• I Got the Swing State Blues

    by  • July 26, 2012 • Commentary • 0 Comments

    Oh, the joys of living in a swing state.

    I have pretty much given up watching television because every other commercial is a presidential campaign attack ad. And there’s still four months to go.

    I knew North Carolina was “in play,” as the politicos like to say — we went for Obama by a small margin in 2008 — but I was surprised to find that even Eastern North Carolina was shaping up as an electoral prize. Folks in the “Down East” coastal plain region, east of I-95, are accustomed to being ignored by the rest of the state, not to mention the rest of the country, so it was somewhat surprising to find that the Greenville/New Bern/Washington TV market is a target for both presidential campaigns and their surrogates. (Actually, I learned this from an article by a former student.)

    This market, incidentally, continues to grow. It was 101 in Nielsen’s Local Television Market Universe Estimates in 2010-11, but 98 in 2011-12. Pitt county, whose seat is Greenville, home of my employer, East Carolina University, went roughly 54-45 for Obama in 2008. But it is also home to the group that led the charge for the loathsome Amendment One, which constitutionalized the prohibition of same-sex marriage this May. So… in play, I guess.

    Two weeks ago, this TV market was eighth in the nation in campaign ad spending, followed at ninth by Charlotte. My former employer, the News & Observer, recently reported that

    The Romney campaign has purchased 850 points, Crossroads GPS, the superPAC associated with Karl Rove has purchased 275 points, and the conservative PAC, Americans for Prosperity, which is associated with the Koch brothers has purchased 200 points in the Greenville-New Bern market this week. The Obama campaign has countered with 600 points of advertising.

    So… that’s 1325 to 600. I’ve already complained about the Obama campaign’s goofy outsourcing commercial. I can’t say enough about how disturbing the Romney/Rove/Koch ads are, mostly hammering Obama on stimulus money going to cronies, and laying the recession at his feet. I just love the charge that he, personally, adds to the debt each day, as if Congress were not responsible for the budget. It’s the usual approach, a kernel of fact (Solyndra’s failure) popped into a chewy bite of falsehood (all that stimulus money going to waste!), and buttered with fuzzy black-and-white video. (In case you don’t know: distorted B/W imagery means “bad.”)
    All right, so it’s an election, what do you expect? I know I’m crazy to desire a culture a little less marinated in promotional mendacity, and plenty of people have already griped about the sway of money in campaigns. But again the electoral college is the part of problem. It used to be that candidates ignored North Carolina because it was safely in the GOP camp. That changed in 2008, and now we’re drowning in attack ads. The very fact that the electoral college got 2000’s election wrong — and hey, look how well that turned out! — is argument enough against this 18th-century anachronism. The argument heard in its favor, that it forces candidates to pay attention to smaller states, is ludicrous, though. If you’re not “in play,” you don’t matter, period.
    We need to reverse Citizens United, sure, but we also need an electoral system that forces candidates to pay equal attention to all states.



    Chuck Twardy is a writer and an instructor in the School of Communication at East Carolina University.


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