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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

No Free Passes: States With 2 Major Party Candidates in Every US House Race

Indiana has now placed candidates from both major parties on the ballot in a nation-best 189 consecutive U.S. House races, with New Hampshire, Minnesota, Idaho, and Montana also north of 100 in a row.

Political Crumbs

Gubernatorial Highs and Lows

Two sitting governors currently hold the record for the highest gubernatorial vote ever received in their respective states by a non-incumbent: Republican Matt Mead of Wyoming (65.7 percent in 2010) and outgoing GOPer Dave Heineman of Nebraska (73.4 percent in 2006). Republican Gary Herbert of Utah had not previously won a gubernatorial contest when he notched a state record 64.1 percent for his first victory in 2010, but was an incumbent at the time after ascending to the position in 2009 after the early departure of Jon Huntsman. Meanwhile, two sitting governors hold the record in their states for the lowest mark ever recorded by a winning gubernatorial candidate (incumbent or otherwise): independent-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island (36.1 percent in 2010) and Democrat Terry McAuliffe of Virginia (47.8 percent in 2013).


An Idaho Six Pack

Two-term Idaho Republican Governor Butch Otter only polled at 39 percent in a recent PPP survey of the state's 2014 race - just four points ahead of Democratic businessman A.J. Balukoff. Otter's low numbers reflect his own struggles as a candidate (witness his weak primary win against State Senator Russ Fulcher) combined with the opportunity for disgruntled Idahoans to cast their votes for one of four third party and independent candidates, who collectively received the support of 12 percent of likely voters: Libertarian John Bujak, the Constitution Party's Steve Pankey, and independents Jill Humble and Pro-Life (aka Marvin Richardson). The six candidate options in a gubernatorial race sets an all-time record in the Gem State across the 46 elections conducted since statehood. The previous high water mark of five candidates was reached in seven previous cycles: 1902, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1914, 1966, and 2010.


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