The political mega-state of “Minnewisowa” (Minnesota,
Wisconsin and Iowa) is once again, mid-way into the 2014
national mid-term elections, flashlighting its bellwether
status in American politics.
These three contiguous north midwestern states, as I have
pointed out during the past decade, have so much in
common demographically, they vote in much the same
way, but being “swing” states, how they will vote varies from
cycle to cycle.
This might have been considered an unexpected historical
circumstance, especially since both Minnesota and
Wisconsin were considered very “progressive,” even
radical, states about century ago.
But while many other U.S. states, originally agricultural,
became very industrialized and urban, these three states
maintain substantial rural and exurban populations, even
if farming is no longer their sole occupation. Minnesota
has a large urban center, the “twin cities” of Minneapolis
and St. Paul, and these are overwhelmingly liberal, and
increasingly so as minority populations have settled in them.
In Wisconsin, Milwaukee and the capital Madison are very
liberal, as is Des Moines and the college town Iowa City in
Iowa. But a balance has been created in all three of these
states, and you can see it plainly once you leave the city
borders and head into their outstate areas.
Veteran Republican governors lead Iowa and Wisconsin, and
are expected to win re-election again in 2014. The Democratic
governor of Minnesota seems secure in his re-election so far
this year. There is one Democratic U.S. senator in Iowa and one
Republican, but the former is retiring, and a Republican has
good chance to win the seat. In Wisconsin, similarly, each party
has a U.S. senate seat, neither of which is up this year. Minnesota
has two Democrats (called Democrat-Farmer-Laborites or
DFLers) in the U.S. senate, but the one up for re-election this
year might be vulnerable. All three states have split delegations in
the U.S. Congress. A GOP pick-up is very possible in Minnesota
In 2012, Republicans had high hopes to make gains in
Minnewisowa, but the Obama Democratic tide swamped these
ambitions In 2010, a national mid-term year, they had done well,
winning governorships in Iowa and Wisconsin (and, but for a slip
of the tongue, would have won another in Minnesota), and picked
up a senate seat in Wisconsin, and congressional seats in Wisconsin
The point is. of course, that each major party can do well in
Minnewisowa. What makes it a bellwether is that it often signals
which way the political wind is blowing in a particular cycle.
In 2014, the races to watch in Minnewsowa include the U.S.
senate seat in Iowa (between Democrat Bill Braley and
Republican Joni Ernst), the senate seat in Minnesota (between
incumbent Democrat Al Franken and Republican Mike McFadden),
the governor’s races in Wisconsin (between incumbent Republican
Scott Walker and Democrat Mary Burke) and in Minnesota
(between incumbent DFLer Mark Dayton and a Republican yet
to be chosen in the state’s August 12 primary) and several close
congressional races in all three states, most notably perhaps the
race in Minnesota’s 8th district between incumbent DFLer Rick
Nolan and his GOP challenger Stewart Mills.
Beyond 2014, the Minnewisowa political prize is the presidential
election in 2016. In this contest, the Democrats have won all of the
recent cycles, and by a big margin in 2012. A switch in voter
sentiment in 2014 might signal a switch in 2016, but such a
reversal, if it is to occur, is four months away and as yet uncertain.
Copyright (c) by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.