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Last week I enjoyed a summer road trip of over 3,500 miles, with probably 90% of those being off the interstate. We traveled across eight states, mainly in the Midwest, varying from blue Illinois and Minnesota to purple Michigan and Wisconsin to red Indiana and Kentucky.

Along with family time, scenery, and business, I observed political and cultural trends and talked with people about what was happening in American politics.
Starting in Kentucky, the Commonwealth looks forward to their off-year gubernatorial election between incumbent Gov. Andy Beshear and 37-year-old conservative rising star Daniel Cameron. No matter whom I spoke to, they’re on board with Cameron, including one who voted for Beshear.
“Beshear proved to be a pseudo-moderate,” the Lexington resident explained. “He has governed as a big-time liberal, particularly on social issues.”
Although there could be surprises, I expect Kentucky to elect its first black governor this fall and return to a purely red state.
In increasingly red Ohio, there is consternation among Republicans about freshman Sen. J.D. Vance. While everyone I spoke to applauded Gov. Mike DeWine’s leadership, especially coming off his massive reelection win, there seems to be a concern with Vance, the millennial populist’s “attention-seeking crusades” and lack of support for Ukraine’s efforts against the Russian tyrants. Many miss former Sen. Rob Portman and want someone else in 2028.
But the Buckeye State election has a crucial U.S. Senate election next fall, with Democrat Sherrod Brown seeking a fourth term, as he portrays himself as a moderate working-class fella but has a voting record as left-wing as anyone. Every Republican I spoke to hopes Donald Trump will not get involved in the race and promote less-electable candidates, as he did in a half-dozen Senate races last year, where the GOP fell short.
“I don’t care who the candidate is, so long as he or she isn’t a conspiracy theorist with grievances,” a father of three outside Columbus told me, then added, “If we really want to defeat Democrats, let’s nominate someone not obsessed with the past.”
Over in Indiana, Hoosiers remain happy to be a reliably red state. Rep. Jim Banks is currently the favorite to take over Sen. Mike Braun’s Senate seat in next year’s election.
In Illinois, I was only able to skim the tip of Chicago. No additional commentary about that progressive cesspool is needed, as Republicans sadly continue referring to the entire Land of Lincoln as “Hellinois.”
Up in Minnesota, Republicans have now been shut out of statewide office for 15 years, and with few conservatives having statewide appeal, the “Democrats may retain power for a long time,” a former GOP candidate told me.

Michigan and Wisconsin presented the most interesting dynamic. In both states, I spent time in urban and rural areas.
A half-dozen Michigan cities with large black populations and strong unions support Democrats to a high degree, but once you get north, into the more rural, self-reliant areas, the Wolverine State leans right. Yet the numbers still do not add up for Republicans; therefore, as one elderly man north of Lansing explained, “The Trump win in 2016 was an aberration, and I don’t see Michigan turning red anytime soon, no matter who the Republican nominee for Senate or president is.”
Across the lake in Wisconsin, Milwaukee and Madison obviously lean left, but their suburbs and the rest of the state helped reelect Republican Sen. Ron Johnson over an abominable opponent last year. I heard concern in Wisconsin about Trump’s influence on the coming election. He won there in 2016 but lost in 2020. It is well known that the Republican presidential candidate will need to reclaim Wisconsin, Arizona, and Georgia to retake the Oval Office.
None of the three people I spoke to felt Trump was the right man for the job. One of them did not feel like Ron DeSantis is either and said Tim Scott or Nikki Haley would “easily win,” the other two — including a registered Democrat in suburban Milwaukee — are confident that “anyone but Trump” could defeat Joe Biden.

As I was departing the Badger State, news broke that Rep. Mike Gallagher will not challenge Sen. Tammy Baldwin for her seat, which is disappointing. Gallagher, an intellectual and true star, will continue leading the bipartisan and vital House committee on China, but Republicans need a strong candidate like Gallagher as an option. One person mentioned Paul Ryan or Scott Walker, but I doubt either will leave the private sector to be involved.

With one or two exceptions, rural and urban/suburban Republicans said they were effectively done with Trump’s antics and leaned toward DeSantis. However, at least a few of them said the Floridian has been lackluster so far, and they are hoping that Haley, Pence, Scott, or even a dark horse, like “one of the small state governors” (Doug Burgum, Asa Hutchinson) will emerge.

Ari Kaufman is a correspondent for several U.S. newspapers and magazines from Minnesota and Ohio to Tennessee and Virginia. He taught school and served as a military historian before beginning his journalism career. He is the author of three books and a frequent guest on radio programs, and contributes to Israel National News and here at The Lid. 


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