Powder & Petroleum Roadtrip Day Two: Chicago to Sioux Falls

When my buddy Jay recently told me he was moving from Washington, DC to Montana, I jumped at the opportunity for the road trip.

The only question was, the Northern or Southern route? 

Northern would mean a trip through the Bakken shale oil fields of North Dakota, a place I’d read about in countless analyst reports and the gold-standard book on the shale revolution, The Frackers, but never actually experienced in person. The Southern route – with “southern” in air quotes – was through South Dakota with all its epic scenery.

It really boiled down to, see one of America’s great industrial breakthroughs and boomtowns, the backbone of the world’s greatest economy, or see some of the only the wild expanses left in America, the slice of the old frontier at the heart of the American experience? 

We decided to go southern, but it turned out we got a little slice of both…

This is Day 2 of 4.  (You can find Day 1 here)

 

Day Two: Chicago, La Crosse, Sioux Falls

La Crosse. Here is a town of twelve or thirteen thousand population, with electric lighted streets, and blocks of buildings which are stately enough and also architecturally fine enough to command respect in any city. It is a choice town.
— Mark Twain, “Life on the Mississippi,” 1883

As you cross from Illinois to Wisconsin, you cross over US Highway 50, aka the “50-yard line” of demarcation between Bears and Packers nations. The oldest rivalry in the NFL, the teams first faced off in 1921; the George Halas Trophy, named after the Bears founder, is given to the NFC winner, while the Vince Lombardi Trophy is awarded to the Super Bowl champ.

As Chicago’s skyscrapers fade in your rear-view and you enter “America’s Dairyland,” you can see that Bears fans and cheeseheads really do come from different worlds.  But perhaps an even fiercer rivalry is between the Wisconsin Badgers and Minnesota Golden Gophers, who have battled since 1890, football’s oldest rivalry.

If you need to know one thing about what kind of world you’re entering when you drive through Wisconsin and Minnesota, just know that the trophy for the Gopher-Badger game was a big slab a bacon until 1943, and following WWII, became Paul Bunyan’s Axe – a six-foot axe that players use to mimic chopping down the opposing team’s goal posts.

This is timberland, the furthest navigable stretch up the Mississippi when it isn’t frozen over. We drove through an area that geologists call the Driftless Area, which – sparing you the detailed geological history – was untouched by glacial activity. The result is what the National Park Service calls “a plateau dissected by steep coulees, bluffs, and ridges above the Mississippi River.” 

While geologists call it the Driftless Area, local tourism boards call it Bluff Country, and its heart is the town of La Crosse, Wisconsin on the banks of the Mississippi. Nestled between a waterfowl paradise of a floodplain and 600-foot Granddad Bluff, it is a town of redbrick hotels, taverns, and mansions built in the late 1800s by wealthy lumbermen.

When Mark Twain visited La Crosse in 1883, he observed, “Up in this region, we met massed acres of lumber rafts coming down – but not floating leisurely along, in old-fashioned way, manned with joyous and reckless crews of fiddling, song-singing, whiskey-drinking, breakdown-dancing rapscallions; no, the whole thing was shoved swiftly along by a powerful stern-wheeler.”

La Crosse was the state’s second largest city by 1890, and one of its leading citizens and owner of the largest mill on the Upper Mississippi, C. C. Washburn, had been elected governor (Mr. Washburn’s business would become General Mills, now based in Minneapolis).

Flocks of industrious immigrants of northern German and Scandinavian stock were also streaming in.  By the time of the Great War, both Minnesota and Wisconsin had 15 deutschsprachige newspapers each and dozens of others in Germanic languages.

In addition to bratwurst, beer, and a 32-foot statue of Hermann the German in New Ulm, the Deutsche also left their mark on politics of the region – to this day, an electoral map of Wisconsin shows Republican areas closely tracking the areas most populated by German-Americans.

After grabbing a bite from Fat Sams at the base of the old Rehfus building in La Crosse (built in 1894 by a first generation German-American), we crossed the Mississippi and headed up into the Root River Valley.

The Root River Valley begins as a wide floodplain buffeted by craggy limestone bluffs, but as you go upriver, in narrows and the snowy, wooded valley begins to look like what you might imagine in the Black Forest or Bavarian foothills.  We took this to its headwaters before climbing back on to the Minnesota plains.

The timber industry has moved on from here, but the industrious spirit lives on. Turns out that that Driftless Area limestone makes great sand for fracking, and Trempaealau County next to La Crossee is now the leading frac sand mining county in the nation, bringing in a whole new cycle of capital and labor.

  • The maps below show the Packers and Bears nations by county from Facebook "like" data, the Badgers and Gophers nations by zip code also from Facebook data, a birds-eye view of La Crosse in 1867, the German-born population of the US in 1914, the German influence on Wisconsin elections in 2004, and the frac sand mines in Wisconsin in 2015.
  • The pictures shows the Rehfuss Building in La Crosse (built 1894), a homage to the Steamboat "War Eagle" which burned in 1870, the Mississippi River flood plain, a farm in the Root River Valley, and a Lutheran church in the Root River Valley. 

