A new sheen of red across the Great Lakes states

Nov 4, 2010

by Niala Boodhoo of Changing Gears

This week's election brought a new sheen of red to the Great Lakes states: with the Republican party seizing control of governorships and state houses across the region. In many cases, it was the first time the Republican Party has taken control since 2003. So what does this political reinvention mean for the region?

The economy was a familiar theme on election night. It was invoked to cheering crowds by each of the incoming governors of Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Republican governor-elect John Kasich of Ohio:

"We took a step forward to putting Ohioans back to work. We took a step forward to making Ohio the best place to live and work in the country!"

Republican governor-elect Rick Snyder of Michigan:

"We will create more and better jobs! We will keep our young people here! And we will be a great state again! Thank you so much!"

Republican governor-elect Scott Walker of Wisconsin:

"Tonight I want to tell every worker, every family, and every business big or small in this state that you have an ally in the governor's office. Wisconsin is open for business!"

Those are the new Republican governors: John Kasich of Ohio; Michigan's Rick Synder and finally, Wisconsin's Scott Walker. Walker said he would begin his first day by declaring an "economic state of emergency". Kasich pledged to privatize Ohio's job creation.

But in the early days after the election, political analysts are being more cautious.

Brian Gaines is a political scientist at the University of Illinois Urbana. He says while the economy is the one reason everyone gave for the election, that can mean one thing for voters and another for politicians.

"Some people are thinking about foreclosures, some people are thinking about unemployment. These states - particularly Illinois - have very serious fiscal problems, so all of those can be thought of as the economy."

Gaines says research shows people tend to consider Republicans better at solving economic problems. That's why they won back control - in many Great Lakes states - not just of the executive branch- but also many statehouses.

Gaines says he thinks claims that Midwestern states have always been blue or Democratic are an exaggeration, but he says seeing the region now as entirely Republican is just as simplistic.

"One of the ways people routinely over interpret elections is to just paint the map in red or blue and say look at all the shades of red instead of painting it in shades of pink or purple and say if they did win, it wasn't by much."

Two governor's races - in Minnesota and Illinois - were still too close to call on Nov. 3. They're tilting Democratic.

Alan Gitelson is a political science professor at Loyola University in Chicago.

"Nov. 3 for the Rustbelt is a very mixed message."

He says the region's issues are far too complex to be solved simply by a change in political leadership.

"In the context of that exact word: the Rustbelt - an area in which we have tremendous competition from our borders outside the United States in terms of manufacturing industry production - those problems are not going to go away."

Republicans may be in control at the state level, but Gitelson thinks improving the local economy depends more on national and international issues like the value of the dollar and the ability of the United States to send its products overseas.

"The Midwest is very dependent on exports, in many different areas from farm machinery to agricultural exports."

These are issues that are bigger than just the Great Lakes region. And they're problems that will have to be addressed by Congress - which is now divided between red and blue.