The most exciting political rally I ever attended was 12 years ago, in Daley Plaza. It was the Thursday before the 2000 presidential election, and 50,000 people had gathered to hear Vice President Al Gore.
His opening act was Stevie Wonder, who had written a song just for the campaign: “The only way for America to win/Is to vote for Gore and Lieberman.” In front of me, some young LaSalle Street douche in wingtips was holding up a Bush/Cheney bumpersticker.
“Hey,” a union electrician screamed at him. “You got the wrong sign! You’re at the wrong rally!”
After Stevie finished singing, we heard police sirens, growing louder and louder as the vice president’s motorcade screamed up the Stevenson from Midway.
I don’t remember much of what Gore said that day, except that he kept shouting, “I will fight for you!” But the following Tuesday, I spent 15 hours handing out palm cards and driving people to the polls.
We won’t see an event like that in Chicago this year. Illinois’s participation in the election is limited to private fundraisers, like the $25,000 a plate dinner Mitt Romney will hold in Lake Forest next Tuesday. Romney will spend his loot in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia, eight swings states where he debuted a pair of new campaign ads Friday.
In the 1960 presidential election, Richard Nixon campaigned in all 50 states, including new additions Alaska and Hawaii. Now, the presidential campaign is being conducted in a dozen states. Barack Obama recently spent three days on a bus in Iowa, pursuing its six electoral votes – more time than he’ll spend in California, whose 55 electoral votes he is certain to win.
In fact, neither Romney nor Obama will campaign in nine of nation’s 10 largest cities -- New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas and San Jose -- because they’re all in reliably red or blue states. Only Philadelphia, in the swing state of Pennsylvania, is likely to see a candidate.
The Electoral College was supposed to prevent big states and cities from dominating the political process. Instead, it’s prevented them from having any say in presidential elections, leaving that to states with the quirk of being ideologically competitive.