DUBUQUE, Iowa -- As a New Yorker, it is easy for me to get snobby about some things. We Big Apple natives tend to turn up our noses at pizza in 99 percent of the country, and we are skeptical of bagels outside of our hometown. As a transplant to D.C., I also find myself thoroughly unimpressed by what passes for fall foliage in that region.
Any autumnal arrogance I once had was wiped away on my recent trip through the Mississippi Valley as I rode along on the President's bus tour. Southwestern Wisconsin and Northeastern Iowa have countrysides that rival anything else in the U.S.
This small stretch of the Mississippi River covered by Bush on Tuesday is also one of the most interesting battlegrounds in this election.
To begin with, either Iowa or Wisconsin, in any normal year, would have been the closest states in 2000. Bush lost Iowa by 4,144 votes, or 0.34 percent and Wisconsin by 5,788 votes, or 0.22 percent.
Bush began Tuesday before sunrise in Onalaska, a suburb of LaCrosse. The small airport in LaCrosse lies on French Island, where the saying "this side of the Mississippi" has no meaning. The town is beautiful in the distinctive way old Midwest towns have about them.
After Onalaska, Bush hit Richland Center and Cuba City ("The City of Presidents"), also in that same corner of the state. Then the press bus carried us all across the Mississippi to Dubuque, where he spoke at the Great River Center, which sits on the charmingly industrial bank of the Great River.
In Dubuque, Bush brought up John Kerry's remark telling Whoopi Goldberg and Hollywood they were the "heart and soul of America." Bush retorted that the real heart and soul is in Dubuque.
The problem is, Bush lost Dubuque in 2000--and big. Gore won the county by nearly 5,900 votes, more than his margin in the entire state. Across the river, Gore also won LaCrosse County, which provided 80 percent of his margin in the state.
That Bush spent all day in this part of the country puts the lie to the media assertion that Bush is playing to his base while Kerry is courting the undecided voter. That conventional wisdom, predominant in the Fourth Estate, is merely further evidence of the left's myopia.
To the political reporters in the Main Stream Media, Kerry looks like a centrist and Bush an off-the-wall reactionary. They explain their astonishment with Bush's conservatism and their disappointment with Kerry's moderation (relative to them) by saying Bush is going after the crazy vote while Kerry is going after the middle.
The true dynamic is far more subtle than that.
Tim Piggot, a Dubuque businessman used to be a Democrat. He is a devout Bush backer this time around, explaining he supports the war and finds abortion immoral. But what about the economy?
On this point, Piggot has a complaint: "The labor market's drying up." Piggot can't find enough workers for his plumbing valve plant in Dubuque, and A.Y. McDonald Manufacturing isn't the only company with that problem. Dubuque County has 3.4 percent unemployment according to the August figures, the most recent available. LaCrosse has a 3.1 percent unemployment rate.
It is in this golden, red, green, and brown valley that the Kerry-Edwards strategy could fail them. Their message of "help is on the way" certainly has some appeal, but how is it going to get traction on these plush banks of the Mississippi, where something else entirely is needed?