Tuesday, June 03, 2008


An article yesterday by Minnesota political commentator Barry Casselman got me thinking about the politics of the Midwest again. As I wrote a few weeks back, the upper Midwest, especially the parts that border the Mississippi River, has a history of progressive politics that makes it fertile ground for Democratic candidates. Casselman has coined the term “Minnewisowa” to describe the Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa region. Noting that these states have similar demographics and economies, they have been hotly contested in past elections and are set up this year for attention by both parties. Collectively, the states award 27 electoral votes.

I thought I’d look at this region a little more closely to see how it stacks up for the coming campaign. While the three states are indeed characterized by close margins of victory every four years, the recent trends have all been in the Democratic direction. Furthermore, these states tend to vote as a block. In 2004, Iowa went to Bush by just one half percentage point while Kerry won Wisconsin and Minnesota. In each of the five previous elections (’04—’88), however, all three states went Democratic. A Republican nominee hasn’t won Wisconsin since Reagan’s landslide in 1984 and Nixon in 1972 was the last Republican to win Minnesota. In 1988, “Minnewisowa” gave Dukakis 3 of the 9 states he won nation wide.

If we look further down the ballot in recent years, we also see good Democratic trends. In the 2006 congressional elections, Democrats gained 2 House seats in Iowa (Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack) and 1 each in Wisconsin (Steve Kagen) and Minnesota (Tim Walz). Likewise in 2006, Iowa Democrats captured both houses of the state legislature while Minnesota and Wisconsin Democrats captured one state house each from Republican control. Iowa Democrats kept their governor’s mansion in Democratic hands while Wisconsin re-elected its Democratic governor. The one bright spot for Minnesota Republicans was that they managed to re-elect governor Tim Pawlenty (currently being bandied about as a possible VP pick), although with just 47% of the vote.

In speculating on how the region might go this fall, one might look at the recent primary season. Barack Obama won all three states’ contests, with Iowa especially propelling his candidacy. McCain, on the other hand, largely ignored Iowa to focus on New Hampshire. He came in fourth place and didn’t win a single Iowa county. Furthermore, he did virtually no campaigning in Wisconsin or Minnesota due to how rapidly he sewed up the nomination (He did visit Milwaukee last week). To get a sense of how often Obama and McCain have been to these states, visit Slate’s “Map the Candidates” page and one will see how the build up to the Iowa caucuses, especially, has allowed Obama to build a massive organization in the state that will surely be maintained and fine tuned with eyes toward November. I would also suggest that Obama’s recent campaign activities point to how seriously he is targeting the region. When he chose to hold a rally in Iowa on the night of the voting in Oregon and Kentucky, a fall strategy was clearly at play. Furthermore, note where he will be speaking tonight—St. Paul, Minnesota, site of this summer’s Republican convention.

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