You don’t mean a thing if your state’s not a swing, goes the saying in American elections. But if it is a swing, then a whirlwind of money, consultants and campaigners will be sent your way. Alaska has been invaded these last few weeks; armies of activists sent to knock on doors in what looks to be a failed attempt to keep control of the senate. Across the nation, victory went to the Republicans, but with a hitch: their victory depended on Barack Obama.
The president’s approval ratings are now down to those last seen by George W Bush. The Republicans won by denouncing Obama, and turning the mid-term elections into a referendum on his presidency. As well as the usual domestic issues, Obama has been blamed for mismanaging the Ebola outbreak and the emergence of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Different Republicans have blamed Obama for different reasons, but voters seemed to agree: the President and his party have blown it. Obama has become the conservative’s greatest weapon.
In Alaska, the Obama effect was everywhere. The Democratic senator, Mark Begich, has been pleading with Alaskans to remember that they’d be electing him for six years, whereas Obama would be gone within two. The Democratic activists I joined on the campaign trail found themselves having to assure voters that Begich does not agree on much with the president — he thinks that his healthcare reforms are broken and that his education policies are unaffordable. Alaskans worry about the resurgent Russia too, and blame Obama for not doing more to discourage Vladimir Putin.
To their delight, the Republicans have ended up fighting the 2012 presidential election again – and winning. Their old candidate, Mitt Romney, has been brought back, like a pop star brought out of retirement to try to sell out venues across the U.S..