You’ve figured out your presidential vote. Start thinking locally.

Seriously.

This isn’t a new theme or suggestion of mine, admittedly. And right now there’s a lot of chasing around of undecided voters, but I’m going to go with Ezra Klein on this one:

Swing voters can be measured in various ways, but there are no solid numbers on undecided voters — in part because the numbers change with every election and, within every election, with every successive month and event and even poll. Right now, if you look at the three main tracking polls — Gallup, Hotline and Rasmussen — they show that between 5% and 12% of the electorate is undecided.

Worse, many of those who claim to be undecided are not. Some don’t want to admit their preference. In their paper, “Swing Voters? Hah!” political scientists Adam Clymer and Ken Winneg amassed substantial data suggesting that very few undecided voters are truly indecisive. Examining the 2004 election, Clymer and Winneg found that even the most hard-core of undecided voters were fairly predictable.

They asked the 4% of their sample that claimed to be undecided to rate the two candidates in early October. When they went back to the same people after the election, more than 80% had in fact voted for whichever candidate they’d rated most highly a month earlier.

There’s still arguments to be made and energy to harness and put to good use — energy which still so ridiculously favors the Obama campaign that there just needs to be more honesty regarding that on the part of the McCain team, thanks. (Though good luck at any of that in the next three weeks, I suspect.) The competitions in states like Florida and Ohio and Indiana will go down to the wire, and there are other examples at work.

But it’s likely you’ve long since settled on your vote — the other real trend I’ve noticed anecdotally are GOP voters either switching to Obama or refusing to vote for McCain. The classic example of the latter right now, first brought to my attention at Balloon Juice, was Joshua Treviño’s vote — all the more so because he was a cofounder of RedState. However, Treviño’s followup post to that explaining his decision makes an important point at the start — as he says:

This would not have happened in an actual battleground state. Rest assured that were I not in California, where the Republican ticket will struggle to break 40%, I would not be casting a protest vote of any sort.

Regardless of whether you are in a battleground state or not, though, it’s important to note what else Treviño did — namely, vote on everything else too. And that can’t be underscored enough.

I live in the same non-battleground state as Treviño, and over a year ago I wrote this post detailing my situation. Here’s key parts of what I said then:

Yet due to a combination of factors along with general historical accident, here’s what the likely situation is going to be come November 2008, barring something radically unusual (hopefully not tragically so):

* The presidency — the big one, of course. However, a GOP candidate has not won in California since the elder Bush in 1988. Even in 2004, with antipathy towards the younger Bush running high but not as high as it would later and Kerry proving to be a terribly uncharismatic figure, the latter still carried California 55 to 45 percent. This is absolutely no guarantee that whoever wins in the GOP primaries will not end up carrying the state — the writers on this polling geek site suggest that the issue of illegal immigration could complicate things, though I have my strong doubts about that. At this point I’ve no reason to doubt a Democratic candidate will win the state by a comfortable margin, while my local precinct in OC will go for the GOP candidate equally comfortably if not more so.
* The senatorial seats — out of contention, barring personal misfortune on the part of the current officeholders. Senator Feinstein was reelected in 2006, Senator Boxer runs again in 2010.
* My local representative in the House — again, assuming no personal misfortune, that would be Dana Rohrabacher in the 46th district, who won in 2006 59 to 36 percent, and who I will vote against as I have always done since moving to the district. The likelihood of an upset is incredibly slim.

Meantime there’s no gubernatorial race, as Arnie won reelection last year. So the presidency and the House aside, this leaves me having to decide on state and local issues for the most part, even while the political campaigning for next year has already long been in overdrive, while still being months away from whatever the first contests that elect delegates for the conventions will be.

It’s fun reading in retrospect, seeing what came true and what didn’t. To my surprise and delight there IS a real race on for Rohrabacher’s seat — Debbie Cook, Huntington Beach’s Democratic mayor, has taken it to him head-on, and while I won’t hold my breath, Rohrabacher’s been sufficiently spooked to start flooding folks with mail more thoroughly than I’ve seen in years. As for the presidential race, I think we all know about that by now, and immigration is essentially a non-issue in this election unless I’ve completely missed something.

But everything else is as it was. Therefore, while I’m going to be posting occasional thoughts on the wider election here and there, for the next three weeks political posting will be to focus on those local races — which will include statewide propositions as well — instead of longer speculation about the Big One. For me that’s done and dusted, and for a citizen to think, act and vote to the full, that means not short-changing your downticket decisions. In ways, this is what matters most when you vote, with the most immediate results.

The power of local focus should never be underrated — and local focus sometimes is exactly what is needed when something goes from local to international. Two classic examples have been the go-to blogs ever since Sarah Palin’s nomination — Andrew Halcro and Mudflats. Their differing political perspectives, combined with their in-depth knowledge of Alaska and Alaskan politics, as well as a shared disdain for Palin’s antics, have produced more details, more on-the-ground perspective and knowledge, that any number of op-ed pieces or random commentaries out there.

My own blog lays no such claim when it comes to California politics in general or Orange County and/or Costa Mesa politics in specific, but hopefully I’ll be able to provide something of a model for others who want to engage and reflect on their own local races and issues. The conscious citizen commits completely. Never forget it — and here’s to the next twenty-two days.

First posts on this to begin tonight or tomorrow.

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