Howard’s blog

The 2012 Election Results: What They Mean for the Midwest

The 2012 election results were victories for clean energy, clean air and climate change solutions, as well as for high-speed rail development both nationally and in the Midwest, specifically. President Obama’s re-election sets the overall direction for the nation, and he has clearly set forth his intention to advance America’s clean energy economy, accelerate high-speed rail development as his #1 transportation priority, and move forward Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act standards that were deferred pending the election. In addition, the Obama Administration appears ready to keep moving forward with EPA’s carbon pollution reduction standards. With the Democrats increasing their majority in the Senate and the Republicans’ majority narrowing in the House, there is less likelihood that opponents will be able to assemble the necessary votes in Congress to stop the Executive Branch’s administrative actions.

The Midwest states were vital in determining the outcome of the Presidential race and the Democrats’ continued majority in the Senate. The Midwest Heartland will continue to provide the pivotal swing votes in Congress and probably in the next Presidential election. Therefore, the opportunities to advance environmental and clean energy policies that are good for job creation, good for economic growth and good for environmental quality and public health in the Midwest will have a large federal as well as regional and state audience.

Let’s look at the overall results, lessons learned and strategic opportunities from the Presidential, Senate and House races, and from some state races and referenda:

1. People want the President and Congress to work together and get things done. With President Obama re-elected and a larger Democratic majority in the Senate – gains in what was supposed to be an election cycle when many pundits projected that Republicans would take over the Senate majority – there will be tremendous pressure on House Republican leadership to get things done and avoid the perception of being obstructionists to progress. Extension of the federal production tax credit or other such incentives for wind power will be an early test of bipartisan cooperation and Congress’ ability to get things done.

2. The public rejected candidates perceived as too ideological and far to the right. President Obama won, in part, because Governor Romney tacked hard right in the primaries and couldn’t credibly move back quickly enough to the center. While Governor Romney tried moving to the middle, he was also hurt by embarrassing comments from some conservative Republican Senate candidates. The Republicans lost several Senate seats – in Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and Ohio – at least in part because their candidates were too ideological and right-wing. Environmentalists should recognize that Senators Donnelly, McCaskill, Tester and Heitkamp, among others, won election as centrists.

3. President Obama won all of the battleground Midwest states: Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. He also won convincingly in Illinois and Minnesota, although he lost in Indiana. The President’s leadership on growing the clean energy economy, stabilizing and modernizing the auto industry, advancing Midwest high-speed rail development and moving forward long-delayed Clean Air Act standards to protect public health was validated at the voting booths. The Midwest delivered for President Obama. We should work with the President to solidify and bolster his winning issues agenda for the Midwest: clean energy and clean air, clean cars and clean high-speed rail.

4. Governor Romney’s and the coal industry’s vocal “War on Coal” message didn’t work in the three states where it mattered most: Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Almost all of the polling in Midwest states shows strong public support for clean air, clean energy and pollution reduction. The coal industry went “all in” with Governor Romney on his “war on coal” policy attacks and messaging. They lost. Elections are about choices, and the public chose President Obama, who owes the coal industry little at this point. The EPA’s deferred Clean Air Act standards should move forward.

5. Wind power and solar power are big winners in the Midwest elections, except in Michigan. President Obama ran on his strong renewable energy development policies and advances, and Governor Romney ran against that. In Iowa, the difference was clear: President Obama publicly campaigned on extending the wind power production tax credit (PTC) with a visible May 24th speech at TPI Composites, which manufactures wind turbine blades in Newton. When Governor Romney’s campaign team announced his opposition to the PTC extension, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) publicly described Romney’s position as “just like a knife in my back.” Governor Terry Branstad (R) and Representatives Tom Latham (R) and Steve King (R) joined with Senator Grassley and their Democratic counterparts in publicly supporting the PTC extension and criticizing Romney’s opposition.

