Thursday, July 27, 2006

Most representative

The idea of choosing one state as an exemplar of all 50 is, of course, stupid. But we have the asinine system where some states cast their primary votes before others, and therefore get to knock out candidates before they reach other states. These states are effectively representing dozens of states which have late primaries.

Someone or other will therefore be fascinated to learn that Wisconsin is the most representative state. Close behind come Missouri, Kansas, Indiana, and Ohio.

We can quibble about the logic of these choices, but I think it's worth taking this at face value for a moment. The methods and data chosen is left unclear, and we can question whether measures of central tendency should be the only basis for assessing each state.

But the thing that I find notable is that the states where most of the political analysts from either party live and work are far down the list. The concerns in DC, Virginia, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, or California are pretty far from those of Kansas, Missouri, or Ohio.

If any candidate for DNC chair had proposed moving DNC HQ to Columbus, Ohio, or to Wichita, KS, I'd have gone door-to-door to back him. The Wichita Eagle or the Columbus Post-Dispatch tell different stories than the Post or the Times (of either Washington or New York). Too many of the wonks out there get caught up in the latest Beltway trends and lose track of what people actually discuss at dinner tables.

That's why I think John Edwards will continue to be a force to be reckoned with come 2008, and why I'm so pleased with the direction Howard Dean has taken the DNC. Edwards has focused on poverty and on working to improve labor conditions and economic rights for all Americans. He's traveled to places that aren't necessarily great places to mine for votes, but that do put him in touch with important concerns.

And Dean has focussed on getting staff out into the field in all 50 states. Yes, they are carrying the DNC's message to the grassroots, which is nice, but they are also listening to people's concerns and bringing them back to people who are setting the direction. It's not quite moving those people out to Ohio, but it's a step in the right direction.

The other thing that's notable is that the 5 top states are largely swing states. Wisconsin tends to wind up Democratic, but needs serious campaign work. Missouri tends to go for Republican presidential candidates, but is always a battle. Ohio is a constant battleground. Indiana and Kansas are both Republican, but both have prominent Democratic leaders (Sebelius, Bayh). And Kansas is in the midst of a shift back to Democratic power.

How representative is that? Does it signal a Democratic shift in other states? Does the Republican tilt of those 5 suggest a national tilt? I'm inclined to think not, and that Kansas and Indiana are not terribly similar to the national demography. But I'm hopeful that people will be inspired to work on states like Kansas, and that the shift we're seeing here will spread.