Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Domestic Debate

Tonight's debate on domestic issues had definite foreign policy overtones. By my count, Saddam Hussein (gone but not forgotten) was mentioned twice, Iraq was mentioned seven times, Afghanistan was mentioned three times, and Osama bin Laden was mentioned ten times. (Here's the debate transcript.) Clearly, 2004, like 1968, is one of those rare presidential election years when foreign policy is more important than domestic policy in the minds of the American voters--and in the minds of campaign strategists.

At the same time, with less than three weeks to go until the election, it's important to keep in mind the distorting effects of the Electoral College. This election has come down to eight or ten swing states: Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, New Mexico, Michigan, and Nevada. (Colorado should be in the mix, but the possibility that its electoral vote will be split diminishes its importance. Pennsylvania has also been among the swing states in this election, but there is evidence that the Bush/Cheney campaign is conceding Pennsylvania, just as the Kerry/Edwards campaign appears to have conceded Missouri.) In most of these states, economic issues remain paramount. Consequently, while foreign policy may be the most significant issue in this election for most Americans, for the next three weeks we may be hearing the candidates talk a lot about the issues that are most important to the people of Ohio.

Of course, the Iraqis seem determined to stay in the headlines daily between now and November 2.