The Endless Perils of Living in a Swing State

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The third grader and first grader who live in my house are still in virtual school, which has given them the opportunity, after spending their entire lives having their parents tell them they are not supposed to look at screens all day, to be legally required look at screens all day. At the end of another day of obvious failure to teach, over Zoom, the basic social skills a six-year-old needs to survive and thrive in the world, our family sat down to dinner and my eight-year-old announced that he had something to say to the table.

“Did you know that Jon Ossoff is going to raise taxes on the middle class?” he said, with the matter-of-factness of him telling us his shoe was untied. “Well, he is.” The depressing thing about this is not just that he said it. The depressing thing is that I, a person with an Ossoff for Senate sign in his front yard, immediately leapt to the defense of the Democratic Senatorial candidate here in Georgia. “That’s not true,” I said, instinctively, a reflex at this point. “He supports reinstating Glass-Steagall, but a family like ours is unlikely to see any substantial increase in — ” I stopped myself. My son, who was after all just parroting something he’d seen for 15 seconds every time he tried to watch a YouTube video, had already moved on to putting mashed potatoes in his younger brother’s ear. And I was a grown man debating politics with an eight-year-old. This election is going to be over soon, right?

Yes, friends, for the first time in my life, I live in a swing state. This is something I have always wanted. During the 1996 election, I lived in Illinois (55 percent Clinton, 36 percent Dole, 8 percent Perot); from 2000–2012 I lived in New York City (closest race: Kerry 58, Bush 40); and by 2016 I was living in Georgia, where Hillary Clinton lost by five points. The current FiveThirtyEight polling average for Georgia has Trump up 49.7–49.5, which is so close I sort of wonder if my wife and I can push Biden over the top ourselves.

And then there are the two Senate races: The aforementioned Ossoff-David Perdue one, and the even more insane nonpartisan “jungle primary” between GOP incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler (who is literally running ads comparing herself to Attila the Hun), Republican congressman Doug Collins, and surprise frontrunner Raphael Warnock, a Democrat and the pastor at MLK’s church in Atlanta. This is a hotly contested state in every possible way, and it is impossible to do anything —view a sporting event, watch a funny cat video, eat a sandwich — without being overpowered with political advertisements. My kids cannot watch a SpongeBob video without David Perdue calling Jon Ossoff a “Hollywood liberal,” which I think just means Ossoff wears a suit that fits him rather than a jean jacket.

I know it feels like this election has taken over everyone’s lives — shoot, it has taken over everyone’s lives. But I find myself wistful now for my time in Illinois and New York, when no one really cared about my votes, where there was no question who was going to win and therefore all the ads were for used cars and boner pills. (Another difficult advertisement to explain to your children, were they to ask.) This must be what it’s like to live in Iowa every four years. How in the world do Iowans stay so cheerful?

As Jennifer Weiner recently noted in The New York Times—she’s in Pennsylvania, which is even more contested on the presidential level than Georgia is—campaign intrusions come from every direction. I receive texts from phone bankers all day. Pamphlets and campaign literature litters my mailbox. I’ve even had some visits from door-knockers, all Republicans (Democrats aren’t doing that this year, what with the highly contagious and potentially fatal disease that has crippled every aspect of American life), all very friendly but still not particularly welcome at my doorstep right now. There is no place to escape. There was a Kelly Loeffler flyer on my kid’s bicycle the other day.

I understand the stakes of this election, and therefore I understand why everyone involved is so desperate to spend whatever it takes to win it. But I, personally, a human being who has never picked up a Republican primary ballot in his life, have been contacted by eight different texters, received 10 pieces of direct mail and had a front-door visitor, all in the last 24 hours. And if I turn on my television or look at my phone, it’s even worse. It is too much. Even my kids are sick of it, and all they know about the election is that Donald Trump is a jerk. (And apparently that Jon Ossoff will raise taxes on the middle class now.) It’s an important election. But that’s a lot of outreach for just one measly voter.

The funniest part about this, of course: I’ve already voted. Even if they could get to me, I couldn’t change my mind if I wanted to. I know the idea is to try to reach out to as many voters as you can, with the hope of locking down at least one. But I’m locked. I’m in! I did my part! Uncle? Can I go home now? Can my kids get back to SpongeBob now? In an election like this, we do not know for sure that the counting of votes and the election of winners will be completed on Election Night itself. But I do know that this will be over then. It can’t get here soon enough.

Will Leitch will be writing multiple pieces a week for Medium. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family, and is the author of five books, including the upcoming novel “How Lucky,” released by Harper next May. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.

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Writer, New York, NYT, MLB, WaPo, others. Founder, Deadspin. Author of four books, with fifth, “How Lucky,” coming May 2021. https://williamfleitch.substack.com

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