On the DL, or benched?

Watch the second debate, did you — you and an estimated 66 million of your friends and neighbors? What’s that? The American League playoffs were on at the same time, the hated Yankees struggling against Detroit’s premier public relations agency? Yeah, I watched the game, too, mostly; a friend advised me by e-mail that “multi-tasking” was permissible in a democratic republic, so I switched back and forth.

True to predictions Mr. Obama opted against phoning in his appearance, choosing instead to beard his rival rather than simply appear bemused by him, as he did in their first debate, to his immediate regret. I thought Debate II a draw (we’re talking style here more than substance, the politics of perception, the science of the soundbite) though most of the overnight surveys I saw seemed to give the President a slight edge. Fluttering among those polls were the latest findings of the Gallup organization, which showed Romney ahead nationally by four points, the 50-46 split constituting the Republican’s biggest margin of the campaign.

That would be delicious news for Romney and his supporters provided this was a national campaign — but it isn’t. Nope, it’s the Electoral College game, which, at this writing, will leave the selection of the next president to maybe 15 states tops, some of them leaning Democrat, others Republican. The closer to election day the smaller the number of states, probably, that will determine whether the President will be returned to office or replaced. Perhaps even just one state: such was the case in the chaos of 2000 (Florida) and again four years later (Ohio). The Buckeyes and Sunshiners are in command again this year, along with swingers including the Keystoners, the Tarheels, the Dairylanders, the Live-Free-or-Diers, the Old Dominioneers and so forth.

The College’s magic number, the one that wins the game, is 270. Today’s best assessment has Mr. Obama at 237 solid and another 55 leaning his way, for a 29 vote pad. The same appraisal grants Romney 191 electorals in the bag and another 32 likely, but 53 short of the target. Still up for grabs are the 110 votes of nine states, Virginia and North Carolina among them. The only deep south state that both campaigns agree could as easily go blue as red is Florida. And given Florida’s demographic composition it’s about as Dixie as Delaware.

It’s the Electoral College game, the World Series of politics, that has benched Arkansas and so many of the other small states which traditionally have voiced outrage at any suggestion that presidents be chosen by popular vote. The College was created to protect small states, its defenders bellow, to make them as important as the big ones. True enough, in some cases — 2000, for example, when Al Gore would have hit 270 had Arkansas and its six votes gone his way, and no matter the outcome in Florida. It was that close.

By clobbering Mr. Obama four years ago and trending ever redder in the intervening years, the Arkansas electorate served to not only guarantee that he would find no reason to land here (not displeasing, naturally, to those who find him loathsome) during his first term, nor to campaign here this year, but to position the state as a drop-in, one step up from a flyover. That is, drop in, hobnob with the moneybags crowd, then fly out, taking the dough without so much as a photo-op. That was the Romney itinerary a few weeks ago. Were Arkansas as blue as it is red, it would have been Mr. Obama’s as well.

At least the Red League champion stopped by. I can’t recall if any of the minor leaguers came in during the regular season, although one of them, Rick Santorum, jetted to northwest Arkansas after the playoffs. With the Series underway, where’s Arkansas? Depending on how you look at it, either on the disabled list, or benched. Or both.

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Steve Barnes is host of Arkansas Week on AETN.