Political rallies have become so yesterday, so passé in California in 2012.
National candidates do their best Willie Sutton imitations by going to where the money is, meeting and greeting jaded donors in Orange County, Beverly Hills and San Francisco, with an occasional stopover at a Hillsborough estate.
We voters sit in front of our television sets cursing the political ads that pass for discourse, while politicians sink ever lower in the public's eyes.
Except on Tuesday.
For once and maybe for the only time this year, the campaign came to California. Former President Bill Clinton, the explainer-in-chief, told a noonday crowd of 8,000 to 10,000 at the UC Davis quad why they ought to vote.
How quaint, and, excuse me for getting corny, how democratic.
Teresa Mercado had seen Clinton once before, in 1996 when she was a St. Mary's High School student in Stockton. He held a huge re-election rally there, and she managed to shake the president's hand, something she'll never forget.
This time, she took the day off from work so she could bring her 13-year-old son, Isaiah, to his first rally, hoping to inspire him.
"People want to be talked to and looked at in their eyes," said Mercado, 32, who works for a doctor in Lodi and aspires to go to medical school. "Going to this gives me hope."
Clinton came to Davis at the invitation of Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, who was an assistant Interior secretary to Clinton in 1990s and whose district includes the Davis campus. Also on stage were Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, and Democratic congressional candidates Jose Hernandez of Manteca, and Ami Bera of Elk Grove. Clinton spoke for 30 minutes and spent the next 20 shaking as many hands as he could reach.
"Nobody can do a better rally than Clinton," Garamendi said.
For the first time in memory, four Sacramento Valley congressional seats are being contested. But until Tuesday, you'd only know it because this media market has become an epicenter of super PAC-funded ads. Outside groups have spent more than $10 million on advertising, and there are four weeks left before election day.
One especially misleading ad denounces Hernandez for not having lived in his Modesto-Manteca area district for 10 years, a factually accurate but utterly dishonest statement.
Hernandez grew up in the Central Valley in a family of migrant workers, went to Franklin High School and University of Pacific in Stockton, and University of California at Santa Barbara, and then worked for 14 years at Lawrence Livermore National Lab.
As he told the crowd, Hernandez's father pushed him to follow his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut. On his 12th try, NASA accepted him.
He moved out of the district from 2001 until 2011 because he lived in Houston working at the Johnson Space Center as an astronaut. After flying a shuttle mission to the International Space Station, Hernandez returned home.
Karl Uriza, 21, a junior from Hercules who transferred to Davis from a community college, was especially taken by Hernandez's story.
"His parents helped him and inspired him to go to school. My parents keep telling me to fight for my dreams," said Uriza, the son of a nurse from the Philippines and a postal worker.
Like Republican Mitt Romney, President Barack Obama has all but ignored the Central Valley in this campaign, though Obama did stop in Keene this week to say nice things about Cesar Chavez and farmworkers, and emphasize his need for Latino support.
It's understandable why the Sacramento Valley is flyover country. Obama will win here, maybe by 20 points.
But it's still shortsighted to ignore the region. Control of the House could turn on congressional races in California. The winning candidate will need Congress to pass his agenda.
Clinton understands the power of loyalty in politics. He and Garamendi have a longtime relationship. He also is building up chits.
If Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2016, Bera, Hernandez, McNerney and Garamendi will remember that in October 2012, Clinton went out of his way for them.
Isaiah Mercado will remember, too. He thought the rally his mom was dragging him to would be dull. He might have preferred to stay home in Stockton and play games. As it turned out, he said, "I wasn't bored. I was excited."
He won't quite be old enough to vote in 2016. But he won't soon forget the time he saw Bill Clinton up close and heard an astronaut tell his story.
There's a lesson there for lesser politicians.