It's nice to see my state getting publicity not only nationwide, but worldwide as well.
Gladiators of America prepare for their fate
By Simon Jenkins
The decision now passes to the people...
THE high priests of polling ordained that George Bush and John Kerry should both hold last rallies next to each other under the cliffs of downtown Milwaukee yesterday — Hector and Achilles finally meeting beneath the walls of Troy.
As the rain fell and the wind raced in over Lake Michigan, the President arrived with the Oak Ridge Boys, Mr Kerry with Jon Bon Jovi. Everyone seemed exhausted. To the mayor, Tom Barrett, there had “never been a day like it in the history of Milwaukee”.
The presence of both candidates in this Midwest city is an eccentric climax to the bitter 2004 campaign. Polls show them as close today as at the start. But to the “big three” swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida have been added four more. A candidate could lose two of the three but still win if he takes Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. The last went Democrat in 2000 by just 2,000 votes and is the most marginal. “If the President takes Wisconsin,” Mr Bush’s strategist, Matthew Dowd, says, “he’s won.” Hence the end game in Milwaukee.
These northern Midwest states are virtually a new Confederacy. Modern America sees them as embodying its polarity. Arriving in Wisconsin from New York or Washington is like coming to a war front.
Suddenly there is noise. Television screens erupt in abusive advertisements. Posters and canvassers are everywhere. Europeans may feel aggrieved at not voting on the leadership of the Western world, but so do New Yorkers, Californians and Texans. Because they are predictable, they have seen virtually no campaigning. Instead Mr Bush has been to Wisconsin 13 times, Mr Kerry 12.
This belief in the power of human touch is comforting in the age of electronics, as if candidates were holy relics with the power to effect miracles by their presence. Wisconsin has come to treat Mr Bush and Mr Kerry as old familiars. One cartoon has a wife asking her husband: “Darling, have you put the candidates out for the night?” The idea that left-wing Wisconsin should be a swing state was, until recently, incredible. Its biggest city, Milwaukee, was 70 per cent German a century ago. Until the 1970s, it was the capital of brewing and sausages, and the only American city regularly to vote Socialist. Its biggest event was the end of Prohibition, and the invention of canned beer. Today it has shed its nickname as “rust-buckle of the rust belt” and restored its bold city centre. It has also built a stunning icon of renewal in Santiago Calatrava’s lakeside art gallery, a great white goose wing seeming to fly out over the lake.
But prosperity brought suburbs and suburbs brought Republicans. Its governor, Jim Doyle, now regards the state as a microcosm of America, rich and poor, urban and rural. It saw the first attempt at Reagan’s workfare. The resulting income disparity between inner and outer Milwaukee is the widest in America, as is the gap between white and African-American schoolchildren.
Just as the war on terrorism divides the Bush and Kerry camps, so Medicare and social security divide Wisconsin. It is proper that the final battle should take place here.
The campaign now passes to the small people. As of tonight the artillery falls silent and the infantry fans out across the land. In a neck-and-neck election all depends on canvassers, telephoners, drivers and the new political mercenaries, campaign lawyers.
At a Kerry command post in Milwaukee’s West Allis district yesterday I watched workers wade through torn stickers, Coke cans and cold pizza to pore over maps and wall charts listing thousands of names, addresses and phone numbers. “The presidency could turn on this wall,” one said with pride.
Whereas the 2000 election argument in Florida was over ballot cards, 2004’s argument will be over voter registration. In 2000, 66 per cent of Wisconsin adults voted. This year a registration drive that claims 30,000 new names should push that above 70 per cent. And since wisdom holds that Mr Kerry benefits from high turnout, Milwaukee has been invaded by voter registration groups. They sleep on floors, man telephones and struggle to honour charitable status by merely “promoting registration”.
Republicans reply with lawyers. Most states have ordinances granting parties the right to challenge voters. In Wisconsin, the Bush camp first challenged 37,000 and is now fighting over 5,600, which it contends may be fraudulent. With voters needing only proof of identity to vote on the day, the invitation to challenge such provisional votes is irresistible.
In Ohio, 35,000 registrations have been questioned. Legal battalions are awaiting the result in Florida. One pro-registration group, Project Vote, was found to be paying $1.50 for each new registration. The FBI was summoned to check if felons were involved. Everywhere “ballot watchers” are watching, and being watched. The odds on the result being declared tomorrow night seem slim. Some believe that Americans must get used to elections taking days, if not weeks, to resolve.
Down in Florida they are still having trouble with touch-screen voting machines, which are liable to malfunction and leave no paper trails for recounts. Small wonder that the question most asked of visiting Britons is “how do you vote over there”? The answer is that Mr Gutenberg knew one thing that Mr Gates has yet to better — the value of a piece of paper.