You can call it the Rust Belt or the Industrial Midwest if you like, but when presidential election time comes you should call it precious real estate. The seven states that hold the schools that comprised the old, pre-expansion Big Ten athletic conference – Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin – are full of important battlegrounds.
These states have not been good to Republicans in presidential races lately. President Barack Obama won all seven states in 2008 and all but Indiana in 2012. But, of course, Mr. Obama had an advantage: He was from Illinois.
On Monday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is set to announce his campaign for the Republican nomination. And if he captured it, the GOP would have its first true Big Ten candidate since Gerald Ford in 1976 and perhaps give the party some hopes for reversing its presidential problems in the region.
Yes, their share of the population is declining, but those seven states still hold 91 electoral votes – more than a third of what it take to get to the magic number of 270. And the GOP’s problems there predate Mr. Obama’s presidency.
In fact, in the six presidential elections since 1992, the Republican nominee has only won states in the old Big Ten eight times out of a possible 42 opportunities. In the six elections before then, from 1968 to 1988, the GOP ruled the territory, winning a majority of the seven states in every election and winning 32 times in 42 opportunities.
Some of that was due to Richard Nixon’s and Ronald Reagan’s landslides in 1972, 1980 and 1984, of course. But even in closer races, the GOP did better.
Of course, a lot has happened in that time that could have played a role in the Republicans slip in the region.
The Democratic and Republicans parties and their voter bases have changed. The urbanization of suburbs around big, aging cities has strengthened the Democratic vote coming out of those places. And there are a lot of cities like that in this region – think of Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Minneapolis and Milwaukee.
But the Republican Party has also not nominated a Midwest candidate for the top of the ticket since Mr. Ford.
Mr. Walker’s entry into the 2016 race could change that and, he hopes, the larger trend. He might not be alone. Ohio Gov. John Kasich has his candidacy announcement slated for July 21 – giving the field a distinct old Big Ten flavor.