MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The industrial Midwest helped deliver the presidency to Donald Trump. Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa and other states - once known as the Democrats' blue wall - all became Trump country in 2016. The question for tomorrow is will they stay Trump country. Democrats are giving the Republicans in control a run for their money in gubernatorial races in these states. Joining me now to talk more about this is Alan Greenblatt of Governing magazine. He has written about Democrats' chances to flip governors seats in a piece headlined "The Midwest Is Swinging Again." Alan Greenblatt, welcome.
ALAN GREENBLATT: Thanks for having me on.
KELLY: Why is the Midwest swinging again? What forces are behind this shift?
GREENBLATT: There's sort of a combination of factors. First of all, Trump himself is a big factor. Some of the states you mentioned did support President Trump in 2016 but very narrowly. These states have been dominated by Republicans for most of this decade. 2010 was a fantastic election for Republicans. They made gains at the state level all over the country, as well as taking over the House that year. And so there's a little bit of voter fatigue with Republican control just at the time when they're ready to cast votes against the president's party.
KELLY: The first thing you mentioned is pointing to President Trump and what role he may be playing here. Is that something you see across these states - where voters are being driven to vote not so much on local or state issues but as a referendum on the Trump presidency?
GREENBLATT: Yeah, our politics have become increasingly nationalized. There's less ticket-splitting, less evidence people are voting one way for state offices and another way for federal offices. And Trump, in particular, has been an outsized personality this year. A lot of candidates on the Republican side made fealty to Trump almost their top issue during primaries. And of course Democrats are heavily opposed to the president. Even though they're talking about issues like health care and education, clearly a lot of their voters are motivated by their feelings about this president. And in the Midwest in particular, the tariffs are having a real effect. The Midwest is more - has more manufacturing than the country as a whole. And certainly in agriculture, a lot of the tariffs are hurting farmers.
KELLY: Well, map this out for me in terms of what patterns you see playing out that are distinct state by state - or which are maybe in common among some of these states we're discussing?
GREENBLATT: Well, the big picture is that right now Republicans have every governorship in the Midwest except for Minnesota. And at the end of the night, Democrats are going to have some more to claim. They look like favorites in Illinois and in Michigan as well. And several of the other races are highly competitive. Democrats have built up leads in late polls in Ohio. In Iowa, they're close. They're tied in Kansas and South Dakota, which are otherwise really red states. And in Wisconsin, the polls have shown a jump ball. Scott Walker is the incumbent there running for a third term.
KELLY: Any Republicans safely ensconced in their governors' mansions in the Midwest?
GREENBLATT: Yeah, only one actually. Pete Ricketts is the incumbent governor of Nebraska. He is safe. But otherwise all over the region, Democrats have a real chance to win. I mean, some of them may be stretches in the end, but they're certainly going to make gains.
KELLY: Put into context why this matters for the rest of the country. Why do governors races matter?
GREENBLATT: Well, first of all, governors set policy in their states. So theoretically that only matters in their states. But the reality is, just like voting has become nationalized, state policy to some extent has become nationalized. And ideas flit from state to state. And, you know, Congress has been mostly gridlocked this decade. So a lot of issues have played out more at the state level. Whether it's minimum wage or marijuana or abortion restrictions or voting rights issues, there's been a lot of activity on all of these issues at the state level. And then also, you know, it may matter politically. It may be a harbinger.
We talked about how Trump took a lot of these states in the Midwest that hadn't voted Republican for a long time. But they'd been controlled by Republicans at the state level for a long time. And in this election, we're seeing Democrats regaining strength - not just in governorships, but, you know, they have big leads - the Senate candidates for the Democrats have big leads in Wisconsin and Michigan, which was not a given at the start of the cycle. So you know, midterms aren't great predictors for presidential elections. But the Democrats were really at risk of becoming an almost purely Coastal Party. They don't win in the South. They don't win in the interior West. If they lost the Midwest - if Trump really made Republican gains there permanent, Democrats would not be a national party.
KELLY: Alan Greenblatt of Governing magazine, thanks so much.
GREENBLATT: Thanks for talking with me.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.