns out to be a close run thing, it seems inevitable that we will hear polarising accusations of murky doings from both sides.
I spent last weekend in Port Washington, a pro-Democrat town in suburban Long Island where my cousin and his family live. My cousin is running for re-election to the state senate here, and the family's NY Democrat persuasion trickles right down the generations. "Y'know we have a saying here" says my 6 year old cousin, who has appointed himself my tourguide to American culture, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend!" "Hillary Clinton wants Mcain to win, so she can run again in four years..." I have a funny feeling that this kid may follow his father into politics.
I arrive during a town celebration called 'Pride in Port' which involves a football game, cheerleaders, bake sales, the obligatory bouncy castle and town parade for all the civic organisations such as the fire department or the school. It is also a great day for my cousin to be out, pressing flesh and being seen, and indeed his campaign is so relentless that this afternoon is one of the few times I see him during the daylight hours throughout my stay. Walking through the street with my cousin's wife and their 3 year old is like being a celebrity. Strangers wave and we smile and wave back, people approach and engage us in conversations in which we are obliged to participate warmly. Two agressive leafleters thrust a small card into our hands as we walk past. "Bleurgh. Republicans" whispers my cousin's wife. Later I read this promotional card, which reads like a CV extolling the achievements of an "economist with a military background" running for State Assembly. It absolutely nowhere mentions the 'R' word, suggesting instead that the reader "votes the person not the party". This explicit disassociation is an interesting measure of how things are currently playing out in the blue states - Palin's non-pro-American states.
On the bigger stage of national politics last week seemed to be an effort all round to prove the wit, good humour and personality of the candidates. Mcain was on Letterman, amiably admitting he 'screwed up' with his tactic of stalling the first debate for the economic crisis; then both candidates gave after dinner speeches at a New York dinner in which the only rule was 'be hilarious'. Mcain achieved this more fluently than Obama, however commentators are questioning whether Bush's holy grail of being a candidate that voters would 'like to have a beer with' counts for much in a period of economic confusion. And that maybe, just maybe, it might be possible to elect a serious, clever president instead. This strategy is not one that appeals to Palin's advisors, who mysteriously sanctioned her appearance on Saturday Night Live, alongside Tina Fey's bewitchingly accurate caricture. Find it on You Tube! The highlight is a ridiculous rap about moose shooting and oil drilling. I can only assume that the aim of Palin's passive presence was thought by her team to be sufficient to undermine the poison of the sketches. Something I have found reassuring during my trip so far is that this terrifying woman is considered a freakshow over here too. As opposed to running reports on her stump speeches and media appearances (of which there are noticeably few), the New York Times has printed stories about her male following - 'Dudes for Palin' - and her apparent impromptu attempts to duck her aides and answer questions from journalists herself. They say that even Joe The Plumber has been allowed to give more interviews than Palin. I will see later this week when I travel to the up-for-grabs states of Missouri and Colorado exactly how much this unserious coverage is down to the bias of an east coast liberal media, or a reflection of how things are swinging nationally.