Illinois may register the lowest ratings in the nation for tonight’s foreign policy debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
That’s because we’re the only state with two sports teams playing tonight. The Chicago Bears are playing the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football, and the St. Louis Cardinals are playing the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.
As “the pride and joy of Illinois,” the Bears are popular statewide. The Cardinals have a big following in Southern Illinois. And Illinois is nearly guaranteed to give its electoral votes to our favorite son, Barack Obama, so it doesn’t really matter what this state’s undecided voters decide.
In fact, none of the teams playing tonight have fan bases in swing states. Michigan is going for Obama. According to the United Countries of Baseball map, the Cardinals’ fan base covers parts of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi -- but none of those are swing states, either. And San Francisco is almost as pro-Obama as Chicago, giving the president 83 percent of its vote in 2008.
So the conflict between the debates and sports could be a lot worse. Imagine if the Cincinnati Reds and the Washington Nationals were playing in the NLCS. Then audiences in southern Ohio and northern Virginia -- possibly the two most intensely contested regions of the country -- would be watching baseball tonight. And imagine, further, if the Miami Dolphins were playing the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football, thus occupying potential debate-watchers in Florida and Colorado.
I understand why the Founding Fathers scheduled elections for the first week of November. It’s after the harvest but before the first snowfall, so farmers could make it to the polls. But we no longer live in an agrarian nation. We live in a nation that watches baseball on TV. So maybe we should shift the elections to February, when there’s nothing else to watch but meaningless mid-to-late season NBA games.