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As many of you know (and by many, I mean the two or three of you who know me and whoever reads my open thread scribblings), I recently took a job in Madison, WI. For the last five days, I've been on the road in my trusty Civic Hybrid through eight of the fine states of our nation. And being a ridiculous political nerd, I kept an eye out for signs, an ear out for ads, and a lookout for anything else that might tip me off to the political climate in the area.

These are my observations.

Day 1: Glendale, CA to Oakland, CA

The route: I-210 out of L.A. county, I-5 through the central valley, and I-580 to I-880 into Oakland.

The report: Very little here, surprisingly. Not a thing at all until I hit the upper Central Valley, home of the 11th district and the Jerry McNerney-Richard Pombo contest. Two enormous Pombo signs had been erected in the hills around Tracy, his stronghold. No McNerney signs were evident, although 580/880 also passed his bases of Pleasanton and Livermore. The radio was clear of their ads, or anyone else's.

Better news was to be had from a friend of mine, a copy editor for an Oakland-area newspaper who I stayed with for the night. From her observations, the race is essentially a dead heat. So if you're in the area, it sure would be nice of you to help out...

Day 2: Oakland, CA to Wendover, UT

The route: I-580 out of the Bay Area, I-80 through the Sierra Nevadas, through Reno to the Nevada high county and Wendover at the UT border

The report: Essentially nothing at all. No signs visible from the freeway in Oakland, none through the Sierras, none in Nevada. Of course, the fact that there were very few people on this route outside of Reno helped. As for the radio - well, I spent most of the day listening to Russian short stories and the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Sorry.

Oh, BTW, here's my report: If you're ever going to stay in Wendover, stay in West Wendover, NV. There's stuff there.

Day 3: Wendover, UT to Denver, CO

The route: I-80 through the Utah salt flats and Salt Lake City, up into Wyoming and over the continental divide, and down I-25 into Denver.

The report: No visible signs through Utah or Wyoming either. This time it was The Screwtape Letters distracting me from the important task of gather wireless intelligence. The first interesting moment of the day came upon stopping for lunch at The Cowboy Café, a roadside diner in a town with no name (complete with surly waitresses!)  The inside of the men's room door had been helpfully engraved by some passerby with "The Democrat Party: We've got what it takes to take what you've got!", which honestly I thought was pretty clever for men's room knifepoint graffiti. The radio in the café was playing some local talk show - I happened to be present for the political segment. Unfortunately, the volume was fading in and out. All I caught was "now Gary Trauner says he'll be independent of Democrat Party special interests, but...". The next time it was audible, he was saying something apparently complimentary about Idaho Sen. Larry Craig. I asked my surly waitress whether she had any thoughts on the race. She didn't, but she asked her less surly compatriot, who didn't either. At least they'd both heard of it.

All was once again quiet, until I got on I-25 to Denver. At that point I had the radio back on, and was treated to a Bill Winter-funded ad using Republican quotes against incumbent Tom Tancredo. One of my favorites was Dick Armey saying something like "Tom Tancredo represents that big jerk wing of the immigration debate." The war on the airwaves appeared more to focus on ballot propositions than candidates, especially one regarding school funding. No signs were visible along I-25, however, there were quite a lot of signs for, well, pretty much everyone along Denver city streets.

I stayed with another friend in Denver, who tells me the ballot proposition people are monopolizing the Denver airways, especially the ones in favor of the school funding proposition and for the anti-gay-marriage proposition. Apparently their ads go something like "the divorce rate is up, which is bad for children. Gay marriage is also bad for children. Think about it."  Clever AND charming!

Day 4: Denver, CO to Omaha, NE

The route: I-76 out of Denver through NE Colorado, back to I-80 through Nebraska to Omaha

The report: Angie Paccione and incumbent Marilyn Musgrave are fighting it out in NE Colorado, and Musgrave appears to have a lot more bullets. The are quite a few Musgrave signs in the farmland along I-76. Paccione did not have a presence. The fight on the airwaves is concentrating on "supporting the troops" - and concentrating entirely on Musgrave. A group called "Coloradans for Life" is backing the only Paccione ad I heard, which went along what seems to be becoming a pretty stock line - "Musgrave denied X Y and Z funding for our troops - but voted herself 4 pay raises." Musgrave is funding her own ads in heavy rotation (I heard the same one four times), in which John McCain tells the audience that Marilyn Musgrave is one of his best allies in the House, bucks her own party, and must support the troops because her son is fighting in Iraq.

Once in Nebraska, the battle shifted to the Senate race. Ben Nelson is running minute-long ads touting his praises in CQ and other DC publications, ending with the line "Nebraska is a small state. We need Ben Nelson's clout in Washington." Pete Ricketts is running an ad accusing Nelson of being a tax cheat and a liar. None of the House candidates for either side were visible for the freeway or heard on the radio.

Day 5: Omaha, NE to Madison, WI

The route: I-80 into Iowa and through Des Moines, US-151 north into Wisconsin to Madison

The report: Once crossing into Iowa, local and especially agricultural issues took the fore. I didn't hear a thing on the radio about the US Congress. What I did hear a lot about was Hog Confinement, and how a certain incumbent state legislator was insufficiently committed to the local control of the regulations thereon. Based on the smells occasionally wafting over I-80, I can imagine why. Road signs for local and state were in abundance through the entire state as well.

In SW Iowa, I saw quite a few Jeff Lamberti for Congress signs, which are solid blue and neglect to mention a party. Lamberti is the Republican running against our incumbent Leonard Boswell, who was so invisible from the freeway that I had to look up what party Lamberti belonged to, and then just who we WERE running here. Once I passed Des Moines, and especially after passing onto US-151, the road signs took on a decidedly more Democratic cast, Culver for Governor/Braley for Congress combinations being most common. The Culver signs all appeared handmade, but were so professional looking that I have to imagine they were manufactured to look so.

Around the Wisconsin border, I found Wisconsin Public Radio, and thus was deprived of any knowledge of the ad war in that state. They did, however, run a segment asking three Wisconsin farmers which of the two gubernatorial candidates, incumbent Democrat Mark Doyle or Republican challenger Mark Green, they thought would better attend to agriculture. The first two, a 60-year-old semi-retired farmer and a late-20s newcomer, both answered they would be voting for Doyle for just that reason. The third said agricultural issues didn't even enter into his decision - he was voting Green because he was pro-life and "there just aren't any pro-life Democrats."

And that, as they say, is all I have to say about that... until comments, anyway.

Originally posted to ripzaw on Thu Nov 02, 2006 at 08:47 AM PST.


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