In the cliff-hanger election of 1976, three states with large suburban populations, now considered reliably Democratic, went Republican even as a Democrat won the White House. Connecticut, Illinois and New Jersey wouldn’t find themselves in the Democratic column until 1992 where they have remained ever since. Indeed, two of those three states (Illinois and New Jersey) went Republican in all six presidential elections from 1968-1988. Hubert Humphrey won the Nutmeg State in 1968.
As the image took hold of social conservative domination of the GOP and as Bill Clinton reassured voters of his centrist bona fides, those once Republican states become as Democratic ones in large part due to swings among suburban voters (more concerned with fiscal than social issues). But, now with Obama’s big-government agenda revealed, voters in Northeastern suburbs are returning to the Republican fold. Two counties in the New York City metropolitan area which, respectively, delivered 63% and 54% of their vote to Obama in 2008, elected Republican executives last fall (the irony being that the Democrat incumbent ran better in the county, Nassau, where his party had the smaller margin in ’08).
Should this shift hold and be repeated in the Chicago suburbs, Illinois, a state which only elected Republican governor from 1976 to 2002, could move from reliably Democrat to marginally Republican, with Connecticut and New Jersey becoming potential future bellwethers. Since we’re on the topic of Governors, it’s been nearly a quarter-century since the Nutmeg State elected a Democrat Governor. By contrast, the Garden State, while having elected three Democrats Governor in that time period, didn’t reelect a single one. Both Democrats who ran for a second term lost whereas both Republicans who ran for reelection won. Not since 1977 has a Jersey Democrat renewed his four-year lease on Drumthwacket.
Look, this is not to say that these three states will definitely swing back to the GOP, but that there is potential there for a Republican resurgence (as well as in states like Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin which do not currently register on most surveys of states where Republicans could do well this fall and in future elections).
The key is for Republicans not to accept as permanent the designation of a particular state as Democratic and, as Scott Brown and Ronald Reagan, to keep the focus on fiscal issues which most concern voters. For it sure does seem that those issues will dominate the two electoral cycles.