The Magazine

The Blowout Belt

The most vulnerable Republicans are found in a five-state swath, from Indiana to Connecticut.

Nov 6, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 08 • By FRED BARNES
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Scandals have ripped apart Ohio Republicans. Governor Bob Taft pleaded guilty to failing to disclose a gift, an innocuous but highly publicized misdemeanor. His approval rating has dipped below 20 percent. Congressman Bob Ney pleaded guilty to accepting favors from lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The state lost approximately $10 to $12 million invested in rare coins through a prominent Republican coin dealer. Worst of all, Ohio lost more than 210,000 manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2005, and its unemployment rate is a full percentage point above the national average. Since Republicans hold all statewide offices, they're getting the blame. Besides, they've allowed the Ohio tax burden to become the third heaviest in the nation.

In Indiana, Republican governor Mitch Daniels has taken two bold and probably necessary steps that have backfired politically. One was to impose daylight saving time throughout the state, which previously operated under a mixed bag of time standards. The other was to privatize the Indiana Toll Road, leasing it to a Spanish-Australian joint venture for $3.8 billion. Daniels, who's not up for reelection until 2008, became a drag on the Indiana Republicans running this year.

Grover Norquist, the conservative Washington operative, has a compelling theory about declining Republican prospects in the blowout belt. Those states have been dominated by "Lincoln Republicans," he says. The party created in Northern states by Abraham Lincoln believed in fighting slavery and preserving the Union. Once those goals were achieved, it had no ideology, no set of firm beliefs. It became an establishment party, thriving on power and patronage. In a bad Republican year like 2006, such a party has little pull with average voters, Norquist says.

He contrasts Lincoln Republicans with Reagan Republicans in southern, prairie, and western states. The Republican party that grew up in those states in recent decades was based on conservative beliefs. And this ideology holds Reagan Republicans together in good years and bad, Norquist says. Indeed, Democrats have mounted few serious challenges this year in the South, where Reagan Republicans are strongest.

A related factor is the emergence of a Republican voting bloc of religious conservatives who make up more than 40 percent of the party's electorate. They are now the most reliable Republican voters. But while they are a powerful force among Republicans in the South, prairie, and West, they are in short supply in the North. This is still another reason for the disproportionate number of vulnerable Republicans in the Connecticut-to-Indiana belt.

Let's look at the five states:

*CONNECTICUT. This was initially seen as a likely graveyard for Republican moderates, specifically House members Chris Shays, Nancy Johnson, and Rob Simmons. All three are vulnerable in a state with a weakening Republican party. But when threatened, moderates can be mean. All three turned out to be tough campaigners. When Shays's Democratic foe, Diane Farrell, brought in Massachusetts senator Teddy Kennedy, Shays raised Chappaquiddick: At least House Speaker Denny Hastert, blamed for tolerating Foley's flirtation with Capitol pages, hadn't plunged his car into the water and left a dead woman behind. Shays, like Senator Joe Lieberman, has bravely stuck to his pro-Iraq war position (with modifications). Johnson aired a TV ad zinging her opponent, Chris Murphy, for insisting that NSA eavesdropping on phone calls by suspected terrorists should be done only under a judge's order. "Liberal Chris Murphy says: 'No, apply for a court order even if valuable time is lost.' Chris Murphy--wrong on security, wrong for America.'" Simmons is given the best chance of winning, Johnson second, Shays third. If only one of them loses, that will be a vic tory for Republicans. Lieberman, running as an independent, is a strong favorite for reelection. The Republican Senate candidate, Alan Schlesinger, will be lucky to get 10 percent of the vote.