Donald Trump’s success in the Upper Midwest – particularly his victories in Michigan and Wisconsin – were pivotal to his success in the 2016 presidential election.
His 1.5-point loss in Minnesota was the closest a Republican presidential nominee has come to winning the state since Ronald Reagan lost the state by 0.2 points in 1984.
But with Michigan holding its primary last week and Minnesota and Wisconsin voting on Tuesday, it’s become clear that 2018 is a totally different cat. Trump’s Upper Midwest triumphs have not carried over for Republicans this cycle.
Polls show Democrats in a good position in the Senate and governor races in all three states. This is yet another indication of that the political environment nationally is on the Democrats side.
Let’s start with the Senate race in the state that haunted Hillary Clinton: Wisconsin. Trump became the first Republican presidential nominee to win the state since Reagan in 1984. At the same time, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson held off Democrat Russ Feingold in the state’s US Senate race. That might have led you to believe that first term Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin would be in trouble for reelection in 2018. She may well end being in danger, but she sure isn’t right now.
Baldwin is well ahead of the two candidates most likely to win the Republican nomination on Tuesday. She has led Kevin Nicholson or Leah Vukmir in every poll taken by at least 9 points. The average has had her up by double-digits and over 50%. Historically speaking, candidates in Baldwin’s polling position at this point have won about 90% of the time. That’s not a shoo-in, but it makes her a heavy favorite.
Across the border in Minnesota, Republicans aren’t having any luck in that state’s Senate races either. Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar was always going to be a tough target, and the polling shows her up by an average of more than 20 points. Republicans had some hope that they could knock off appointed Democratic Sen. Tina Smith in a special election. After all, Smith was replacing disgraced former Sen. Al Franken. A competitive race has not yet developed.
Smith has jumped to a 9-point average lead against her likely opponent Karin Housley. That said, it’s’ probably Republicans best shot to pick up a Senate race in the region.
Even in Michigan, where Republicans are excited about their candidate John James, the polling isn’t looking particularly good. Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow has been up by double digits in every single poll of the race so far. The average poll has her ahead by greater than 15 points.
Of course, one might argue that it’s not so impressive that Democrats are winning these Senate races. All of them feature incumbents of one form or another, and it’s very difficult to defeat incumbents of the opposition party in midterms.
In none of these three states, however, are there incumbent Democratic governors running for reelection. Michigan and Minnesota have no incumbent of either side running. In Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker is looking to be elected to a third term.
Walker though may find that his time has run out. Walker’s actually trailing his most likely Democratic opponent Tony Evers by about 5 percentage points in a simple polling average over the last two months. Now, race raters still believe that Walker is a slight favorite for reelection, and the polls underestimated Trump by about 5 points in Wisconsin in 2016. Yet, Walker never polled this poorly in 2010, 2012 (during an unsuccessful bid to recall him) or 2014. If nothing else, this looks like the toughest campaign Walker has faced in the last eight years.
Republicans aren’t having any better luck in Minnesota. Former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty is looking to reenter the governor’s mansion. Democrats have a competitive primary from which Erin Murphy, Lori Swanson or Tim Walz is likely going to emerge. All three have led Pawlenty in the average of polling by at least 8 percentage points. And keep mind, the gubernatorial candidate of the non-White House party has usually gained ground in the final result compared to the polls at this point in the campaign – which would benefit Democrats.
Finally in Michigan, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer has regularly been ahead of Republican Bill Schuette in the polls. Her lead has generally been between 5 and 10 percentage points, though there have been a lot of undecideds. The high number of undecided voters does give Schuette an opening. Even with that opening, Whitmer should be considered more likely to win given her lead and that she has been ahead in every poll of the race taken this year.
Indeed, a consistent Democratic lead in the area of 5 to 10 points is what we’ve been seeing nationally as well. We don’t know if that advantage will hold up as we get closer to the election. If Republicans start to gain ground, we’ll probably see it in the Upper Midwest. The region was the site of the Democratic demise two years ago, and this swing area looks at this point to be the site of the Democratic renaissance for 2018.