Powder & Petroleum Roadtrip Day One: Washington to Chicago

When my buddy Jay recently told me he was moving from Washington, DC to Montana, I jumped at the opportunity for the road trip.

The only question was, the Northern or Southern route? 

Northern would mean a trip through the Bakken shale oil fields of North Dakota, a place I’d read about in countless analyst reports and the gold-standard book on the shale revolution, The Frackers, but never actually experienced in person. The Southern route – with “southern” in air quotes – was through South Dakota with all its epic scenery.

It really boiled down to, see one of America’s great industrial breakthroughs and boomtowns, the backbone of the world’s greatest economy, or see some of the only the wild expanses left in America, the slice of the old frontier at the heart of the American experience? 

We decided to go southern, but it turned out we got a little slice of both…

This is Day 1 of 4. 

 

Day One: Washington, Toledo, Chicago

Mr. Pew, are you in the petroleum business?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What is the name of your company?”

“The Sun Oil Co.”

“Is it a refining company?”

“It is.”

“What particular conditions are there in the oil business that would make it especially onerous upon you?”

“Well, I refer to the Standard Oil Co., with their plants at Whiting, Ind.
— Senate Interstate Commerce Commission, 1915

DC to Chicago is a beautiful drive… if you like steel mills, GM plants, and tire factories.

The truth is there’s little to look forward to through this part of a cross-country drive and really the only way to do it is gun it for 12 hours on the interstate. But at the same time, if you’re willing to take a few Yelp detours, you can pass through some of the more storied areas of American economic history.

While it might just look like a bunch of run-down mills today, this is the region that made the steel for the railways that connected the two coasts and the barbed wire to settle the interior, that conceived the automobile, that produced much of the munitions used to fight the Germans and Japanese, and that gave rise to the “Chicago school” of architecture that revolutionized cities’ vertical growth.

It can also rightfully be called America’s first oil & gas home. After all, it was in northwestern Pennsylvania in 1859, where Colonel* Drake drilled America’s first oil well.  Within a few years, what had been a farm along Pithole Creek was a busting town of 15,000 residents, where a newspaper at the time said, “there is more vile liquor drank than in any of its size in the world” – oil’s first boom town! (*He was not really a Colonel – oil’s first conman!)

It was also the first oil market boom.  At its peak, a speculator seemingly out of his mind bought a Pennsylvania backwoods farm for $1.3 million, a crazy sum at the time for a hardscabble Allegheny farm… but he flipped it for $2.0 million two months later.

But, as future oilmen would learn, you can have too much of a good thing.  Prices plummeted from $10/barrel in January 1861 to 10 cents/barrel by December.

In a way, history is repeating itself today. Western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio are again awash in oil & gas as drillers frack the dense Marcellus shale across the region. Its great for the shareholders and landowners who have cashed out, but the invisible hand has once again stepped in to correct prices by over 50%.

We passed several signs of the boom: freshly-built tanks, fields of pipe waiting en route to a project, and gas under $2, though my favorite was a Pennsylvania billboard with Yoko Ono coaxing would-be lessees, “would you take advice from the woman who broke up the Beatles?”  

While the “upstream” guys, or exploration & production firms (E&P), are hurting, one of the big beneficiaries of the US glut has been the refiners that can buy crude at a discount and sell it as value-added products such as gasoline. 

On the second half of the first day, we passed through one of the greatest concentrations of refineries anywhere in the world. This is a legacy of mid-Continent oil being shipped and refined to eastward cities, and then later international crude traveling to the Midwest and West.

In Toledo, we stopped to grab a sub at a deli right across the street from one of the Sunoco refineries. At this spot in 1895, Robert Pew bought the refinery for his Sun Oil Co. Today, the Pew Charitable Trusts oversee an endowment of $5 billion in oil wealth, and the Toledo refinery can still process 170,000 barrels of crude per day.

Pew was also a great adversary of the indomitable John D. Rockefeller and testified against Rockefeller, whose Standard Oil built and owned the largest refinery in the world in Whiting, Indiana. It was actually at this refinery during World War I that engineers discovered the process of making gasoline that is used today, which meant a nearly four-fold increase in US gasoline production between 1914 and 1918. Anyone who has ever driven by Gary, Indiana or into Chicago from the south has seen its otherwordly flares.

Mr. Rockefeller’s behemoth was ultimately broken up in an antitrust suit into Standard of New Jersey (which became Exxon), Standard of New York (Mobil), Stanard of Indiana (Amoco), and Standard of California (Chevron). The Whiting refinery was passed to Standard of Indiana, which became Amaco, which was eventually bought by BP.  Today the Whiting refinery still refines 400,000 of crude per day for BP and is the sixth largest in the US.

We stayed that night in Chicago with a couple of Jay’s college friends, who were not only gracious enough to host us, but to order a big bag of Portillo’s dogs and Italian beef sandwiches – a meal befitting the City of Big Shoulders and one of my favorite treats in visiting Chicago.

