Monday, November 01, 2004

This is the day, this is the hour . . .

I like Milwaukee. Beer, motorcycles, Puerto Ricans. Block after block of century-old cottages and wooden bungalows decaying along tree-lined streets. Small-town America writ large, mugged by the global economy. If there's a gentrified yuppie district I never saw any sign of it. If there's a festering ghetto, I never saw any street I wouldn't walk alone. Just like Racine, the city is surprisingly integrated, especially compared to Chicago. Every street, in every neighborhood I visited, was racially and ethnically mixed. The sound of Spanish was everywere, the chorizo was spicy and mouthwatering. The climate is terrible, the people are great, especially the Palmers who let me stay at their home with only a few hours notice. The Heartland. The Battleground.

Clinton returned the Democrats to the executive branch after 12 years by winning over a block of states known as the Great Lakes region, the Upper Midwest, the Heartland, or the less flattering Rust Belt: Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa. While mostly regarded as "blue states" over the last decade, they are in fact intensly polarized politically: Democrats are centered in large urban areas with substantial minority populations and a history of labor activism, in college towns, and in some smaller cities built by union jobs. Republicans rule the depopulated countryside and the sprawling outer suburbs, where economic and population growth have been concentrated in recent decades. Controlling these neighborhoods means controlling America. Volunteers from safe states come pouring in to "help", talking up the locals about jobs or abortion. The locals are amazed that Illinois hasn't seen a campaign ad all season. The visitors are mystified by the strife, failing to grasp the essential local issue: the loss of power and prestige, their status as the country's industrial base, the experience of becoming second-class citizens in their own country. Dan Chaon of Cleveland, in the New York Times, describes the experience of being targeted by so many out of state carpetbaggers: "It's like being asked out on a date by someone who secretly thinks you're stupid and ugly."

Milwaukee is the key, and everyone knows it. Gwen Moore, a black state senator, is running to be the first African American US Representative ever from Wisconsin. Her district is safe Dem and she would bring minority voters to the polls in record numbers even if it weren't such a critical year. Republicans know this spells doom for Bush's chances to crack the Blue Belt here: they are trying anything they can think of to suppress the minority vote. The county refused to print an adequate number of ballots until the city promised to pay for any extras. The GOP challenged 57,000 registered voters claiming their addresses are invalid - mostly, these are typos or addresses that do exist. An organization calling itself the Milwaukee Black Voters League is distributing a flyer aimed at convincing African Americans they won't be allowed to vote if they have voted in the primaries, been convicted of traffic violation or not yet registered, and that they can be jailed for trying to vote improperly. This in a state that automatically reinstates felons' right to vote and allows people to register at their polling place on election day.

In respose, Democrats and their allies have knocked on every door in the city, chatted up moms while their kids are trick or treating, helped little old ladies find their polling places. City hall has a line five hours long of people waiting to vote early.

I don't know any more than anyone else what will happen tomorrow. I know that Gallup polls had Al Gore down 53-39% the weekend before the vote in 2000. He won the popular vote. Gallup's error? They assumed our people wouldn't turn out to vote. This year Gallup shows a tie at 48%. We can win this thing, but only if we get out the vote.

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