The Obama campaign has argued the difficulty for Romney to reach 270 electoral votes has a lot to do with a “blue wall” of historically Democrat states, many in the mid-west Rust Belt. Smart columnists like Sean Trende have taken on that view, persuasively arguing support for Obama in that “blue wall” may not be all that strong. Today. the National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar (who is killing it today) analyzes the cracks in Obama’s supposed “blue wall”:
With the economy struggling to pick up steam, three must-win “blue-wall” states are looking increasingly winnable for the Romney campaign: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Both election results (from the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall) and reputable polling show that all three states are shaping up to be highly competitive, and that both campaigns will be devoting significant resources there.
Three new polls underscore why Team Obama has reason to be concerned about their standing in the Rust Belt. An EPIC/MRA poll of Michigan registered voters released last week shows Romney leading Obama, 46 to 45 percent, with only 41 percent viewing the president favorably. In Pennsylvania, a newly-released Quinnipiac poll shows Obama with a 46 percent job-approval rating—in the danger zone for a sitting president—and leading Romney 46 percent to 40 percent. And in Wisconsin, exit polls conducted for the gubernatorial race showed Obama with a 51 percent to 45 percent lead, too close for comfort in a must-win blue-wall state.
A look underneath those state polls reveals the cracks in Obama’s “blue wall.”
Even with the auto industry on the mend, blue-collar voters are facing the growing reality of reduced wages and benefits—working longer hours for less money. There aren’t many states where that’s more salient than in Michigan. Macomb County was home base for Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg’s seminal 1985 analysis of Reagan Democrats, which concluded that they were leaving the Democratic fold over cultural issues. Democrats have made significant inroads since then—Obama won the county 53 to 45 percent in 2008—but the sentiments of working-class whites are changing due to the weak economy.
The crosstabs of the Quinnipiac poll showed that the economy is taking a toll on the president: 49 percent of Pennsylvania voters believed Romney would do a better job on the economy, compared to 41 percent who sided with Obama. Among independents, Romney holds a 17-point lead over Obama in economic stewardship. This in a state where Romney’s favorable ratings are underwater (35 percent favorable/42 percent unfavorable).
In the recall election, non-college-educated whites flocked to Gov. Scott Walker’s camp in droves, giving him 61 percent of the gubernatorial vote—an improvement on his 2010 performance. Meanwhile, the turnout for Walker in the Republican-heavy Milwaukee suburbs was astronomical; he won more than 70 percent of the vote in Waukesha, Washington, and Ozaukee counties. The combination of white-hot Republican enthusiasm combined with Democratic struggles to win over the working class ensures that Wisconsin will be a battleground. In the wake of the recall, Romney’s campaign is moving resources into the state, and Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina publicly ranked it as a toss-up for November in a video to supporters. Romney is expected to perform as strongly as Walker with the Republican suburbanites; his big challenge is to maintain Walker’s sizable edge with the working-class voters as well.
What this means for both campaigns:
Given the attention paid to the Hispanic boomlet making the Southwest friendlier turf for Democrats, it’s easy to forget that the Rust Belt battlegrounds are heading in the opposite direction. The Rust Belt states are also the bigger electoral prize: There are 20 electoral votes combined in the states of Nevada (6), Colorado (9), and New Mexico (5), but 46 electoral votes in Michigan (16), Wisconsin (10), and Pennsylvania (20).
Obama’s team expected that the historic Democratic tilt of those states would keep them in its column. But the slow-growing economy is putting them squarely in play, one of the biggest reasons why Obama’s reelection now looks in jeopardy.