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Saturday, Sep 08 2012 10:00 PM

ROBERT PRICE: Central Valley couldn't be less relevant

By The Bakersfield Californian

Now that the two major-party conventions are over, with their celebrity guest appearances and group-tested gotcha lines, maybe we can get on with the real campaign. You know, the prime-time television ads and telephone robopolls.

OK, kidding. We can do without those things quite well. The real meat of the presidential campaign begins Oct. 3 when the first of four debates (one of them featuring the vice-presidential candidates) takes place in Denver.

That's as close as we Californians can expect to get to the action because neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney has the slightest intention of swinging through the Golden State, except to scoop up bushels of donor cash and leave again before the rest of us realize they were ever here. California is already in Obama's win column, same as Texas is in Romney's. Neither matters to the campaigners one whit; both states' electoral votes have already been added to the final ledger. Same for most states: the South and most of the Midwest are irreversibly Romney red, and the Far West and most of the Northeast are chiseled-in-stone Obama blue.

That's why all of the newspaper articles about baby kissing, veteran saluting and pie sampling have datelines out of Florida and Ohio and Iowa and precious few others -- they're the ones in play.

This campaign relevancy problem has an irritating subplot in California's Central Valley. We Bakersfieldians and Fresnans and Modestans matter even less than Californians as a whole because we are predominately red in a sea of blue. California will award all 55 of its electoral votes to the incumbent despite the fact that the challenger will carry the 11 counties of the conservative San Joaquin Valley without much trouble -- and all for naught.

You know where this is going, don't you? Sorry for the broken record, but this Electoral College thing doesn't work anymore. It's one of the least democratic aspects in a nation that likes to think of itself as a model of democracy. (The outsized role of money, and moneyed supporters, is still number one of the list of undemocratic or corrupting influences, but the EC makes the list nonetheless.)

Americans have consistently "expressed support for the notion of an official amendment of the U.S. Constitution that would allow for direct election of the president," the Gallup polling organization reported in 2001, citing surveys all the way back to 1944.

This election is likely to be another close one. It's already inviting comparisons to the 2000 election, in which Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote, conceded, unconceded and eventually conceded again -- but only after a third set of votes: those of the U.S. Supreme Court, ruling against the proposed Florida recount Gore had sought. The fallout did George W. Bush no favors because it put his mandate, or lack of a mandate, on shaky ground.

Eliminating the Electoral College would go a long way toward compelling the entire country to accept the results. Losing partisans will still gripe, as is their right, but conspiracy theorists will have one less grassy knoll to hide behind.

The only downside to achieving this one-person, one-vote ideal, of course, is that California would be deluged with the same attack ads that are soon to be foisted upon the voters of Florida and Ohio. We'll have to look at blurry, black-and-white video stills of Obama and Romney wearing the most unflattering facial expressions the opposing camps can manufacture. And with 50 states in play instead of eight or 10, money will only become more important than it is now. Campaigns will be buying advertising in 300 media markets instead of 40.

But that's the price we'll just have to be willing to pay to have our voices heard for the first time.

Email Editorial Page Editor Robert Price at rprice@bakersfield.com.

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