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It's "All About" Everything

We're at that dangerous stage of the presidential campaign in which all the pundits--and quite possibly, the campaigns themselves--try to boil down the complex dynamics of the election into something really simple. It's "all about" this or that state, or this or that segment of the electorate, or this or that tactic, we will be told again and again. To be sure, our electoral college system does mean that the contest is "all about" winnable "battleground" states, and inevitably, their number is shrinking as we get closer to Election Day. But it's important to avoid quick judgments, based on current polling or recent history, about which battleground states matter most to either campaign. Sure, Ohio and Florida are especially crucial because of their size, and it's hard, though not impossible, to construct scenarios where a candidate loses both of these states and still wins 270 EVs (those of you who are spending your lunch hours playing with one of those cool interactive electoral vote maps already know this). But in the end, it's "all about" reaching 270 one way or another, not just one way. Remember the decision made by the Gore campaign at about this point four years ago: it was "all about" Florida. In retrospect, it's clear this judgment led to the infinitely regrettable decision not to bother running any Gore-Lieberman ads in the Boston media market down the stretch. Had those ads run, Gore would have almost certainly won New Hampshire (which Bill Clinton won by 10 points in 1996), and the whole Florida saga would not have mattered. You can also make the case that Ohio was there for the taking by Gore; yet he did not even contest the state in any serious way. The danger of tunnel-vision at this point is even more apparent when you look inside the battleground states. Already, the pundits are telling us that victory in Ohio (to cite one example) is "all about" the relative success of BC04 in turning out culturally conservative rural and exurban voters, as compared to KE04's drive to maximize turnout in minority neighborhoods in Ohio's largest cities. Don't get me wrong: it's smart and essential for both campaigns to do everything possible to boost turnout in reliably partisan precincts. But in the end, a vote's a vote, and holding down Bush's margins in rural Ohio is just as important to Kerry as boosting his vote totals in the cities. Moreover, even if you believe there are relatively few undecided voters in play this year, every one of them a candidate captures represents two votes: one for himself, and one denied to the opposition. So: next time you hear someone say it's "all about" the I-4 corridor in Florida, or Lackawanna County in Pennsylvania, or the Nader vote in Dane County, Wisconsin, your reflex should be to respond: a vote's a vote, and it's "all about" every one of them.