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Morning Jay: Connecticut, West Virginia, The Sleeper Race, and More!

6:30 AM, Sep 29, 2010 • By JAY COST
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1. Does Linda McMahon Stand a Chance in ConnecticutRasmussen and Quinnipiac both find the Republican nominee for Senate in Connecticut, Linda McMahon, well within striking distance of Democrat Richard Blumenthal.  Can she pull this off, or is this a dead cat bounce?

Morning Jay: Connecticut, West Virginia, The Sleeper Race, and More!

My brave answer: a GOP victory is absolutely within the realm of possibility!

Kidding aside, I do think McMahon has an angle here. 

Connecticut went for FDR three times in a row as the Catholic participation rate jumped up in the Nutmeg State after 1928. After FDR’s death, it was a swing state on the presidential level, going for Dewey in 1948, Kennedy in 1960, and Ford in 1976. 

In the last twenty years or so, a few factors have conspired to shift Connecticut to the Democrats.  First, the WASPs have trended toward the Democratic side.  George H.W. Bush won white Protestants in Connecticut in 1992 by 8 points, even as he lost the nationwide popular vote by 5 points.  McCain lost the nationwide popular vote by 7 points, but he lost the white Protestant vote in Connecticut by 13 points.  A consolation prize for the GOP is that white Catholics are now Republican, going for McCain by 16 points.  Today, the Democratic advantage in the state is due in no small part to third-wave immigrants, African Americans and Hispanics, who tend to break heavily for the Democrats.

So here’s how McMahon wins.  Those white Protestants are some of the very same voters that Bill Clinton brought into his coalition in the 1990s, just as he did in metro Philly and NYC.  What McMahon needs to do is take advantage of the widespread dissatisfaction with taxes, Obamacare, and deficit spending that has manifested itself in the wealthy suburbs in the Northeast, and bring those upscale white Protestants back into the Republican coalition.  In other words, her job in Connecticut is similar to Toomey’s in Pennsylvania and DioGuardi’s in New York.  If the African American and Hispanic vote is closer to where it was in 2006 (13 percent) than 2008 (20 percent), that should do it. 

2. What About West Virginia?  OK, I was skeptical of that PPP poll last week, but now Rasmussen shows Republican John Raese up two over Democrat Joe Manchin.  As the Monkees would say, “I’m a believer!”

The only way a victory like this is possible is because of the decline of the coal industry in the southern part of the state.  For instance, here are the top 10 mining counties in West Virginia, how many voters each had in 1936 (the first election after the National Labor Relations Act guaranteed the right to organize), and how many voters each had in 2008.  (Reference map here)

The only positive trend is in Monongalia County, where Morgantown (and WVU) is located.  McDowell County is a standout.  It actually voted for Hoover in 1932, but it swung big time to FDR in 1936, and has been staunchly Democratic ever since.  It was one of just a handful of historically Democratic counties to hold the line for Obama in 2008.  But the voting population has declined by an extraordinary amount since the New Deal era.  If the coal industry was today what it was back in the 1930s, Raese’s candidacy would be a non-starter.

A little wonkish, I know, but it’s stories like this in state after state that contribute to every national electoral result.  “There are eight million stories in the naked city,” as they say, and the political transformation of West Virginia is one of the more interesting.

3. The Corzine Effect In Ohio.  This story really struck my funny bone.  From RealClearPolitics:

As he embarked on a bus tour on the first day of early voting in Ohio, Governor Ted Strickland fired up a union crowd in downtown Cleveland, asking rhetorically as he took the stage to chants of his name, "What enthusiasm gap?"

As the crowd of about 250 looked on, the incumbent Democrat defined his race against former Republican Congressman John Kasich as a "choice between Wall Street values and Ohio values."

A month before the election, speaking in Cuyahoga County, which gave him 335,000 votes in 2006, the sitting governor draws a crowd of 250?  What enthusiasm gap, indeed!

Kidding aside, polls show a tightening race for the Ohio governor’s spot, but once again this is a Democratic incumbent who can’t get out of the low-40s.  He’s averaged 42 percent of the vote in September, 41 percent in August, 43 percent in July, 42 percent in June.  That’s a very bad sign for Strickland. 

4. Mailbag…The Sleeper Race?  Arnold M. writes:

What House race do you see as the ultimate surprise?  This is a race that no one has on their radar as a toss-up or lean Democrat.

Good question!  My pick is PA-4.  This is a district north of Pittsburgh that picks up old union strongholds in Beaver and Lawrence counties, but the real base of power is in the wealthy suburbs of northern Allegheny County and the exurbs in Butler County.

 The district voted for McCain in 2008, but not as much as one might have expected.  Obama actually lost Beaver and Lawrence, which is quite unprecedented for a victorious Democrat, and I think he made up a bit of his deficit in the wealthier suburbs in northern Allegheny county.  My guess is that the Obama voters here have moved away from him (just like in metro Philly and NYC) and the working class counties in the west haven’t moved toward him.  

This is a district that Republican Melissa Hart lost in 2006 that frankly she should not have.  Even so, she fell to Democrat Jason Altmire, who has been a tough vote for the Democratic leadership to get, going against health care and cap-and-trade.  The Republican candidate this year is Keith Rothfus, who had just $202k on hand as of late June, but as this is my home district, I know he’s been busy. 

What this sets up is an interesting test case.  If the wave is big enough this year, Altmire’s money and his maverick streak will probably not be enough to save him.  If the GOP picks up 60 seats or more, this will probably be one of the ones to go.

Keep those great questions coming!  jay.p.cost@gmail.com.

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