Moderation played well in the Midwest
A decade ago, a Democrat was governor of Kansas. And Illinois. And Michigan. And Wisconsin. Since then, Republicans have dominated, winning governor’s races across much of the Midwest and enacting conservative policies that reshaped the region in their image.
On Tuesday, there were signs of a shift back toward the politics that had long defined the region. Though Republicans remain the more powerful party in the center of the country, voters flipped governor’s offices back to Democrats in those four states and sent Democrats to Congress in several suburban districts that had long been firmly Republican. Moderation plays well in the Midwest.
The results suggested that the much-discussed demise of the Midwestern Democrat may have been exaggerated after President Donald Trump’s victory in 2016.
What happened in the Midwest last week, bringing an end to total Republican control in three state capitals, was in some cases less a sharp shift on matters of national ideology and more a return to the oncefamiliar political middle.
For at least some voters, the choices seemed less about fiery debates over illegal immigration or who ought to be on the Supreme Court and more about meat-and-potato matters such as repairing potholes and paying for schools. Some voters said they simply did not care for too much of one thing – red, blue or otherwise.
“I do hope it’s a turn toward more of a moderate coalition,” said Dorothy Hughes, 35, a Republican from suburban Kansas City, Kansas. Hughes said she had voted for Laura Kelly, a Democrat who defeated Kris Kobach, an ally of Trump, in the race for governor. She had grown troubled by her own party’s domination of the state, she said, and its increasingly strident conservatism. She was ready for something different.
“It benefits people in power to be challenged,” Hughes said. “They’ll come up with better solutions if they’ve got someone to contend with.”
Signs of Democrats’ strength spread through parts of the region. Democrats won several Republican-held congressional seats in the Midwest, including in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas and Michigan. They secured full control of the state government in Illinois by unseating Gov. Bruce Rauner, the Republican incumbent.
But there also were significant signs of Republican dominance. The party held onto governor’s seats in Iowa, Ohio and South Dakota despite close contests. It also held onto all but one state legislative chamber it had controlled in the Midwest. And races in this region helped Republicans maintain a hold on the Senate: They flipped three crucial seats in Midwestern states where Trump’s message resonated, defeating Democrats Claire McCaskill in Missouri, Joe Donnelly in Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota.
The mixed outcome raised uncertainty looking ahead to the presidential election in 2020. Both for Republicans who had begun to rely on the Midwest and for Democrats who had written it off, all bets were off.
“There’s an argument to make that the blue wall is being rebuilt,” said Lawrence Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota, who described the results in Minnesota as “at least a miniblue wave.” There, Democrats held onto the governor’s office and two Senate seats (including a special election to the seat from which Al Franken had resigned). Four competitive House seats from Minnesota districts were split evenly between Republicans and Democrats.
Around the region, some Democratic candidates had tried to shape their campaigns with bluntly practical, local messages that steered clear of contentious philosophical debates and of Trump. Some seemed to celebrate the universal appeal of such messages – and their back-to-basics simplicity.