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Return of the Midwestern battleground

By Nicholas Beaudrot

Hello, Kleiniacs! I'm an accidental political observer who's still doing penance for not voting in 2000. Since I have a head for numbers, my point of entry into the political arena is usually through polls and results; when I started paying attention in 2003, it seemed more socially useful than baseball. Longtime Ezra readers may remember me as part of his weekend guest-blogging crew in the 2005-07 era. Visual learners may be interested in a series of maps I made during the 2008 presidential primaries. I hope to produce more cartographic wonders, ideally relating to more recent elections, during my time here.

With introductions out of the way, let's start with a quick discussion of the regional differences in voter preference that we saw in the midterm elections. One of the more striking aspects of Democratic House losses Tuesday was the number of Midwestern seats that changed hands. Republicans picked up at least 16 seats in the South, plus several more in Appalachian districts in such areas as Ohio, West Virginia and central Pennsylvania, where Barack Obama has never been popular. Those losses are almost expected. Democratic congressmen such as Gene Taylor (Miss.) and Bart Gordon (Tenn.) were able to survive Obama's candidacy, but not the reality of his presidency. Indeed, several of them saw the writing on the wall and retired. House members in Dixie and Appalachia were victims of what you might call "Barry Goldwater's Revenge".

However, in 2008, Obama's weakness in that part of the country was offset by his strength in the Midwest. He became the first Democrat to win Indiana since Lyndon Johnson's 1964 landslide. Obama forced John McCain's campaign to abandon Michigan, and the Democrats' grip on Wisconsin and Iowa -- states that both parties contested fiercely in 2004 and 2008 -- was never seriously in doubt. At the time, you could imagine that Obama's presidency might establish an enduring "Snow Belt + California" coalition of Northeastern, Midwestern and Pacific Coast states similar to the Sun Belt coalition that powered the Republicans to victory in the Reagan/Bush Sr. years. But at the moment that appears unlikely.

Looking at the list of House seats that changed hands, there are three in Illinois (!), two in Wisconsin, two in Michigan, two in Indiana and one more in Minnesota*. These losses suggest that, at least in the short run, states in this region are more likely to return to swing status than they are to continue their long, slow march out of the Republican column.

*Democrats also lost five seats in Ohio, and five more in Pennsylvania, but recently those states have voting habits that differ from the rest of the region. More on that later.

Nicholas Beaudrot is the joint author of Donkeylicious, along with Neil Sinhababu.

By Nicholas Beaudrot  | November 4, 2010; 12:45 PM ET
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Democrat Congressman John Boccieri, Ohio's 16th district, won 54% of the vote in 2008 to win his first term. This year he only got 40% of the vote, and lost 54-40.

The most frequently cited reason for the stunning loss of support for this Democrat in Ohio's mid-section? His flip-flop on health care. He initially opposed it, but then switched on the last day and voted with Pelosi (he was one of the last 3 to put her over the top).

Unfortunately for the spin Ezra and other Democrats would have you believe, the punishment of Democrats in the heartland this week had nothing to do with whether they ever liked Obama anyway, or that they are all closet-racists, or that they just don't understand all the great things progressives have done for them lately.

Moderates in Ohio vote on policy, not party....and they absolutely rejected progressive policies that the Democrats tried to jam down our throats the past 2 years.

Posted by: dbw1 | November 4, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

"Klieniacs"? Hmmmm. Sounds eeerily like.... oh yeah! "Deaniacs!"

Ezra, you should write a piece called "Calling Dr. Dean! Calling Dr. Dean!"

You should start with your post of Sept. 29, 2009. And then hop to Dr. Dean's call to "Kill the bill."

Dean is in Calgary (U of C School of Public Policy) with Fred Thompson talking about the mid terms. It's cold up there. I doubt a single reporter heard a word of it.

dbw1 has a point about policy. But I'd say you can't win on policy if you are afraid to talk about what you just did.

The thing is, we're now living what most of us said was going to happen back in Sept. and Dec. of 09

And I'd give up on the geographic board game thing.

The guy who knows is out on the frozen tundra.

Posted by: pmcgann | November 4, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad you didn't try to pretend there is one reason why Dems lost.

I think it was a perfect storm of various issues, not all of which were a statement against liberalism. There were many reasons why people of all ideological biases might have wanted to throw out the bums, and in this case most of the bums in office happened to be Democrats.

P.S. I am pleased many of the Dems who voted against unemployment benefits are now unemployed themselves.

P.S.S. I sort of wish Reid would have lost. I've always felt he's one of the reason's for systemic Democratic failures in the Senate.

Posted by: Lomillialor | November 4, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

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