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Friday, June 27, 2008

Swing State? Sure Doesn't Look That Way

The swing states aren't looking quite as swingy lately. A new Quinnipiac/Washington Post/Wall Street Journal poll shows Barack Obama taking four of them if the elections were held today. In fact, his lead in two of those states -- Minnesota and Wisconsin -- is big enough that calling them swing states is kind of a joke. These look pretty solid.

In Colorado, Obama leads 49% - 44%. In Michigan, it's 48% - 42%. Minnesota's 54% - 37%. Wisconsin breaks down as 52% - 39%. Needless to say, I'm pretty pleased with my fellow cheeseheads. The proper response from Team McCain to these numbers should be "Yikes!"

Wisconsin's swing state status has always been a little iffy to me. The last time a Republican took the Badger State was in 1984, when Reagan took it in his 49-state landslide over Walter Mondale. That's not to say that Republicans haven't done well here -- Bush lost to Gore by just 5,708 votes out of 2.6 million. Kerry won by 11,384 votes out of 3 million. Wisconsin is a very purple state, but national Republicans just can't seem to break the majority. A very rural state, Wisconsin politics are still dominated by its two largest cities, Madison and Milwaukee, The more conservative Fox River Valley, a third urban area that includes Green Bay, has been the Republican hope in recent elections -- Bush campaigned there almost exclusively in '04 -- but there just aren't enough votes up there to swing the election their way. Almost, but not quite. The two biggest cities are blue, blue, blue -- in fact, Madison is famously (some would say infamously) liberal. As swing states go, Wisconsin only seems to swing left.

What Republicans face up here is a progressive tradition that's been in place for over a century. In 1854, the Wisconsin Supreme Court found the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 unconstitutional and jailed ex-slave Joshua Glover's slave-master and his henchmen for kidnapping. This didn't really go over very well. The case went to the Federal Supreme Court, where Wisconsin's ruling was overturned. To their credit, the Wisconsin Supreme Court refused to comply with SCOTUS's ruling, sparking a constitutional crisis. The judicial stand off was ended when a mob broke Glover out of the Milwaukee jail and sent him off to Canada. Joshua Glover has a statue dedicated to him in Milwaukee.

Fightin' Bob La FolletteThis sort of liberal stubbornness later led to the Progressive Movement of Robert M. La Follette, a Republican Senator and Governor who founded the Progressive Party. This movement still exists in the upper midwest, with around a century of experience in organization behind it. 83 years after La Follette's death, "Fightin' Bob" is still a rallying cry. This hard fighting liberalism is still present in current Senator Russ Feingold, who former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson once referred to as "Madison's Senator."

Republicans face more than just an organization in Wisconsin, they face a tradition. Minnesota is no different. The state Democratic Party apparatus there isn't called the Minnesota Democratic Party, it's the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. It's roots trace back to 1818 and was also part of the midwest Progressive Movement. The Minnesota wing was most recently represented nationally by the late Paul Wellstone. We don't just produce lefties up here, we produce fierce lefties.

Given the liberal machinery in these two states and Barack Obama's lead in both of them, I think John McCain can probably cross these off as possible wins.

Not that he will. Given that the swing states seem to be swinging Obama, McCain's going to have to fight here. If his strategy is anything like Bush's, he'll spend a lot of time up in the Fox River Valley, knowing that Milwaukee and Madison are lost causes. That's not to say that Republicans are screwed up here -- they win statewide elections all the time. In the last cycle, when Democrats were being elected all around the nation, a Republican became Attorney General. More recently, a conservative was elected to the State Supreme Court. It can be done. It's just that McCain's not going to do it.

If the polls weren't what they are, I'd say McCain had a chance. But the polls are what the polls are and Baghdad Johnny's chances are pretty much nil.

In further bad news for Team McCain, news is coming out that Florida's looking good for Obama. In fact, very good. "Obama's 16-point lead in South Florida could springboard him to make it a competitive race statewide," says pollster John Zogby. "I really think Florida is in play."

And Obama's making McCain fight for every single state -- even the gimmes. He's closed the gap in red, red Texas to just 5 points.

So I guess Wisconsin won't be the only state that swings the right way. But I like to think that the name "Fightin' Bob" haunts John McCain's dreams.


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