Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Trendlines! (Almost) 50 State Edition

In politics as in anything else, one does not want to be caught fighting the last war. And so, reflecting on the last election, it's worth asking not where the states currently are on the red vs. blue continuum, but where they're going. What are the trendlines?

Note: A trend is just that -- a trend. A state can be "trending" blue but still be quite red, or vice versa. Nonetheless, I'm not including states that are, for lack of a better word, "boring" -- so overwhelmingly and consistently preferring one party or the other that it doesn't really matter of any side is marginally improving its prospects.

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Alaska -- Blue: While still a pretty reliably Republican state, Democrats have been quietly making the last several congressional elections close. Rep. Don Young (R) may have served since 1973, but he hasn't gotten over 55% of the vote since 2012. An extremely robust independent streak (allowing, e.g., Lisa Murkowski to win a write-in Senate campaign) also makes Alaska a little more complicated than your average red bear.

Arizona -- Blue: Kyrsten Sinema's Senate victory caps off the official entry of Arizona into "purple" territory (strong performance on the House side too!).

Arkansas -- Red: Hey, remember how Bill Clinton was from Arkansas? That was a long time ago.

California -- Blue: California's leaned blue for awhile, but it wasn't that long ago that some Republicans could at least compete (remember the Governator?). Not today. The sweep of Orange County House seats cements the complete collapse of the Golden State's GOP.

Colorado -- Blue: It seems like Colorado almost leap-frogged over "purple" to go straight to "light blue". Cory Gardner has a massive target on his back come 2020.

Florida -- ???: Florida's a tough nut to crack. It was probably the purplest state to almost completely resist the blue wave this year -- the GOP performed about as well here in 2018 as it did in 2016. That's testament to (a) better-than-average performance among Latinos and (b) really cranking up the dial on rural Whites -- a good recipe for GOP success. The wildcard is the passage of Amendment Four, which significantly relaxed Florida's brutally draconian felon disenfranchisement laws. Most states, that wouldn't be enough to make a difference -- but Florida is close enough (and its felon disenfranchisement rates racially skewed enough) that it could matter.

Georgia -- Blue: Slowly but steadily, Georgia is getting competitive. But the emphasis is on "slowly". Brian Kemp's defeat of Stacy Abrams -- without even needing a run-off -- shows that there's still a ways to go before Democrats really put the Peach State in play.

Indiana -- Red: Obama managed to win here in 2008, but that seems like eons ago now. Indiana was always the most conservative of the rust belt states, but it's really tacked hard right over the past few cycles.

Iowa -- ???: Democrats won three of four House seats and almost managed to flip the fourth (a feat which, to be fair, reflects more on King's unique awfulness than any general Democratic competitiveness in western Iowa). But we lost what seemed to be a winnable governor's race, and rural midwestern states seem to be inching right. Hard to say which way the winds are blowing, but if you forced me to guess I'd say Iowa is more likely to get redder than bluer.

Kansas --- Blue: Again, it's a slow process, and not likely to show up on any presidential races anytime soon. But Democrats are starting to consistently compete in Kansas House races again, and, of course, we just took the governor's mansion.

Maine -- Red: Maine still has a decidedly blue lean. But its rural environs aren't as decisively blue as they used to be, and this is still a state that -- however flukishly -- gave Paul LePage two terms as governor.

Michigan -- ???: Michigan snapped back hard into the Democratic column in 2018, but it's still worth asking whether it will join a broader midwestern drift rightward. Debbie Stabenow's closer than expected Senate race against John James (she won 52-45) suggests that there's still plenty of fight left in Wolverine Republicans.

Minnesota -- Red: Republicans flipped two congressional seats from blue-to-red this cycle, and both were in Minnesota. They were washed out two Democratic gains in the suburbs, but there's no question Republicans have been consistently improving their performances here over the past few years. They may not be able to touch Amy Klobuchar, but one day Rep. Colin Peterson (D) is going to draw a real challenger and then it's quite likely Minnesota will have an even D/R congressional delegation.

Missouri -- Red: Time was Missouri was a national bellwether. No more: it's pretty firmly in the red camp these days.

Montana -- Blue: Jon Tester's best performance yet is buoyed by growth in the western -- and more liberal -- half of the state.

Nebraska -- ???: Democrats have been wondering if Omaha might give them an opening, but Kara Eastman actually did worse in her 2018 race against Rep. Don Bacon than Brad Ashford did in 2016. Yes, Ashford has the advantage of (one term of) incumbency, but 2018 was a much better year than 2016 was. The rest of the state remains ruby red.

Nevada -- Blue: The American west/southwest is probably the area where we're seeing the most decisive Democratic momentum, and Nevada -- where Harry Reid helped build a formidable Democratic machine -- is at the forefront of that. Like Colorado, Nevada seems to have jumped straight past "purple" and into "light blue".

New Hampshire -- ???: Like much of New England, New Hampshire seems to be consolidating blue a bit, but the Granite State in particular is notoriously politically volatile. Gov. Chris Sununu's (R) 53/46 re-election win was a bit closer than expected though.

New Mexico -- Blue: Of all the southwestern states, New Mexico has the longest standing blue roots, so in terms of "trend" it's probably moved less than some of its neighbors.

North Carolina -- ???: A few years ago, there was a lot of hope in the southeastern United States -- Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida -- as the big growth area for the Democratic Party. Looking back, it's been a mixed bag. The fact that the North Carolina legislature has gerrymandered itself to hell and back and has a questionable commitment to the entire concept of "democracy" isn't helping matters, but voters have put a kibosh on some of their worst instincts.

North Dakota -- Red: Do you know that Barack Obama kept North Dakota to a single digit margin in 2008? That feels like a long time ago. Goodbye Heidi Heitkamp -- you'll be missed.

Ohio -- Red: As non-college educated White voters have shifted red, things have gotten a lot harder for team blue in the Buckeye State. Sherrod Brown was a big bright spot in an otherwise dim Democratic performance this year.

Pennsylvania -- ???: "Pittsburgh in the west, Philadelphia in the east, and Alabama in the middle." Pennsylvania is tough to characterize. On the one hand, of all the "blue wall" Trump wins in 2016, PA was the most surprising, and Democrats performed well here in 2018. On the other hand, both the "Pittsburgh" and "Alabama" portions of Pennsylvania seem like the sort of places that could continue a red-ward trend -- albeit one perhaps offset by the bluing of greater Philadelphia.

Texas -- Blue: It's easy to overread Beto O'Rourke's performance this year -- which to my mind was equal parts (a) Texas getting bluer, (b) Beto being a really good candidate, (c) 2018 being a good Democratic year, and (d) everyone hating Ted Cruz. But still "a" is a real part of that story. I wouldn't characterize Texas as "purple" yet, but it's definitely moving in that direction. And importantly, Democrats are making serious plays in some of the suburbs.

Virginia -- Blue: The only southeastern state which has decisively taken a turn in the Democratic direction is Virginia. Virginia's DC suburbs are starting to catch up to their Maryland neighbors as deep blue pools, and Democrats are also performing decently downstate too.

West Virginia -- Red: No region of America has shifted more decisively towards the GOP than Appalachia, and no state is more Appalachian than West Virginia. Puts Joe Manchin's victory in perspective, though.

Wisconsin -- ???: Beating Scott Walker was sweet, and Tammy Baldwin had little trouble winning reelection to the Senate. But the midwest still seems to me to be a troublespot for the Democrats -- it's hard to imagine that if Minnesota is pivoting right, that Wisconsin will buck them and move left.

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