The Republican wave swept eight western congressional seats, but failed to capture any senate seats. They picked up two governor seats, one in New Mexico, which was competitive, and Wyoming, which was a foregone conclusion.
The following chart lists western states top to bottom from most Republican to most Democratic in the 2008 presidential election. Wyoming is the top of the list where Republicans picked up the governorship. California, with its lack of any partisan change in the midterm, is at the bottom.
The most competitive western states are in the middle of the chart. And indeed, Colorado featured the nation’s closest senate race and Nevada saw Harry Reid stay afloat after a titanic battle.
The recent Pacific Chapter for the American Association of Public Opinion Research conference had several panels that reviewed the midterm election results (http://www.papor.org/
The lack of partisan movement in western states’ senate seats was seen as a product of races that were shifted from referendums on Washington, President Obama and national Democrats to contests between two candidates. Huge money and negative advertising put the contests on campaign platforms that rose above the national Republican wave.
Some of the Tea Party senate nominees had vulnerabilities that could not be overcome by massive Republican and conservative advertising budgets. Sharon Angle in Nevada and Ken Buck in Colorado were both ahead at various points in their respective campaigns, yet lost due to verbal and positioning missteps and weaknesses.
The six senate seats that changed hands were in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. While each state had specific issues and candidate features, partisanship and the sour economy appeared to dominate. But a part of the West’s resistance to the Republican wave was the West’s weaker partisan loyalty and more independent voters. Those voters are more susceptible to attack advertising, which dominated the campaigns, and less influenced by partisan or, in the election, anti-partisan trends.
California is a special case in that some of the political rigidity at the congressional level is explained by decades of redistricting manipulation. Also, the exit poll showed 22 percent of the electorate was Hispanic, and they overwhelmingly voted Democrat. But like other western Democrats, both Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer spent mightily and attacked incessantly to shift the races from referendums to contests.