With the selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate, Wisconsin has changed from “leaning Democratic” to a pure “toss up” in this year’s Presidential election. From January through August most polls in Wisconsin had President Obama up anywhere between three and eight points and his campaign felt strongly that they would carry the Badger State in November. Now, however, it is clear that the fight to win the state’s ten valuable Electoral Votes will go down to the wire and those votes may well provide the difference in a close race.
Iowa has been seen as more of a “toss up” all year with the President and Mitt Romney going back and forth, each leading by one to three points, statistically a tie. For Romney, Iowa’s six Electoral Votes are vital. If he wins Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia and Indiana along with Iowa that will give him a 276-262 Electoral College Victory, a very slim margin. If you add Wisconsin and Iowa to the mix, however, Romney wins 286-252; a bit more of a cushion in which Romney could lose Virginia or North Carolina (but not Ohio) and still win the election. While Iowa is a bit more red than Wisconsin the two states are electorally quite similar and I believe that where one goes the other will follow in November 2012 and the winner of both will be inaugurated President of the United States on January 20, 2013.
For over one hundred years Iowa and Wisconsin have (with the exception of four elections) followed each other when voting for President. In 1924, Wisconsin voted for favorite son Robert LaFollette on the Progressive ticket while Iowa voted for Republican Calvin Coolidge. Had LaFollete not run, Wisconsin almost certainly would have voted for Coolidge as well. In 1940, Republican Wendell Willkie carried Iowa by 4.5% while Wisconsin chose Franklin Roosevelt by 2%. In 1976, in a very close race between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, Ford carried Iowa by 1% while Carter carried Wisconsin by 2%. In 2004, President George Bush carried Iowa by .7% (about 10,000 votes) while John Kerry carried Wisconsin by .4% (about 11,000) votes. In 1988, while most of the rest of the country voted for George Herbert Walker Bush, Iowa and Wisconsin both bucked the trend by voting for Dukakis. And, in 2000, in the closest Presidential race in a generation, Al Gore carried Iowa by .3% (about 4,000 votes) and Wisconsin by .2% (about 5,000 votes). In 2000 and 2004 both states basically were tied, reflecting the basic outcome in the national election. In 2008, Iowa voted for Barack Obama by 10% and Wisconsin was a complete blowout as the Democrat won the state by 14%, the biggest Presidential win in the Badger State since 1964.
Quite simply, these states don’t disagree a lot. They both elect conservatives and liberals; Iowa has sent the unreconstructed FDR throwback Tom Harkin to the Senate five times and, at the same time, voted for the conservative GOP Senator Chuck Grassley by overwhelming margins since 1980. Republican Terry Branstad returned to the governor’s mansion in Des Moines after an absence of twelve years, during which liberal Democrats Tom Vilsack (now Barack Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture) and Chet Culver held the office. And, in Wisconsin in 2010, conservative Republican Ron Johnson beat the very liberal three-term Senator Russ Feingold and elected the now famous governor Scott Walker to succeed the very liberal two-term governor Jim Doyle. Paul Ryan holds the congressional seat that Democrat Les Aspin (former Democratic Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and Bill Clinton’s first Secretary of Defense) held from 1971-1993. Both states have overwhelming GOP majorities in their state assemblies (as a result of the 2010 elections) and a slim Democratic majority in their state senates. Demographically, Wisconsin has a larger non-white population (about 14%) than Iowa (about 9%) but they haven’t been as effected by the large changes (especially in Hispanic growth) that have happened in other states in the last generation which has radically changed states like California, New Mexico and Nevada, and, to a lesser extent, their Midwestern neighbor, Illinois. Democrats try to roll up large margins in Iowa cities like Cedar Rapids, and, to a lesser extent, Des Moines and Dubuque, while the Republicans do much better in the countryside, especially in the western part of the state. In Wisconsin, Democrats rely on large majorities from the very liberal Dane County (Madison) and the largest county (Milwaukee), which offsets Republican advantages in the suburbs and exurbs in the populous southeastern part of the state.
President Obama has been a frequent visitor to Iowa but not Wisconsin. Up until early August he probably felt he didn’t have to spend too much time and money in the Badger State to win a small victory there. Moreover, before the June recall, it is clear he wanted to stay away from what he thought would be a losing effort (and he was right). No Republican since Ronald Reagan has carried the state in a national election. Barack Obama can afford to lose Iowa with its six electoral votes, but he probably can’t lose Wisconsin and Iowa and the sixteen combined Electoral Votes. If this was 2004 and George Bush had actually carried Wisconsin he wouldn’t have needed to win Ohio to carry the election. Had Bush lost Ohio along with Wisconsin he would have lost the Electoral College 272-266.
Wisconsin Republicans are fired up after Scott Walker survived a recall election by 7% in June. While Mitt Romney’s ground operation in many states lags behind President Obama’s, the Badger State GOP is convinced that they can maximize their turnout as they did in June (the special election’s turnout was extremely high) and carry the state for Romney. While Mitt really can’t afford to lose Florida, Virginia and Ohio (assuming Indiana and North Carolina return to their conservative roots), the President probably can’t be reelected if he loses both Wisconsin and Iowa. And I think it is quite likely that where one state goes another will follow. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will make several stops in the Wisconsin and Iowa, we’ll see if the President does the same.