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and other successful Democratic candidates highlighted renewable energy development and the need for policy support. The defeat of Michigan Ballot Measure No. 3 to improve that state’s renewable energy standard was very disappointing. Some post-election analysis identified the public’s reluctance to amend the state’s Constitution as trumping voters’ clean energy support; more examination of lessons learned is needed. The larger regional picture: Almost all of the Midwest and Great Plains Senators – both Democrats and Republicans — are pro-wind and pro-solar. Republican Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), John Hoeven (R-ND), Mark Kirk (R-IL) and John Thune (R-SD) have all announced their support for extending the wind power PTC in various forms.

6. Democrats swept the seriously contested Midwest and Upper Great Plains Senate races and now dominate the region’s Senate delegation. Democratic Senators Sherrod Brown (OH), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Claire McCaskill (MO) and Debbie Stabenow (MI) all won re-election, and they are joined by newly-elected Democratic Senators Tammy Baldwin (WI), Joe Donnelly (IN) and Heidi Heitkamp (ND). They will likely be stronger supporters for clean air and clean energy and for passenger rail improvements than their opponents would have been. Senator Richard Lugar’s (R-IN) loss in the Republican primary cost us a thoughtful, moderating voice in the Republican Senate caucus, and some of the Republican House members who lost were occasionally moderating voices within that caucus. Including Democratic gains in House seats — especially five seats in Illinois – the pivotal Midwest Congressional delegation is trending more Democratic, for now.

7. High-Speed Rail accelerates as President Obama seeks to carry out his vision of modernizing interstate passenger rail, building on how President Eisenhower advanced the interstate highway system. President Obama and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary LaHood have publicly stated that high-speed rail development is their #1 transportation priority. They’ve set forth a plan for investing $48 billion over six years for high-speed rail development to connect 80% of Americans to rail by 2035. How they will gain those appropriations in the current federal budget is unclear, but their commitment is clear. President Obama’s re-election was a necessary ingredient for continued federal leadership in developing high-speed rail, and he will be bolstered by the Democrats’ larger Senate majority. Three Senators who support rail funding will continue as the key committee chairs dealing with transportation reauthorization: Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). In California, rail champion Representative Jim Costa (D-CA) won re-election; however, moderate Republicans such as Representatives Charlie Bass (R-NH), Judy Biggert (R-IL) and Robert Dold (R-IL), who stood up to their party leadership by supporting rail and transit funding, lost their seats. The next 18-24 month period is pivotal for accelerating federal investments in high-speed passenger rail in ways that can transform our transportation system.

8. Democrats now fully control Illinois state government, and Republicans fully control Wisconsin state government. Illinois Democrats gained enough seats in both the Senate and House to achieve supermajorities. That doesn’t mean that all of the Democrats agree – they don’t – but they now have controlling leadership, along with Governor Pat Quinn (D), following the remap. In Wisconsin, Republicans gained control of the Senate to go with their House majority, consolidating power with Governor Scott Walker (R). Environmentalists can play offense, within reason, in Illinois, but will be playing defense in Wisconsin.

Let’s now look to the election results in each of the Midwest and Upper Great Plains states:

No surprises in the Governors’ races. Only three states in the Midwest had gubernatorial races: Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota. There were no surprises. Republicans retained their governorships with the elections of Governor-elect Mike Pence in Indiana and Governor Jack Dalrymple in North Dakota, while Democratic Governor Jay Nixon was re-elected in Missouri. Governor Nixon supports development of the Midwest High-Speed Rail Network, but Governor-elect Pence has not been supportive.

Changes in the Midwest and Great Plains State Legislatures. Although the compositions of the state legislatures were not expected to change dramatically, as noted above, there were some shifts in majority control that can affect legislative action over the next two years. Democrats won control of both the Minnesota Senate and House, maintained control of the Iowa Senate and gained overwhelming veto-proof majorities in the Illinois Senate and House. In Wisconsin, Republicans regained control of the Senate, which they had lost during recall elections earlier this year. In Iowa, the Democrat-controlled Senate has been supportive of passenger rail issues and has stopped efforts by MidAmerican Energy to pass nuclear subsidy legislation. In Wisconsin, the Senate’s shift to Republican control could help Governor Walker enact legislative agenda. In Illinois, several strong supporters of clean energy and high-speed rail were elected.


