Republicans are debating whether their path to the presidency in 2016 runs through the blue-collar Rust Belt states, or the demographically changing new South and Sunbelt states. For Democrats looking to retake the Senate, however, the formula is more clear-cut: Win back white working-class voters, or be consigned to a longer-term minority.
Most of the Senate battlegrounds run through the Midwest—Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio—along with New Hampshire, which carries demographic similarities with those older, whiter Great Lakes states. To defeat the vulnerable Republican incumbents, Democrats have a challenging task ahead: Making inroads with blue-collar voters, who have been stubbornly resistant to the party's agenda since Barack Obama's time as president.
It's no coincidence that Democrats are turning to candidates with biographies tailored to appeal to this constituency. Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth announced her candidacy Monday against Sen. Mark Kirk by touting her working-class upbringing and service in the military. Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who represented a blue-collar district in the House, is the expected Democratic nominee against Sen. Rob Portman. Former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, a populist who championed campaign-finance reform during his last Senate tenure, is eyeing a comeback against the businessman who defeated him in 2010. And former three-star Navy Admiral Joe Sestak, a former two-term congressman from the working-class Philadelphia suburbs, is an early front-runner to face a rematch against Sen. Pat Toomey.