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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

Who Has Won the Most Votes in US Senate Electoral History?

Only three of the Top 10 and nine of the Top 50 vote-getters of all time are currently serving in the chamber.

Political Crumbs

Six for Thirteen

Collin Peterson remarked last month that he is leaning to run for reelection to Minnesota's 7th Congressional District in 2016. If he does and is victorious, he will creep even closer to the top of the list of the longest-serving U.S. Representatives in Minnesota history. The DFL congressman is only the sixth Minnesotan to win at least 13 terms to the U.S. House of the 135 elected to the chamber in state history. Peterson trails 18-term DFLer Jim Oberstar (1975-2011), 16-term Republicans Harold Knutson (1917-1949) and August Andresen (1925-1933; 1935-1958), and 14-term DFLers Martin Sabo (1979-2007) and John Blatnik (1947-1974). Andresen died in office, Sabo and Blatnik retired, and Knutson and Oberstar were defeated at the ballot box in 1948 and 2010 respectively. At 70 years, 7 months, 11 days through Monday, Peterson is currently the ninth oldest Gopher State U.S. Representative in history. DFLer Rick Nolan of the 8th CD is the seventh oldest at 71 years, 1 month, 23 days.


Seeing Red

Congressman Nick Rahall's failed bid for a 20th term in West Virginia this cycle, combined with a narrow loss by Nick Casey to Alex Mooney in Shelley Moore Capito's open seat, means that West Virginia Democrats will be shut out of the state's U.S. House delegation for the first time in over 90 years. The Republican sweep by two-term incumbent David McKinley in the 1st CD, Mooney in the 2nd, and Evan Jenkins over Rahall in the 3rd marks the first time the GOP has held all seats in the chamber from West Virginia since the Election of 1920. During the 67th Congress (1921-1923) all six seats from the state were controlled by the GOP. Since the Election of 1922, Democrats have won 76 percent of all U.S. House elections in the Mountain State - capturing 172 seats compared to 54 for the GOP.


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