Archived Story

Our blue streak hasn’t caught our red streak

Published 10:15am Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Column: Pothole Prairie

Minnesota is known in the American political universe as the state with the nation’s longest blue streak in presidential elections. However, did you know that Minnesota had a long red streak, too?

Minnesota’s blue streak refers to how our state’s voters have favored the Democratic candidates over Republican candidates for 10 cycles, going back to the election of President Jimmy Carter of Georgia and Vice President Walter Mondale of Minnesota in 1976.

It held onto that streak largely because in 1984, when all other states favored incumbent President Ronald Reagan, Minnesota was the lone Mondale supporter. Since then, Minnesota statistically has seemed within reach for Republicans, but it hasn’t fallen that way. I recall one political scientist calling our state a “sucker punch” for Republicans. We lure in the big advertising revenue, then we go blue anyway.

For those of you new to the electoral political map or perhaps have forgotten the olden days, it wasn’t until the culture wars that trace their roots to the 1960s finally came to the fore of national politics in the late 1980s and especially through 1990s and 2000s that the maps began to take on the areas we expect to see as red and blue today.

The 1988 Electoral College map began to hint at what are now traditionally blue and red states, but that 1992 election was the real transition. By 1996, it was easy to see which parts of the country were red and blue, setting the stage for the 2000 election, which is what ingrained in all Americans an idea for which states are traditionally Democratic and which are traditionally Republican in presidential contests.

For instance, we think of New England states as all blue states. But in 1988, even Vermont — where Republicans don’t even drop money on the presidential race because it is considered among the bluest of blue states — favored George H.W. Bush, even though Michael Dukakis, Democratic governor of the neighboring state of Massachusetts was on the ballot.

Vermont also went red in 1984, 1980, 1976, 1972 and 1968. It had been since the 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson landslide that hippie Vermont went blue. And before that our 14th state had favored Republicans — even during the Great Depression — going all the way back to the first Republican presidential candidate, John Fremont, in 1856. At 27 cycles, Vermont holds the record for a one-party streak in the history of American presidential elections.

What happened? How did Vermont become so blue? When parties alter their allegiances, the Electoral College map changes. The culture wars — when we began debating values instead of issues — turned New England blue and, vice versa, turned the South red. Long gone today are concepts of Rockefeller Republicans and Southern Democrats.

Who says the Civil War is over? It’s just that the shooting has stopped.

Yes, Minnesota hasn’t favored a Republican for president since 1972, when our fair-minded and pragmatic voters favored Richard Nixon. That’s the year the only state Democratic candidate George McGovern won was Massachusetts.

Our state voted against Nixon in 1968, favoring incumbent Vice President Hubert Humphrey, a fellow Minnesotan. We favored Johnson in 1964, John F. Kennedy in 1960, both Democrats … after we had sided with Republican Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956 … after we had sided with Democrats Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt from 1948 to 1932.

Minnesota went on a red streak before that for three election cycles. It was interrupted by the crazy 1912 election, when it favored former President Teddy Roosevelt, a member of the Progressive Party, which had split the Republican-leaning voters away from incumbent William Taft, giving the presidency to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

But starting in 1908, Minnesota began its red streak. Our state favored Republicans for 12 election cycles.

To break our state record, Minnesotans would have to vote Democratic in three more presidential election cycles. To break the national record for a one-party streak, it would have to go blue for 18 more cycles. To break the longest Democratic streak ever — Georgia, for 24 cycles from 1868 to 1960 — it would have to go blue for 15 cycles.

By the way, Minnesota’s blue streak isn’t the longest ongoing one-party streak. Nine states — Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming — are tied. They have favored Republican candidates for 12 cycles in a row.

 

Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.