This is the second part of my series in which you can see just how tremendous change was from the start of the New Deal to the end of the 20th Century. Covered today are Rhode Island, Connecticut, Virginia, Kansas, and Nebraska.
As I have covered in my series on How the Northeast Became Democratic, Rhode Island was the very first state in the region to shift. In the first four years of the Roosevelt Administration, Republicans still have a presence and one of its senators, Republican Jesse Metcalf, even voted against Social Security. He was defeated for reelection in 1936 by Theodore Green, the harbinger of Democratic domination of the state. As can be seen here, by 1941 conservatism is a spent force in the state and after anti-New Deal Democratic Senator Peter Gerry left office in 1947 the state’s conservatism dramatically plummeted even further. Although the Republican Party saw modest successes starting in 1976, they were electing moderate to liberal politicians such as John Chafee. Even these are now gone, and the last Republican to hold federal elected office from Rhode Island left in 2007.
MC-Index Average for Current Congress Thus Far: 4
Connecticut you can see is highly competitive from 1933 to 1959, with Democrats and Republicans competing for power, but after the 1958 midterm election, the average score never rises above a 32. The 1990s may seem a little high, but moderate Republicans still had a significant presence in the state. Today, however, this is not so: the last Republican to hold office from Connecticut left in 2009.
MC-Index Average for Current Congress Thus Far: 2
Virginia ideologically is the inverse of Rhode Island: it was the first state in the former Confederacy to shift in a conservative direction. As early as the 74th Congress (1935-37) the average score of its elected officials is 51. A significant part of this is the state’s two senators, Harry Byrd and Carter Glass, who came out frequently against the New Deal. They were complemented by Representatives Willis Robertson and Howard W. Smith, the latter who would become the notoriously obstructionist chair of the House Rules Committee. Virginia had also shown a greater willingness to vote for Republican presidential candidates: from 1952 to 2004 the Democratic candidate won the state only once, in 1964. The state didn’t fall below a 72 from 1953 to 1987 since the Republicans and many of the Democrats were conservative. The downward slope from this point can be attributed to the Democrats beginning to serve as real ideological opposition to the Republicans. Sadly for Republicans, they at this point probably wish Virginia scored a 52. The state now, no kidding, is the least conservative it has been since FDR’s First 100 Days. Unlike in 1976, when they were the only Dixie state to vote for a Republican president, in 2016 they were the only Dixie state not to do so.
MC-Index Average for Current Congress Thus Far: 32
Ah, good old Kansas: the land of Topeka, Toto, and tornadoes. Although Kansas has some independence on the state level (as do many of the states when electing governors), on the federal level it has proven a most challenging state for Democrats. The state also has the longest consecutive run of Republican senators: the last Democrat lost reelection by over 12 points in 1938. The only time the state scored below a 50 on conservatism in this period was in the 74th Congress (1935-37), when the state had a Democratic senator and a Republican senator who was willing to vote for quite a bit of the New Deal. Yes, its true, the state once had an occasional taste for Democrats and big government! Although the state kind of looks like a barren wasteland for Democrats, splits in the state Republican Party have helped keep a House seat or two in play for them at times. Also, for almost a thirty year period the state had a conservative (Bob Dole) and a moderate (James Pearson and Nancy Kassebaum) senator, blunting its otherwise conservative edge. However, this may be of cold comfort to Democrats on the presidential level: from 1940 to present the state has voted Democrat once.
MC-Index Average for Current Congress Thus Far: 72
Both Kansas and Nebraska have been rather tough nuts for Democrats to crack, but the latter has definitely been the easier one. Although its recent presidential record isn’t better for Democrats, their ability to elect people to Congress is. In fact, during the first half of the Clinton Administration, both its senators were Democrats, and one of them was a liberal. Nebraska starts the Great Depression as the state of George W. Norris, one of the giants of Republican progressivism. Norris actively collaborated with FDR in enacting the New Deal and even shedded his old non-interventionist attitude in support of FDR’s interventionist perspective, a rarity among the old Republican progressives. However, like with Kansas, 1938 is a bad election year for the prospects of progressives in the state. Additionally, its other senator is Democrat Edward Burke, who had turned against the New Deal. By 1943, both its senators are conservative Republicans: Norris had lost reelection in 1942 to Kenneth Wherry, who was about ideologically equivalent to today’s Ben Sasse.
The state voted conservative for a long time, with both its senators from 1955 to 1976 being the ultra-conservative Roman Hruska and Carl Curtis. However, in the 1970s Democrats started to regain some ground: in 1976 and 1978 the retiring Hruska and Curtis were succeeded by Democrats Ed Zorinsky and Jim Exon. From 1991 to 1995, the state even falls below 50 in its score, given one of its senators now is a liberal (Bob Kerrey) and Omaha’s representative is a Democrat. However, Republicans have regained their dominance of the state on the Congressional level since.
MC-Index Average for Current Congress Thus Far: 84