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Some reflections on the revolution of 2010, based on extended examination of the election returns.
Gentry liberals: The tsunami swept from the George Washington Bridge to the Donner Pass, but didn’t wash away affluent liberals to the east and west of these geographic markers. Also surviving were the cannibals–the public employee unions that are threatening to bankrupt states like California and New York, a prospect that doesn’t faze the left-leaning gentry. In these areas Republicans picked up one House seat anchored in Staten Island, two in New Hampshire and one in Washington state, and they came close in two California districts wholly or partly in the Central Valley. Gentry liberal territory stayed staunchly Democratic.
Jacksonians: In 2008 Barack Obama ran weakly in lands settled by the Scots-Irish from the Appalachians southwest to Texas. In 2010 Democrats did even worse there. In Andrew Jackson’s home state of Tennessee, Republicans captured two open seats where they didn’t even field candidates in 2008; ditto in Bill Clinton’s home state of Arkansas.
In southwest Virginia a 28-year veteran Democrat was beaten after voting for Henry Waxman’s cap-and-trade bill. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin held Robert Byrd’s Senate seat by running an ad showing him shooting a rifle bullet through a copy of the bill.
Germano-Scandinavian America: The Upper Midwest, settled largely by German and Scandinavian immigrants, has long been the most pacifist, isolationist and dovish part of the United States. That’s one reason Obama did well in caucuses and primaries and in the general election in 2008 in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. He even made it a close race in the Dakotas.
But that appeal seems to have vanished this year. Perhaps dovish voters, dismayed that he kept troops in Iraq, sent more troops to Afghanistan and failed to close Guantanamo, decided to vote on other issues on which they did not agree with Democrats. Republicans won up and down the line in Wisconsin, won big majorities in the Minnesota legislature, unseated two formerly popular congressmen-at-large in the Dakotas and recaptured the Iowa governorship after a dozen years. The industrial heartland. The long-standing rule in American politics is that in times of economic distress, the industrial heartland–the Rust Belt–trends toward the Democrats. Voters evidently see more government spending as a solution.
Not this year. Republicans won Senate or governor races or both in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan. They captured five House seats in Pennsylvania, five in Ohio, two in Indiana, four in Illinois and two in Michigan. You might want to add the five they captured in upstate New York. That’s 23 of the 39 seats they needed for a House majority.
Republican gains in state legislatures were even more impressive. They will control the redistricting process in four of the five states in this region. The exception is Illinois, where Rod Blagojevich’s successor as governor, Pat Quinn, held on by a few thousand votes–helped perhaps by the refusal of some Democratic county clerks not to send out military ballots in the time required by federal law. They did manage to send unrequested ballots to inmates of the Cook County Jail, though.
But the dominant message here is that government spending is the problem, not the solution. Blacks and Hispanics. Black voters remained almost unanimously Democratic this year. Not so Hispanics, who voted Republican in Florida and only mildly Democratic in Texas, where Republicans captured two Hispanic-majority House seats on the Mexican border. And Republicans Brian Sandoval and Susana Martinez were elected governor in Nevada and New Mexico.
The Finnish vote: Around 100 years ago Finnish immigrants flocked to the mines and woods of the country around Lake Superior, where the topography and weather must have seemed familiar. They’ve been a mostly Democratic, sometimes even radical voting bloc ever since. No more, it seems. Going into the election, the three most Finnish districts, Michigan 1, Wisconsin 7 and Minnesota 8, all fronting on Lake Superior, were represented by two Democratic committee chairmen and the chairman of an Energy and Commerce subcommittee, with a total of 95 years of seniority.
Wisconsin’s David Obey and Michigan’s Bart Stupak both chose to retire, and were replaced by Republicans who had started running before their announcements. Minnesota’s James Oberstar was upset by retired Northwest pilot and stay-at-home dad Chip Cravaack.
So here’s a new rule for the political scientists: As go the Finns, so goes America.
Michael Barone is a resident fellow at AEI.
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