I ran across an old clip of John Koza, who created and runs the National Popular Vote interstate compact (NPV) campaign. In it, he complains to a California audience about what he views as the unfairness of the current Electoral College system. He is particularly upset that presidential and vice-presidential candidates typically visit only battleground states in the closing weeks of the campaign.
According to this oft-offered critique, because candidates need to win so-called “battleground” states, they are oblivious, indifferent, and perhaps even hostile to causes and concerns of people in non-battleground states. The relevant metric proving this point, in Koza and other NPV advocates’ eyes, is the lack of visits by candidates.
As Koza explains in the 2008 clip, “No presidential candidate has visited California, except for a fundraiser, since the convention. None have visited Texas. None will. Nobody has visited 27 states… Candidates don’t poll in California, they don’t care what you think. They don’t visit California, they don’t study up on the policy issues. Pacific Rim trade, high tech, biotech, agriculture, water issues. There’s no reason to pay any attention to California, or Texas, or Arizona, or Washington, or Idaho, or Wyoming, or Indiana, or any of 36 other states which basically are irrelevant to winning the White House.”
There’s a lot that’s wrong, or at least highly debatable, about this mini-diatribe. But I’ll focus on the metric of candidate visits, because it ignores the many ways that presidential and vice-presidential candidates do, in fact, “study up on the policy issues” important to non-battleground states. The most obvious is that Koza seems unaware that these candidates all come from somewhere, and often those places are not battleground states.
Consider our current Vice President, Kamala Harris. She is, it might be remembered, the former U.S. Senator from California, and prior to that she was the state’s attorney general. She was born and raised in California as well. I would hazard a guess that she has more than a passing familiarity most if not all of the pressing issues affecting California.
Of the other states Koza listed, President Bush was from Texas, John McCain was from Arizona, Dick Cheney was from Wyoming, and Mike Pence was from Indiana. Looking at other non-battleground states that Koza thinks presidential candidates are completely unaware of, Joe Biden is from Delaware, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were from New York, Mitt Romney and John Kerry were from Massachusetts, Barack Obama was from Illinois, and Sarah Palin was from Alaska. It seems a fair bet that these candidates were up to speed on the issues facing residents of their home states.
There are of course numerous other ways that the current system helps to ensure that the candidates for president and vice president, as well as the staff, advisors, and supporters that surround them are well versed in issues large and small around the country, from battleground and non-battleground state alike. Candidates have to win their party nomination, which entails competing in almost every single state in the country and also seeking the support of local elected officials (here, for example, is a story on several members of Congress from New Jersey endorsing Biden). They also have to fundraise, again taking them throughout the country.
Koza also ignores that the reason a state is not a battleground is because a comfortable majority of people in that state already believe that one or the other candidate’s for president is, in fact, aware of the issues on the minds of the state’s residents and is in line with their thinking on what is to be done on those issues.
Campaign visits in the final few months of a campaign are not the only thing that matters in terms of a state having its issues heard and considered by candidates. Koza and the people advocating for NPV, however, seem to believe that unless a candidate is wandering California kissing babies towards the end of the campaign, the state is irrelevant (at the end of the clip, Koza quips that “Maybe in 2012, your baby may be kissed by a presidential candidate instead of babies in Ohio and Nevada”).
That’s clearly not the case, as Kamala Harris and countless other candidates and campaigns demonstrate.
Photo by Gage Skidmore