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Presidential Debate Should Have Been in California

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Opinion: Presidential Debate Should Have Been in California

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U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney shake hands at the end of the Presidential Debate at the University of Denver.

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It's no surprise that none of the three presidential debates -- which began this week with the Romney-Obama faceoff in Denver -- will take place in California.

These debates are mostly in the swing states that determine presidential elections. The exact sites are determined by a commission that is pitched by institutions -- usually universities -- that want to raise their profiles by serving as hosts.

But at least one of these debates should have been in California.

The Golden State has been a hot topic around the world and in American politics, both over the past four years and in this race. Indeed, California would be the perfect backdrop for a real discussion and debate about the American future.

That's because California represents, in some ways, the sort of future Democrats say they want for the country: innovative, globally oriented, environmentally responsible, open to immigration. It's unfair to say that Democrats run California -- no one runs in California, which is a virtue in some ways and a terrible problem in others -- but Democrats do hold virtually all the significant elected offices. They should have to defend California, at least some of it.

On the other side, Republicans have painted California as an example of the dystopian future they see for the country if Democratic ideas prevail. Much of this GOP criticism of California has been hokum or based on nonsensical comparisons to countries like Greece. But it's been such a constant Republican mantra that they should be forced to defend it.

Also, a California debate would provide an opportunity to point out that many of the policies Republicans want for the country -- limits on spending and debt and taxes, super-majorities for more things -- have been put in place in California. They should have to defend the Republican record in California, and explain their criticism of the state.

There's also this big picture reason for a debate in California: we're still the biggest, most prosperous, most diverse place in a big, prosperous diverse country. We should be at the heart of the campaign -- not a place that's just used as a fundraising ATM.

If the Electoral College is going to make us irrelevant in November, institutions in California should push to make us relevant in the campaign. One way to do that would be to bring a presidential debate here.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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