Senator Jeff Merkley, junior senator from Oregon, has made over 300 town hall visits in each of the 36 counties in the state. He calls it his most important responsibility as a senator. Every year, he visits each county in the state. Oregon has some large counties: Harney, in the southeastern part of the state, has an area of 10,226 miles.  Were it a state, it would rank 42nd in size. It has only seven thousand people, so their votes don’t make a whit of difference when Merkley stands for election.  Or do they?

Merkley goes to each county, because he sees himself as a senator for the whole state, not just the population centers along the I-5 corridor. He learned from his predecessors, and town meetings give him a sense of the pulse of the state, what people are thinking.

It is interesting is where Merkley holds his town meetings.  In Lane County, home to Eugene and Springfield, he holds the meeting in the Odd Fellows Hall in nearby Coburg, a small town, not in Eugene.  He is making a statement, at least to me, that small town Oregon matters to him.  His town halls are in places most don’t know: Scappoose, Mt. Angel, Baker City, Gladstone.  Merkley won handily in 2014, and I suspect should he run in 2020, he will win handily again.  Yes, he’s a liberal and the only Senator who backed Bernie Sanders, but I would bet he has the respect, if not the votes, of many Oregonians east of the Cascades, where most of the state lies, but few of the people live.

I have often wondered why a presidential nominee has never visited Alaska.  Yes, Alaska votes Republican, but the message sent by a Democratic nominee for president would be huge.  Yes, she would get no electoral votes, but she would get a lot more by going: respect from Alaskans, shock at being visited, and probably an earful, too.  People everywhere like being respected, be they an inner city African-American or a farmer in Nebraska.  America is comprised of huge population centers and hundreds of thousands of square miles with few people, and the way people think in both is very, very different. I think Secretary Clinton made a mistake when she cast her campaign on the big cities in the swing states.  A lot of support was potentially available in places if had she gone and said, “I’m here to see where you live, what your local issues are, and to show you that I put on my pants one leg at a time, just as you do.”

Sure, many would have laughed.  Her handlers wanted her in the swing states, where the electoral votes were that mattered, in the cities, where Democrats live. But people read the newspaper and log online.  If they had seen that she were touring red states, for heaven’s sake, they might have been thrown off balance by such strange strategy.  They might have thought, “wow, she is seeing where the people live.”

Suppose she had left the DNC convention and with Tim Kaine, her VP Nominee, gotten aboard a  train and gone to York, Scranton, Harrisburg, and a stopover at the 9/11 memorial, finishing at Erie.  She would then have entered Ohio and done a tour south of Cleveland, maybe as far south as Mansfield, and then north up into Michigan, telling people in Detroit she’d be back, but she would continue to Ann Arbor, Flint and to the Upper Peninsula, where no nominee ever goes.  From Escanaba, she could have gone west into Rhinelander, Wisconsin and spent time touring the central part of the state, places that do have Democrats but also have Republicans who would have been surprised.  They would have seen a presidential nominee in their small town who spoke differently, saying hi, I’m here to see what your state looks like and what kind of people live here.  Can you tell me? Some would have laughed, some would have turned away or flipped her off, and I bet she would have gotten a ration, but come away with a good idea of the pulse of the country.  She could have entered Minnesota near Hinckley and gone through the small towns across the state, up to Red Lake, to the reservation, before traveling to Moorhead and Fargo, on the Red River of the North. She could have crossed North Dakota, perhaps making a statement at the standoff, before visiting the oil fields near Dickinson.  She also could have paid homage to Theodore Roosevelt by visiting the National Park named for him.


Bison, Theodore Roosevelt NP, October, 2006

Continuing west, she would have seen Glendive, Montana, and ridden along the Yellowstone River to Billings, then west through the Big Sky Country, by Big Timber, Bozeman, Great Falls, Missoula.  In eastern Montana, she would have been near coal country, where much as I and others don’t like coal, one train of 100 cars is required daily for one of the eastern power plants for a single day’s use.  It gives one perspective to know that the power they take for granted comes from stuff that they think should be kept in the ground.  If she had visited a coal mine, trust me, a lot of folks would have taken notice. The miners might have made fun of her, but I think they would have given her grudging respect.

Entering Idaho, she would have seen Craters of the Moon, Snake River Country, places that burn in the summer, have frightful winters, and where Americans live.  Past Spokane, Washington, past Moses Lake, and she’d visit Yakima, maybe, Snoqualmie Pass and finally end in Seattle.  Because Washington is a blue state, few nominees go there.

But our nominee would then fly to Alaska, visiting Juneau, Anchorage, and Fairbanks, before flying to Hawaii for a day on either Oahu or the Big Island.

It’s a tough trip, but once flying back to San Francisco, she would go east, over Donner Pass, to Reno, Washoe County, and then along the northern tier of Nevada, past Winnemucca, Battle Mountain, and Elko, east to Salt Lake City.  She had no chance in Utah, but visiting the Mormon Tabernacle as a tourist, if allowed, would have shown respect.  She would then leave and go through Vernal and Grand Junction, by Rifle and Glenwood Springs, all the way to Denver. From there, she might miss Nebraska and the Platte for Kansas, then swinging south into Oklahoma and Texas, ending in Dallas.  She would have traveled through a dozen states she wouldn’t win, but the press corps would have loved it.  They would all see America as too many people in politics don’t see it, an America that belongs to the Republicans.  Not really, of course.  It belongs to all of us.


West Texas, from Guadalupe Peak, from Guadalupe Mountains, NP, 2005.

At any point, the nominee could leave for a few days for a rally or for fundraising, but the goal would be to finish, meaning Nebraska and South Dakota, Oregon, Arizona and New Mexico, the Deep South and the “Red Crescent” of Kentucky and West Virginia.  Yes, even those states.  She would learn a lot from seeing them.  Americans are a diverse people, and much of the diversity in thought comes from the land in which they happen to live and work.


Big Bend National Park. This is moist air striking 3000′ cliffs and being forced upward, condensing before me.  It is the best example of lifting air’s producing rain (orographic lift) I have ever seen. June, 2007.


Foggy morning, Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, April, 2013

I think every nominee should visit every one of the fifty states.  I have. I’ve spent more than 100 nights in 13 of them. I’ve walked across two of them and part of two more. I have seen the diversity of America the land, camped in many states, seen nearly all of its national parks.  As a result, I understand the diversity of the people better than I otherwise would.  For me, it matters little in the grand scheme of things.  For a presidential nominee, it matters immensely.  The Democrats would do well to read these words before 2020.


Salmon, Brooks Falls, Katmai, Alaska, 2016.

Tags: ,


  1. denisehelmkay Says:

    Still the DREAMER I see. Enjoy as much as you can.

    Denise Helmkay

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: