Today, it was reported that Mark Kirk, Senate candidate for Illinois, will not attend a fundraiser in his state where Sarah Palin will be the featured speaker. In previous generations it would be pretty unusual for someone running for office to reject the opportunity to have their picture taken with the only politician in the party who is sure to bring in money and fill up the venue. However, I’d guess is that this is also true with the Democrats. Here in Louisiana, we currently have an oil spill that as of yesterday was bigger than the size of West Virginia, and there is a US Senate Race where Melancon (the Katrina Kid) is facing Bourbon Street Vitter. It seems highly unlikely that Obama will come down to help Charlie or to address the pollution threatening the Crescent City and its environs.

I think this is something we can all learn about during this midterm year. There will be places where Sarah appears with statewide candidates; there will be places where Obama shows up. What does this teach us? First, independents in different states aren’t similar to each other. Since both dancers appeal to their own partisans and are likely to alienate independents within some areas, the candidates will only appear when it works out to their own advantage. Second, the divergence among voters is greater than at any other time I can recall. The nation has divided into clearly blue-red regions, with only a few parts of the suburban Rust Belt having an electorate that may switch fluidly from one party to the other.

The last time I can recall when each party had one headliner and everyone else was a backup act was in the post-94 period, where the options were Newt and BJ. But a difference then was that there were wide swaths of the nation where both of them were popular. Either could go into the border states or the Gulf south and know that there would be adoring crowds awaiting their, and candidates eager to wrap their arms around them.

The question is whether this is a short-term phenomenon, idiosyncratic to Barack Obama, who we know raises the bile level in much of the nation? Or is it something that relates to Palin’s appeal? Or is it a more secular change, where the only Democrats who can excite people across the nation are from the south or the border states; only Republicans from the Northeast or Midwest can enthuse the citizenry?