Who would have thought a year ago that Rich Rodriguez would be more popular than Obama in Michigan at this point?
As the No. 17 Michigan State Spartans travel to Ann Arbor tomorrow to take on the 18th-ranked Michigan Wolverines at the Big House, conversation in the lot will undoubtedly be about Denard "Shoelace" Robinson and his Heisman prospects, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio's health, the Spartans' running game, the Wolverines' porous defense, and of course the best way to fry brats (soaked in butter and beer, grilled on coals, and served on a roll with onion, pickle, butter, and mustard).
But if football is everywhere in the Midwest in the fall, so is politics. As cold beer starts to flow, conversation at the tailgate will surely turn to the midterm elections and who can tackle Michigan's 13.1 percent unemployment rate, which is the second worst in the nation. Indeed, Big Ten Country, which is dominated by the white working class, has once again become the nation's most fiercely contested battleground.
One of Obama's more impressive feats in 2008 was his sweep of the Big Ten states -- Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. But two years later, the region seems to have turned against him and his Democrats. If you look at the New York Times' 2008 electoral map of the House, you'll see that Democrats rolled the region. But if you take a look at Nate Silver's 2010 prediction map (he's the best forecaster in the game), you'll see that the tides have turned.
Big Ten ball is often a grind-it-out game in which each yard is hard-fought and the conditions are forbidding. Their fans are the same way: Each dollar is hard-earned. Unless the White House and Democrats can get back some of their mojo in the region, they're going to get rolled like "Shoelace" turning the corner on a Hoosiers' d-back.
(H/T to Tom Wharton for the RichRod zing)