American presidents love Cape Cod and the Islands.
“Even presidents realize this is a beautiful place to go and spend a couple of weeks during the summer months,” said Barnstable County Sheriff Jim Cummings, a Republican.
But presidential candidates, in the days leading up to the March 1 Massachusetts primary that is part of Super Tuesday, seem to have other places they’d rather go.
“Cape Cod is 4 percent of the entire Massachusetts population,” said Bruce Taub, secretary or the Orleans Democratic Committee and a volunteer for Bernie Sanders. “Nobody’s coming here.”
Of course, President John F. Kennedy famously had a home in Hyannisport. President Barack Obama and President Bill Clinton each vacationed several times on Martha’s Vineyard. Before that, President Grover Cleveland had summer house named “Gray Gables” in Bourne. Also, Vice President Joe Biden often goes to Nantucket.
As far as those presidential vacations and whether they affect any voters, Cummings said, “maybe a store owner on Martha’s Vineyard. But that’s about it.”
“It’s the strangest election I can remember.” – Eric Turkington, former state representative.
So in the days leading up to Super Tuesday when 12 states, including Massachusetts, will hold primaries or caucuses, candidates will not be coming here, said five people plugged into the Cape Cod political scene.
In the scheme of a national election, said former state representative Eric Turkington, a Democrat of Falmouth. “The Massachusetts primary has not ever been a real important one.”
And Massachusetts being lumped in with all the other states assures that no candidate will be visiting the Cape in the next few days, said all five interviewed for this story. (See our story about when Hillary Clinton Visited Provincetown, Time Moves Richly Forward) While the candidates are not interested in coming here, folks on the Cape are very interested in the campaign.
“It is the strangest election I can remember,” said Turkington. “The extremes are in the saddle. In both parties.”
Here is a theory: The ideological divide in America has been building for so long that if the presidential contest came down to Bernie Sanders versus Donald Trump, it would be the election America both needs and deserves.
“I don’t agree with that,” said former state representative Eric Turkington, a Democrat, of Falmouth. “This place is fragile enough without that level of extremism.”
Thelma Goldstein, 98-year-old Democratic activist from Falmouth, also disagreed with the theory. “You are so wrong it’s not even funny,” she said. “Nationally, I don’t think it could happen.”
But Cummings thinks the political atmosphere is ripe for just such a general election. “The general public is so tired of Washington and politicians on both sides of the aisle,” he said.
Mary LeClair, a Republican and former county official, said it’s time to “stop the Republican/Democrat crap and start working together. You’ve got to get off the party lines.”
And yet the insurgent candidate in both parties, the one seemingly least likely to compromise, has sucked all the oxygen out of the room. Trump and Sanders. Sanders and Trump. Of course, they are not at all the same. And yet…
“It’s weirder on both sides,” said Turkington. “Usually these things tend to coalesce towards the middle. But both parties are spinning off towards the edges…. In both parties, you have someone the party doesn’t agree with, or who is not a member of the party, taking over the party,” he said.
LeClair, who usually has a candidate by this time in an election cycle, does not have a candidate. “My candidate was (Chris) Christie. I don’t have a candidate right now. That is the most unusual thing for me to say. I’ve worked in every presidential campaign for years.”
“Nobody’s convinced me,” she said. “I’ve watched the debates. Nobody has been able to instill in me what other candidates have been able to do, and that is that they are worthy to be president of the United States. I take that serious. I take my politics very serious.”
LeClair said, “If (Mitt) Romney came in tomorrow, I’d burn the midnight oil then. If a candidate like Romney came in…,” she said, almost wistfully. “And Romney could do it.”
While LeClair searches for a candidate, Taub, who supports Sanders said, “From the small perch I sit on, the passion for Sanders is even greater than it was for Obama.”
And Goldstein, who has been supporting Democrats since FDR, is for Clinton. “There’s a schism. There’s a more left-leaning Democratic party and the more conventional establishment.”
Goldstein acknowledged the left-leaning part of the party, supporting Sanders, is energized in Massachusetts but suggested that an idealistic quest is often “quixotic.”
Yet the energy inside of such a movement, on either side, is apparently strong this year.
“The popular view, and I think it’s true, is that they are both playing to a general dissatisfaction with how things are going in the country.” said Taub.
And Cummings, like LeClair, said he supported Chris Christie. On the Cape, he sees “some support for Rubio,” he said.
Cummings called Trump’s rise, “kind of amazing. We were hearing all along that it wasn’t going to last. But it just keeps getting stronger.”
Cummings suggested that a dissatisfaction with Washington is leading voters all over the country to Trump.
“I think the regular guy on the Cape is really thinking about Trump, and some have made up their mind,” said Cummings. “They’ve had it. They see him say some things that you would think would get him eliminated, but they are also so frustrated about what’s going on in Washington, that they don’t care about that stuff.”
And Taub explained that Sanders is different from Obama this way: “Obama offered hope and change. Bernie wants to change the power relationships.”
These two candidates offering big change – one offering “revolution” while the other plans to “Make America Great Again” – have those supporting an establishment candidate, or wanting to support an establishment candidate concerned about electability, and more.
Elections have consequences.
All five interviewed for this story said as much. And that’s why even in a place as seemingly electorally inconsequential as Cape Cod, the candidate that each party puts forth in the general election is so important.
The president makes decisions that affect people who live here, and pretty much everywhere.
And every vote counts. Even on Cape Cod.
There is a statue of John F. Kennedy on Main Street in Hyannis.
There are still plenty of people alive on Cape Cod who remember his presidency – those magical years of Camelot, now washed in so many layers of nostalgia that it’s a tourist attraction around here.
“When John Kennedy ran, Cape Cod was a bastion of Republicans,” said Turkington. “I don’t know if he carried any towns at all.”
Yet somehow this little geographic nirvana that we all call home became associated with a specific ideal of America.
Also, it’s a great place for a president to go on vacation. Maybe that’s why so much effort and money is put into getting the job.