This was the “motherlode” of six competitive House races following the Democrat-drawn reapportionment map and the vulnerability of new Republican Congressmen who were elected two years ago. Democrats won five of the six contested races and only one Republican (barely) won; two other incumbent Republicans were put into the same district, thereby costing Republicans a fifth seat.

  • 8th District: Democrat Tammy Duckworth unseated Republican incumbent Representative Joe Walsh. Walsh has been one of the loudest and most controversial Tea Party Representatives elected two years ago, and he is close to a zero on the environmental and clean energy agenda.
  • 10th District: Democrat Brad Schneider unseated moderate Republican Representative Robert Dold. The 10th Congressional District has a history of electing moderate Republicans, but the district was remapped to significantly increase the Democrat-leaning vote. Representative-elect Schneider should be a strong environmental supporter.
  • 11th District: Democrat Bill Foster unseated long-time Republican Representative Judy Biggert. Foster previously served as a Representative, but was defeated two years ago. Representative-elect Foster is a scientist and should be a strong environmental and clean energy supporter.
  • 12th District: Democrat William Enyart defeated Republican Jason Plummer in the race for retiring Representative Jerry Costello’s (D) seat. Representative-elect Enyart may tend to align with Southern Illinois “coal country” interests, and we will need to work hard to inform and engage him on our issues.
  • 13th District: Republican Rodney Davis defeated Democrat David Gill by less than 1,300 votes in the only Republican victory among the contested Illinois Congressional races. Moderate, relatively pro-environment Republican Representative Tim Johnson held this seat for many years. Representative-elect Davis served as Chief of Staff to Representative John Shimkus (R-IL). It is doubtful that Representative-elect Davis will approach our issues as moderately as his predecessor, but the very close election margin and the number of universities and colleges in the district might encourage him to be more open on environmental and clean energy issues; he is likely to support high-speed rail development in Illinois, which connects the university campus cities to Chicago and St. Louis.
  • 17th District: Democrat Cheri Bustos ousted first-term Republican Representative Bobby Schilling. Representative-elect Bustos is a former journalist and is the daughter of Gene Callahan, who worked as Chief of Staff for former U.S. Senator Alan Dixon (D-IL). Representative Schilling was elected as a Tea Party Republican, but had begun to evolve his views. Representative-elect Bustos should be a strong supporter of clean energy and high-speed rail development policies, as well as Mississippi River protection issues.

Illinois Democrats in Illinois expanded their control of the State Senate and House, gaining veto-proof majorities in both chambers. In the Senate, the Democrats’ margin is 40-19 seats, and in the House, the Democrats’ margin is 71-47. Democratic Governor Pat Quinn, a strong clean energy and environmental supporter, is not up for re-election until 2014 so there is, at least, a two-year window open for progressive environmental progress in Illinois.


Representative Joe Donnelly (D) defeated State Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R) in the hotly-contested Senate race; Mourdock had defeated six-term Senator Richard Lugar in the Republican primary, which then put this Senate seat into play in the general.

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (R) completed his two-term limit. Six-term Indiana Representative Mike Pence (R) defeated former Indiana Speaker of the House John Gregg (D) in the gubernatorial race. Pence out-paced Gregg in fundraising by more than a 2:1 margin, and he won election by a 3% margin. Representative Pence has a very low LCV voting record.


Iowa lost one Congressional seat in reapportionment, and two Congressional races were hotly-contested. Republicans won both, while President Obama won Iowa’s electoral votes.

  • 1st District: Democratic Representative Bruce Braley was re-elected, easily defeating Republican challenger Ben Lange.
  • 2nd District: Democratic Representative David Loebsack was re-elected, easily defeating challenger John Archer.
  • 3rd District: Republican Representative Tom Latham defeated Democratic Representative Leonard Boswell in this race, which pitted two incumbents against each other. Both candidates support renewable energy development policies and passenger rail development in Iowa. Representative Latham, a rail supporter, will retain his powerful chairmanship of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee.
  • 4th District: Republican Representative Steve King was re-elected, turning back Democratic challenger Christie Vilsack. Representative King won by a 54.5% – 43.2% margin.

