Tom LoBianco: 2018, through the looking glass

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LoBiancoI’ve always thought of Indiana politics a bit like that of my home state, Maryland, but through the looking glass.

Maryland is more or less a deep shade of blue, politically speaking, but hardly a radical den in the style of Bernie Sanders. Likewise, Indiana is rock-ribbed Republican red, but on the whole, not a bastion of tea partiers.

Both states are consummately middle, geographically speaking. Maryland sits at the center of the East Coast where the North meets the South and is tied to the Rust Belt by my hometown, Baltimore. And Indiana is not only the Crossroads of America, but also centered around the original auto-making hub, Indianapolis.

So, why the history lesson?

I think the 2018 election is driving more states to become Marylands and Indianas—that is, states that are made up of largely moderate, middle-income, working-class residents who probably sit in the middle on most major issues, but are being represented increasingly by fractured partisans, driven further to the left and right, respectively.

For example: In 2002, Maryland’s eight congressional seats were split evenly between the parties—four Democrats and four Republicans. The Republicans representing the state ran the gamut from an old patrician-style Rockefeller Republican to a moderate Reagan Republican who voted with the unions on occasion.

Sixteen years later, and after two rounds of hyper-gerrymandered redistricting, Maryland has just one Republican member of Congress.

Now, let’s look at it through the looking glass, so to say. Indiana had an almost even split in 2006—with five Democrats and four Republicans holding seats. The Dems included staunch liberals representing the urban cores, but also some center-right “Blue Dogs” in southwestern Indiana and south central Indiana.

Now, the breakdown is seven Republicans to two Democrats, who are limited to the urban cores. And what of the big D.C. prognostications that Reps. Jackie Walorski and Trey Hollingsworth would face tough challenges? Hardly. Walorski won with a roughly 10-point margin and Hollingsworth cruised to re-election by almost 20 points.

And lest anyone think that’s just a congressional dynamic, take a look at the state legislatures. Two decades ago, Indiana’s House was equally split between D’s and R’s. Now, the Republicans have an apparently unbreakable supermajority in the House and Senate.

Take a wild guess as to who has the unstoppable supermajority in Maryland’s General Assembly. That’s right, Dems—for decades. (Maryland’s Republican governor swept to a resounding victory on election night, but down ballot, Democrats swept out Republicans in critical races.)

And one thing that’s true of most single-party states is that they tend to overextend to the left or right at some point. In Maryland, Democrats pushed through a series of tax increases that ultimately paved the way for a Republican governor. In Indiana, the state almost suffered a crippling economic blow after passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act over the vocal, but unacknowledged, cries of minority Democrats.

But what of the electorate? A report that came out last month, dubbed “Hidden Tribes of America” identified a solid “middle” of American voters who are getting increasingly fed up with both the left and right. Longtime radio host and former Republican Michael Smerconish dubbed this big middle of American voters “the exhausted majority.”

So what to make of all of this? For one, entrenched partisanship seems like the norm for the foreseeable future. Energizing the ideological wings of each party worked wonders for Democrats and Trump on election night—count on more of the same in the future.

But even though this will probably win elections in the near term, there’s some strong research that suggests the middle is where politicians should really be heading.•

Click here for more Forefront columns.

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LoBianco was a political reporter for The Indianapolis Star, CNN and The Associated Press and is currently writing a book on Mike Pence.Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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