For the country’s two major political parties, an important political lesson was spelled out in bold letters on November 2, maybe even in neon bold letters — The way to win a national election is by owning the political middle, which is precisely what Republicans did in last week’s midterm election. They won, not by conquering the big cities or the nation’s heavily settled coasts, but by dominating places where political extremes don’t sell well and probably won’t for the foreseeable future.
Republicans won not by pulling off any bold upsets in liberal-leaning cities like Denver, but by focusing on places like Colorado’s moderate Western Slope and the blue-collar city of Pueblo. There, voters in the state’s 3rd Congressional District rejected Democratic incumbent John Salazar in favor of Republican challenger Scott Tipton. In Illinois, Republicans picked off two seats not in Chicago, but in outlying, politically moderate exurbs, where Democrat Bill Foster lost to GOP challenger Randy Hultgren in radial towns west of the city and where Republican Adam Kinzinger defeated incumbent Debbie Halvorson in communities to the south of the city.
In many cases, successful Republican challengers hammered Democratic incumbents on tax-and-spending issues in areas where people are feeling vulnerable economically, while skirting the social and cultural issues like gay rights that tend to alienate moderates and independents. In 2010 it seems, that was the way to win.