It ranks among the most conventional pieces of the conventional wisdom -- President Bush can't win without Ohio. No Republican has ever won without Ohio. But this year Bush has an Ohio insurance policy. It is in the upper Midwest. If he wins Iowa (7) and Wisconsin (10) or Minnesota (10) -- three states where he has been running strong -- he basically recoups the lost electoral votes of Ohio (20) and can still win.
What gives? How is it possible that Bush could lose that Midwestern Republican stalwart, Ohio, and pick up other Midwestern states that have weaker Republican traditions -- indeed, in the case of Minnesota, a state that has long been synonymous with Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and unreconstructed liberalism?
What might be the unexpected breakdown in the Midwest has to do, first, with the fact that it has been a so-so four years for Ohio. The unemployment rate is 6 percent, higher than the national average of 5.4 percent. It is a state with a lot of cities and a large urban core in Cleveland, areas where Democrats do well. It has an economy that is still weighted toward the manufacturing sector, where old-style, unionized Democratic politics still thrives. So this red-state stalwart could well go blue.
In contrast, in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin the state unemployment rates are all lower than the national average. The agricultural economy, so important to Iowa in particular, has been booming. Demographically, the states are almost all white, and the national Democratic Party has seen a steep drop in its support among white voters over recent decades. They tend to be strongly religious, family-oriented areas where the work ethic is alive and well -- great building blocks for contemporary Republicanism.
In these states, there has been a hint of what has long taken place in the South -- ancestral Democrats in rural areas realizing that the national Democratic Party no longer represents their values. Two of Minnesota's Democratic congressmen have essentially perfect right-to-life voting records. Former Minnesota Congressman Vin Weber recalls the most Democratic area of his former district being the most socially conservative. This is something the mainstream media just can't get -- when Bush talks about social issues, he isn't just "rallying his base," but reaching out to conservative Democrats, i.e., swing voters. In the media's estimation, swing voters who are pro-life somehow don't count.