Republican Party strategist Steve Grubbs gave Monmouth College students a political tour of the Midwest during his return trip to campus Wednesday.
Previously a guest lecturer and a panelist for the college’s 2010 election analysis forum, Grubbs spoke to lecturer Robin Johnson’s Campaign Methods class, where he discussed the role of political consultants in campaigns and his experiences designing TV ads and developing winning campaign messages.
While speaking an hour later to Johnson’s Politics and Government in the Midwest class, he told the students that an understanding of what happened in the region “a million years ago – literally,” was crucial to understanding its politics today.
“You’ve got to understand the glaciers,” he said. “When the glaciers receded, it changed the landscape. You can understand politics by what the glaciers left behind.”
Where great soil was the result, he said, there is generally high GOP representation. Where rocks were the residue, and the economy is not as strong, there is generally more Democratic Party representation.
Flashing forward to the present, Grubbs told the students that two simple questions are “90 percent accurate” in determining a voter’s preferred party.
“One, how many times did you go to church in the past month?” he said. “Two, what is your income level? In most cases, if they attended church three to five times in the past month, they are Republican, and if their income is $75,000 or higher, they’re Republican. And then the reverse is true. Of course, there are exceptions, but there’s a very high correlation between those answers and the voters’ parties.”
Grubbs then delved into the politics of six Midwestern states, which included five where his company, Victory Enterprises, an advertising agency and public relations firm, has offices. He and his wife, Kelli, are also the founders of VictoryStore.com, an online retailer of promotional items, signs and specialty gifts. Founded in 1997 and 2000, respectively, the two companies employ approximately 80 people.
In Illinois, Grubbs said there are three basic demographic areas – the suburbs, Chicago and downstate.
“The suburbs are Republican, but tend to be socially liberal,” he said. “The city is Democrat and downstate is very Republican, although there are pockets of union areas.”
In contrast is Iowa, which he said has a much more “homogenous” demographic, being “95 percent white with less of a differential between voters’ income levels.”
While discussing the state of politics in Wisconsin, Grubbs introduced the students to two elected officials – conservative governor Scott Walker and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the first openly lesbian U.S. senator.
“How does that happen in a state like that?” he asked.
The answer was the timing of the election, as Baldwin won during a presidential election cycle, when higher voter turnout, including many lower-income voters who trended Democratic, turned out to support President Obama.
Grubbs also discussed a race in Minnesota, where former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura was elected governor after the two mainstream candidates “knocked the crap out of each other” through negative campaigning, making them both “unfavorable” candidates in the eyes of the general public.
“The people said, ‘I’m going to vote for that professional wrestler guy just to send a message,’ and then he won,” said Grubbs.
He likened the race to Carol Moseley Braun winning a U.S. Senate race in Illinois in 1992, when voters became disenchanted with the two main candidates, incumbent Alan Dixon and Al Hofeld.
Grubbs also introduced the students to the governmental system in Nebraska, which is unicameral, as it has only a Senate and not a House of Representatives. All candidates also run without a party affiliation.
In the question-and-answer session, Grubbs responded that the Midwest does, indeed, matter “because of the Electoral College. We don’t have a lot of votes, but we have enough to be relevant.”
He also discussed an increase in small manufacturing, which is returning to the U.S. from overseas due to developments in robotics.
“Cheap labor is good, but it’s even better to have robots working on things, and the U.S. is way ahead in that area,” he said. “The Quad Cities is one of the top hubs for robotics in the U.S.”
A graduate of the University of Iowa, where he studied finance and law, Grubbs served in the Iowa House of Representatives between from 1991 to 1997. In the 1996 Presidential campaign, he was the state co-chair of Sen. Bob Dole’s Iowa campaign, and in 2000, he served as senior advisor to the Forbes for President national campaign. During the 1997-98 campaign cycle, he was state chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa. He now lives in Davenport, Iowa.