US Rep. and former GOP vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan gives a kick to the dying idea of awarding Electoral College votes by congressional district, telling a newspaper that he prefers candidates to campaign all over Wisconsin:
"I've always kind of liked the idea of being targeted as a state," Ryan told the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board on Tuesday. "I'd hate to be a flyover state. I'd like to be in the hunt for being a targeted state. I think it's good for us."
Politicians always say this, but how is being a battleground state "good for us"? It's good for TV stations that run campaign ads and for local political consultants, certainly. As for the general population, we seem to be past the days when presidential nominees promised to put military bases and public works programs in closely contested states. (And Ryan is supposed to be a budget hawk anyway.)
It's still widely believed that candidates tailor their views to benefit industries in battleground states, but that strategy may also be getting less effective. In The New Republic, Nate Cohn points out that President Obama's auto industry "bailout" may not have done him that much good in Ohio, with his victory there more dependent on white-collar workers:
if there was anywhere that the president should have excelled due to the auto bailout, it would have been northeast Ohio. But the president lost northeastern Ohio’s two classic white middle class bellwethers: Lake County, home to the overwhelmingly white suburbs and exurbs east of Cleveland, and Stark County, home to Canton. [...] The president performed better among white voters in the Columbus media market, but the auto bailout and attacks on Bain probably weren't responsible for the president’s strength in the state's best educated metropolitan area. In the farm country south of Columbus, Obama actually did even better than he did in '08, but it's hard to argue that Bain or the auto industry were especially resonant in one of the least industrial areas of the state.
On the basis of county-level returns over the years, I suspect that demographically similar places in battleground and non-battleground states are increasingly voting the same way. That is, the rural areas in closely contested Wisconsin didn't behave that much differently than the rural areas of solidly Democratic Illinois last year (Obama lost ground in both states), and Milwaukee didn't behave much differently than Rochester or Syracuse in solidly Democratic New York (Obama kept close to his 2008 percentages).
It may be flattering to have presidential candidates appear in your state, but does that actually change votes in an increasingly nationalized electorate?