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Battleground States Through the Lens of the U.S. Senate

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What makes a battleground state a battleground state? For one, obviously, presidential races decided by narrow victory margins. But another way is to examine how a state has voted in other statewide elections. Does a state tend to only elect Democrats, only Republicans, or a mixture?

The most widely circulated bit of information from this year's installment of National Journal's Congressional vote ratings was that Barack Obama had the most liberal voting record in the U.S. Senate, narrowly beating out Rhode Island's Sheldon Whitehouse and former presidential candidate Joe Biden from Delaware.

But another interesting tidbit is that most of the battleground states in this year's presidential election are also currently represented in the U.S. Senate by both a Republican and a Democrat. Moreover, the difference in liberal / conservative voting records between these Senators within a state is fairly large; meaning, these states are electing both fairly conservative and fairly liberal Senators to D.C.

Leading the way is the battleground state of Nevada - Republican John Ensign's voting record was deemed the 13th most conservative in the chamber, while Majority Leader Harry Reid's was measured as the 9th most liberal. The liberal / conservative 'gap' between the two Senators was 73.7 points (on a scale of 100).

Second on the list was the state of Iowa - Republican Charles Grassley was the 25th most conservative Senator, while Democrat Tom Harkin (up for election in 2008) was the 11th most liberal. The liberal / conservative gap for Iowa's Senators was 62.4 points.

Going on down the line of the states with the largest ideological difference between its U.S. Senators is a string of classic battleground states: Colorado, New Mexico, Missouri, Florida, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Only two of the states on the list - Louisiana and Indiana - are generally considered safe Republican territory in Presidential elections - although Barack Obama is eyeing both in 2008.

While both Republicans and Democrats currently represent these dozen or so battleground states in the U.S. Senate, the trend within these states is not favorable for the GOP. Nearly half of the states on the list elected Democrats in its last Senatorial election: Colorado (Ken Salazar), Missouri (Claire McCaskill), Minnesota (Amy Klobuchar), Ohio (Sherrod Brown), Pennsylvania (Bob Casey), and Virginia (Jim Webb). Democrats are also expected to pick up open seats in Colorado, New Mexico, and Virginia this year, as well as compete strongly against incumbents in Minnesota and Oregon.

Previous post: The Upper Midwestern Voting Bloc in Presidential Elections
Next post: Democrats in Best Position to Take Control of SD Senate Since 1992

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Remains of the Data

Gender Equality in the US House: A State-by State Quarter-Century Report Card (1989-2014)

A study of 5,325 congressional elections finds the number of female U.S. Representatives has more than tripled over the last 25 years, but the rate at which women are elected to the chamber still varies greatly between the states.

Political Crumbs

Small Club in St. Paul

Mark Dayton is one of just three Minnesotans ever elected to three different statewide offices. Dayton, of course, had previously served as State Auditor (1991-1995) and U.S. Senator (2001-2007) before winning the governorship in 2010. At that time, he joined Republicans Edward Thye and J.A.A. Burnquist on this very short list. Burnquist was elected lieutenant governor in 1914 but then became governor after the death of Democrat Winfield Hammond in 1915. He then won the gubernatorial elections of 1916 and 1918 and eight terms as attorney general two decades later (1939-1955). Thye was similarly first elected lieutenant governor of the Gopher State and became governor after the resignation of fellow GOPer Harold Stasson in 1943. Thye won one additional full term as governor in 1944 and then two terms to the U.S. Senate (1947-1959). Twenty Minnesotans have been elected to two different statewide offices.


Respect Your Elders?

With retirement announcements this year by veteran U.S. Representatives such as 30-term Democrat John Dingell of Michigan, 20-term Democrat George Miller of California, and 18-term Republican Tom Petri of Wisconsin, it is no surprise that retirees from the 113th Congress are one of the most experienced cohorts in recent decades. Overall, these 24 exiting members of the House have served an average of 11.0 terms - the second longest tenure among retirees across the last 18 cycles since 1980. Only the U.S. Representatives retiring in 2006 had more experience, averaging 11.9 terms. (In that cycle, 10 of the 11 retiring members served at least 10 terms, with GOPer Bill Jenkins of Tennessee the lone exception at just five). Even without the aforementioned Dingell, the average length of service in the chamber of the remaining 23 retirees in 2014 is 10.2 terms - which would still be the third highest since 1980 behind the 2006 and 2012 (10.5 terms) cycles.


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