Mod­er­a­tion played well in the Mid­west

Tri-City Herald - - Obituaries/news - BY MITCH SMITH AND MON­ICA DAVEY

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 this 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 once-fa­mil­iar 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 moder- ate 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 mini-- blue 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.

“This was all sort of a re­turn to nor­malcy, which is po­lit­i­cal par­ity,” he said. “What I would call it is a prag­matic elec­tion.”

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.

In Kansas, Kelly promised to be “the ed­u­ca­tion gov­er­nor,” a pitch that ap­pealed to vot­ers across party lines and helped her run up large leads in sev­eral pop­u­lous coun­ties that Trump car­ried.

Though Kansas is re­li­ably Repub­li­can in pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, res­i­dents have long elected fairly mod­er­ate gov­er­nors from both po­lit­i­cal par­ties. That changed eight years ago when Sam Brown­back be­came gov­er­nor and com­man­deered a hardright shift in the state’s poli­cies, in­clud­ing sweep­ing tax cuts that led to painful rev­enue short­falls.

In Wis­con­sin, Democrats held onto Tammy Baldwin’s seat in the Se­nate and flipped the gov­er­nor’s seat, re­mov­ing Scott Walker, who had pushed the state sharply to the right over eight con­tentious years.

Walker, an as­tute politi­cian, had long been a tar­get of Democrats in the state, but they had failed to de­feat him dur­ing three highly con­tested elec­tions, in­clud­ing a re­call at­tempt. After he took of­fice in 2011, Democrats had of­ten com­plained that his po­si­tions on is­sues such as lim­its to union power and voter ID re­stric­tions had po­lar­ized the state in a way it wasn’t used to.

BAR­RETT EMKE NYT

Sup­port­ers of Kris Kobach, the Repub­li­can can­di­date for gov­er­nor of Kansas, gather for a watch party with the can­di­date at the Capitol Plaza in Topeka, Kansas, Nov. 6. Laura Kelly, a Demo­crat, de­feated Kobach, an ally of Trump.

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