The Iowa Senate’s 26 – 24 Democratic majority will continue and might grow as one seat will be decided in a special election to be held on December 11th because the incumbent recently died. The composition of the Senate has been vital in stopping MidAmerican Energy’s aggressive lobbying campaign for legislation that would force consumers to pay in advance (CWIP) for the planning, construction and financing of a very expensive potential new nuclear plant. The Senate has also supported funding for advancing passenger rail improvements in Iowa. The Iowa House had a strong Republican majority; however, Democrats picked up at six seats to narrow the House margin to 53-46, and one race is still unresolved with a recount pending.


Two-term Senator Debbie Stabenow (D) defeated former Representative Pete Hoekstra (R). Senator Stabenow appeared to be in a strong position throughout the race and won handily. Unfortunately, Ballot Measure No. 3 – the “Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs” referendum to achieve 25% renewable energy supply by 2025 – lost by a 63% – 37% margin. Wind power businesses and environmentalists campaigned strongly and should carefully analyze lessons learned from the referendum results.

Michigan political analyst and journalist Jack Lessenberry colorfully explained the Michigan election results in his November 11, 2012 opinion column in the Traverse City Record Eagle:

“[F]reshman U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek eked out a win over Democrat Gary McDowell. In Michigan’s 11th District, the bizarre last-minute meltdown and resignation of five-term Republican congressman Thaddeus McCotter left Republicans with a nominee named Kerry Bentivolio, an extreme tea party supporter with bizarre views, a spotty employment record and history of bankruptcy. Yet he managed to defeat his moderate Democratic opponent and win a seat in Congress, despite charges from Bentivolio’s brother that he had undergone electroshock therapy for sniffing glue.

However, Republicans suffered two humiliating statewide defeats. Mitt Romney utterly failed to be competitive in Michigan, even losing the well-heeled suburban county in which he grew up. And Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow won a third term by a landslide against Pete Hoekstra, a former congressman who originally had been expected to be a strong candidate.

Republicans have only won one U.S. Senate race in Michigan since 1972, and if U.S. Sen. Carl Levin runs again in 2014, they aren’t likely to be strongly competitive then, either. But at the state level, it’s a different story. Republicans will still control all branches of government when the new Legislature convenes in January. Democrats gained five seats in the Michigan house, but Republicans still have a 59-51 majority.

Democrats did elect one new Michigan Supreme Court justice, Bridget Mary McCormack. But voters also re-elected two incumbent Republicans, Stephen Markman and Brian Zahra, leaving the Republicans with a 4-3 edge on what a University of Chicago study has called one of the most partisan state supreme courts in the nation.

The most significant result, however, may have been the rejection of ‘ballot proposal mania.’ Michigan voters faced five proposed constitutional amendments, plus a referendum on a tough new emergency manager law. Special interest groups spent more than $144 million in an attempt to get various proposals approved or defeated. In the end, voters said ‘no’ to all of them by decisive margins.”


First-term Senator Amy Klobuchar (D) won re-election by a landslide over Minnesota State Representative Kurt Bills (R). Senator Klobuchar’s victory should give her more room to be strongly supportive of a pro-environmental and clean energy development agenda. There were two closely-contested House races in Minnesota:

  • 6th District: Republican Representative Michelle Bachmann narrowly defeated Democrat Jim Graves by a 1% margin after having outspent him by $21 million to $1.9 million.
  • 8th District: Democrat Rick Nolan unseated incumbent Republican Representative Chip Cravaack in this Northern Minnesota (Duluth and Iron Range) district, which former Representative Jim Oberstar had long represented. This is a pick-up for Democrats.

As mentioned above, Democrats won control of both the Minnesota Senate and House. Along with Democratic Governor Mark Dayton, that should provide some opportunities to advance reasonable environmental and clean energy legislation.


