EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the October 25, 2004, issue of National Review.
After a campaign rally in Minnesota on September 16, President Bush spoke to a few of his supporters, including Republican governor Tim Pawlenty and congressman Jim Ramstad. Bush was amazed that he might win the state. If we carry Minnesota, he said, we’ll sweep.
Bush, like many political observers, is clinging to a dated perception. Bush may very well win Minnesota and Wisconsin. But they are no longer two of the most liberal states in the union. Carrying them doesn’t mean he will carry Rhode Island, or even Pennsylvania; it will, however, show how much these northern Plains states have changed.
Both states acquired reputations for progressivism early in the last century, as Scandinavian and German immigrants brought a social-democratic politics to the region. Wisconsin was the land of Robert LaFollette, who took 17 percent for the Progressives in the presidential election of 1924. Minnesota, meanwhile, produced such liberal giants as Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, Walter Mondale, and Orville Freeman.
Wisconsin hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since Reagan’s landslide in 1984. One of Wisconsin’s Senate seats — the one now held by Herb Kohl — has been held by a Democrat continuously since Joe McCarthy died in 1957. Minnesota has gone even longer without voting for a Republican presidential candidate; longer, indeed, than any other state. It has not done it since 1972.
Now both states are moving rightward. Realignment isn’t happening the way it did in the South, where states started voting for Republican presidential candidates and only later backed local Republican candidates. In Minnesota, especially, the Republican vote is increasing at every level simultaneously.
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