Return of the Midwestern battleground
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.
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