College football season is well underway, and fan forums are already abuzz with a litany of heated debates: Which is the strongest BCS conference? Should the NCAA institute a playoff system to determine the national champion? Is major conference expansion over? For those who prefer politics to pigskin, the more salient questions focus on the balance of power in Washington, DC and statehouses across the US. Will Republicans win back the House? What are the odds the Senate changes hands? Could Democrats squander their advantage in governorships?
The answers to these questions will ultimately be determined by voters on November 2nd. As political judgment day approaches, one factor appears increasingly clear: For Republicans pull off a clean sweep in all three categories, they will need to run up the score in regions of the country that have been inhospitable to the GOP brand in recent election cycles. Which brings us to Big Ten Country.
The Big Ten conference is a tradition-rich league and is home to some of the most storied collegiate football programs of all time: Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State (and soon, Nebraska). Geographically, ‘Big Ten Country’ occupies a large swath of Middle America, including much of the rust belt—which has trended heavily Democratic in recent elections. In 2008, for instance, all eight states voted for Barack Obama over John McCain, including the perennial Republican stronghold of Indiana. Since President Obama took office, however, the rust belt’s economy has been battered to a pulp The GOP is now poised for a possibly dominant election night performance in the land of “three yards and a cloud of dust.” If, on November 2nd, Republicans can effectively exploit their Midwestern moment, they face a real shot at running up the score by such a wide margin that Democrats may struggle to make up the difference elsewhere.
Here’s a state-by-state breakdown of the midterm election picture within the Big Ten footprint:
ILLINOIS (Wildcats, Fighting Illini)—
Governor: Incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn, who assumed office after Rod Blagojevich (D) was impeached, is promising to raise state income taxes to help close a gaping, Democrat-created budget deficit. It’s no small wonder that Republican Bill Brady leads Quinn by double digits, making a GOP pick-up very likely.