Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Minnewisowa Returns!

The political superstate of Minnewisowa (Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa) is back as prime battleground for the 2012 presidential cycle. It behaved true to form in 2008, with all its 27 electoral votes going easily to Barack Obama. But the political landscape has changed notably in all three states since then.

Minnesota has elected a Republican legislature and, for the first time in 20 years, a Democratic governor (but barely). The GOP also picked up a U.S. house seat. A budget dispute has now closed the state government down for three weeks, although a just formulated “deal” will probably bring that to an end in days. It is unclear what the aftermath of this shutdown will be, although the Democratic governor did agree to the basic terms of the Republicans. On the other hand, incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar so far does not have a serious opponent.

Wisconsin elected a Republican governor in 2010 and a GOP legislature. Conservatives also picked up two U.S. house seats and a U.S. senate seat. Promised reform was enacted by the Republicans with much controversy, but state government is now considerably more Republican than it was.

Iowa elected a Republican governor, and has lost a U.S. house seat in 2012 which may reduce the Democratic congressional delegation from the state. As in the other two component states of Minnewisowa, urban unemployment remains high and the state’s ethanol production remains controversial.

Minnewisowa now has 26 electoral votes instead of 27 it had before, but with a faltering national economy that has also hit the midwest hard, President Obama’s prospects for the historic turnout that propelled him to victory nationwide and here in 2008 are significantly reduced.

The greatest political energy throughout Minnewisowa has been the reinvigoration of rural and outstate conservative voters. The confrontation with labor unions in Wisconsin has also brought new energy to urban liberals there for the time being, with union members efforts concentrated on recall and retribution votes taking place over the summer. The first of these, an attempt to prevent the re-election of the conservative state supreme court chief justice, fell short.

Many political observers have noted that the unpopularity and controversy of conservative-led austerity measures in all three of these states could likely fade by next years if these measures produced the economic turnaround they are designed to do. Reform Republican governors in Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey, Virginia and Florida,, and Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York, have all seen their poll numbers decline, but they have brought about reduced government spending, lower taxes and restraint of labor union demands which are also expected to pay big dividends by mid-2012.

The components of Minnewisowa will have special circumstances in 2012. Two of the major GOP presidential contenders are from Minnesota (Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann), two of the national figures who emerged from the 2010 national elections are from Wisconsin (Congressman Paul Ryan and Governor Scott Walker), and Iowa remains the first voting state in 2012 with its first-in-the-nation caucus, as well as its symbolic GOP Straw Poll in Ames next month.

More than a year out, similar economic and demographic patterns throughout Minnewisowa signal the “superstate” may be poised for further political change. The presidential campaign, in addition the state legislative and congressional elections here, just as it did in 2000, 2004 and 2008, provide special focus for voters, but this time perhaps with a different result.

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