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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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Political Crumbs

Strike Three for Miller-Meeks

Iowa Republicans had a banner day on November 4th, picking up both a U.S. Senate seat and one U.S. House seat, but Mariannette Miller-Meeks' defeat in her third attempt to oust Democrat Dave Loebsack in the 2nd CD means the GOP will not have a monopoly on the state's congressional delegation in the 114th Congress. The loss by Miller-Meeks (following up her defeats in 2008 and 2010) means major party nominees who lost their first two Iowa U.S. House races are now 0 for 10 the third time around in Iowa history. Miller-Meeks joins Democrat William Leffingwell (1858, 1868, 1870), Democrat Anthony Van Wagenen (1894, 1912 (special), 1912), Democrat James Murtagh (1906, 1914, 1916), Democrat Clair Williams (1944, 1946, 1952), Democrat Steven Carter (1948, 1950, 1956), Republican Don Mahon (1966, 1968, 1970), Republican Tom Riley (1968, 1974, 1976), Democrat Eric Tabor (1986, 1988, 1990), and Democrat Bill Gluba (1982, 1988, 2004) on the Hawkeye State's Three Strikes list.


Larry Pressler Wins the Silver

Larry Pressler may have fallen short in his long-shot, underfunded, and understaffed bid to return to the nation's upper legislative chamber, but he did end up notching the best showing for a non-major party South Dakota U.S. Senate candidate in more than 90 years. Pressler won 17.1 percent of the vote which is the best showing for an independent or third party U.S. Senate candidate in the state since 1920 when non-partisan candidate Tom Ayres won 24.1 percent in a race won by Republican Peter Norbeck. Overall, Pressler's 17.1 percent is good for the second best mark for a non-major party candidate across the 35 U.S. Senate contests in South Dakota history. Independent and third party candidates have appeared on the South Dakota U.S. Senate ballot just 25 times over the last century and only three have reached double digits: Pressler in 2014 and Ayres in 1920 and 1924 (12.1 percent). Pressler's defeat means he won't become the oldest candidate elected to the chamber in South Dakota history nor notch the record for the longest gap in service in the direct election era.


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