First-term Senator Claire McCaskill (D) won a tight race against Representative Todd Akin (R). The election was reshaped by Representative Akin’s surprise win in the Republican primary and his public comments about “legitimate rape” (sic). Senator McCaskill has supported clean energy initiatives and will likely be a swing vote on any climate change solutions legislation. Democrat Jay Nixon won re-election as Governor by defeating Republican Dave Spence. Republican-leaning Missouri’s electoral votes are going to Governor Romney for President while voters re-elected the Democratic U.S. Senator and Governor.

North Dakota

Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, the former North Dakota Attorney General, won a very tight race by 3,300 votes over Representative Rick Berg (R) for the U.S. Senate seat of retiring Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND). This state leans strongly Republican; however, Representative Berg’s very conservative positions and Congressional votes hurt him among North Dakota constituents. While we hope to work well with Senator-elect Heitkamp, particularly on wind power development issues, she is sympathetic to the oil and gas industry’s interests and has served as an outside director of Basin Electric Cooperative’s Dakota Gasification Company since 2001.
Incumbent Governor Jack Dalrymple (R) stepped up from the Lieutenant Governor’s office in 2010 when then-Governor John Hoeven (R) was elected to the U.S. Senate. Governor Dalrymple defeated Democratic State Senator Ryan Taylor by a 29% margin on November 6th.


Incumbent Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown (D) was re-elected by a 5% margin in his hotly-contested and extraordinary expensive (both sides) race against Republican State Treasurer Josh Mandel (R). Senator Brown is a strong supporter for protecting clean air and for renewable energy development and manufacturing jobs. His re-election should position Senator Brown to be a leading “Rust Belt” spokesperson on these issues.

  • 2nd District: Republican Brad Wenstrup defeated Democrat William Smith for the seat held by Representative Jean Schmidt (R) whom Wenstrup beat in the Republican primary.
  • 3rd District: Democrat Joyce Beatty defeated Republican Chris Long for a Democratic pick-up.
  • 6th District: Republican Representative Bill Johnson was re-elected by defeating former Democrat Representative Charlie Wilson.
  • 9th District: Democratic Representative Marcy Kaptur defeated Republican Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher by a 72% to 28% margin. Kaptur, who won a primary against Representative Dennis Kucinich (D), has been very supportive on clean energy issues.

South Dakota

There was no Senate or Gubernatorial race in South Dakota. Both houses of the South Dakota legislature continue to be dominated by the Republicans. Incumbent Republican Representative Kristi Noem defeated Democratic challenger Matt Varilek, a former member of Senator Tim Johnson’s staff, by a 57.5% to 42.5% margin. ELPC has a good relationship with Representative Noem who serves on the House Agriculture Committee. She supports extending the PTC for wind power development and has supported the Farm Bill’s clean energy programs.

Environmental advocate Matt McGovern’s (D) campaign for Commissioner on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission fell short as he lost to Republican incumbent Commissioner Kristie Fiegen by a 54% to 40% margin, with a Libertarian candidate receiving 6% of the votes.


Seven-term Democratic Representative Tammy Baldwin defeated Republican Tommy Thompson, the former four-term Wisconsin Governor and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. Although Senator-elect Baldwin was ahead early in this race, it was apparent that this race would be hard fought and probably come down to the wire. Senator-elect Baldwin pulled ahead and won by a 5.5% margin.

The State Senate had a narrow Republican majority until Democrats won recall elections earlier this year. Republicans won key races on November 6th to reach a new 18-15 majority, and they control the House by a 60-39 majority. Both chambers are expected to be hostile to most environmental initiatives and supportive of Governor Scott Walker’s (R) policies.

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The Environmental Law & Policy Center sees both very significant strategic opportunities for progress and major challenges with the federal government’s and many states’ fiscally constrained budgets. We look forward to discussing both paths with our colleagues and diverse potential allies. As the views of these newly-elected public officials become clearer and they move from campaigning toward governance, ELPC will continue to assess both ways of seizing opportunities and responding effectively to the challenges. We will keep you informed going forward. Please let us know if you have any questions or suggestions. ELPC looks forward to working together with our colleagues and diverse coalition partners to achieve environmental progress and economic development together. Carpe diem!





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