Maps below of the Pennsylvania Oil Regions in 1864, Standard Oil refineries in 1904, Standard Oil pipelines in 1904, US refinery capacity in 2015, Range Resources leaseholds in the Marcellus in 2014, and unconventional wells in the Marcellus, and a photo of Chicago from the south

Bridge Traffic: The Power of the Potomac and Shad Run on Display at Chain Bridge

If you had a pick one place on a map to build a bridge across Potomac, the site of Chain Bridge might be the best.  And the worst.

 It’s an obvious choice because it’s the narrowest part of the river, squeezing through a passage of 90 feet wide. But that’s also what makes it so dangerous – it’s essentially the bottom of the funnel.

Pretty much every attempt to bridge the Potomac here has failed.  The first, built in 1797, collapsed by 1804. The next burned down within six months after it was built. Finally a respectable 136-foot long chain suspension bridge – where it got its name – was built but was destroyed by floods in 1810.

The fourth one was a good one, another suspension bridge that Dolley Madison used to flee the British in 1814. That one lasted till 1840 before succumbing to floods. The fifth, built of chain and wood, went down in 1852.

Around this time, Charles Ellet – perhaps the closest rival to John Roebling, architect of the Brooklyn Bridge – proposed a suspension bridge across the more placid waters near the Three Sisters islands above Georgetown, but the thought of easier access to the District was scrapped as the Civil War unfolded. Instead, a wooden truss bridge was built at the old Chain Bridge site that was protected by four forts on the Virginia side and, as one solider put it, “large guns upon the bluff [that] can be depressed, if necessary, as to demolish the bridge in an instant.”

No need for that. The Rebs never attempted to take the bridge and a flood washed it out anyway in 1870.

The seventh one was built on strong stone pilings and made it until the 1936 flood, when it was closed down, and the current and eighth bridge, went into service in 1939. 

Fed up with the wash-outs, in 1971 Congress appropriated funding for the building of a new bridge that would carry I-66 across the Three Sisters and onto the present-day Canal Road. Construction ensued but politics halted the project. A year later, Hurricane Agnes washed away the pilings for the incomplete Three Sisters Bridge and it died an unceremonious death in Congress, but Chain Bridge, which rests on pilings from the 1870s bridge, miraculously held despite water coming within feet of the roadway.

I’ve been spending a lot of time at Chain Bridge recently for the shad run, and the ruble of old bridges is everywhere. The banks on the Confederate side are littered with twisted chain anchors and a crumbling pier.

But, its location is exactly why I and countless other anglers are here in the first place – it’s the furthest place up-river that shad, an ocean species, can swim during their spring spawn.

They travel 1000 miles from the Bay of Fundy to Cape Henry at the mouth of the Chesapeake, where they take a sharp right turn and swim another 270 miles up the Bay and into the Potomac, up to Chain Bridge.

That is one heck of ambitious fish. Like any long-distance traveler, they seem a bit irritable by the time they arrive and attack all baitfish – or chartreuse flies – invading their space. They run like a tuna and jump like a tarpon. Pound for pound, they’re the fightin’est fish around.

 But Chain Bridge is about as far as they can get.

 At the mouth of the Potomac at Cape Lookout, the river is about four miles wide. At the salt-line around Indian Head, the river is about a mile wide. At the tidal line at Chain Bridge, where the force of the tides is over-powered by the force of the current, the river squeezes through 90 feet. A lot of shad are competing for an ever-narrowing piece of river.

They are also competing against the river. Within that 90 feet passes about 10,000 cubic feet per second of water on a normal day in May. At its peak, that can rise to records of over 80,000. A Chevy Tahoe is 94 cubic square feet, so that is the equivalent of 851 Chevy Tahoes worth of water passing under Chain Bridge per second!

It’s at this point, on the seams and in the eddies of the current, that fish get totally piled up like rush hour traffic.

Captain John Smith made as far up-river in 1608 as present-day Chain Bridge, where he recalled the shad were so thick, “we attempted to catch them with a frying pan.”  When that didn’t work, “I amused myself by nailing them to the ground with my sword.”

 Which is what brings me to Chain Bridge 400 years later. Rule #1 in fishing – find fish.

 As long as they’re around, they’ll run up the Potomac every spring, and as long as they run, legions of fisherman will be there to greet them, and the whole time, the river will be letting them both know who’s boss.

Burgers, Beer, and Breakfast: An American Food Road Trip

I recently drove across America for a new job and had the privilege of tasting some of the best of what America has to offer. I ate crab cakes in Baltimore, brats in Sheboygan, and fish tacos in San Jose. I enjoyed Mexican food in Virginia, Cornish pasties in Nevada, and Italian beef in Chicago. I crushed fully loaded Five Guys burgers, "Animal Style" In-N-Out burgers, and Culver's ButterBurgers with Wisconsin cheddar and bacon. 

Before I get into the details of the trip, I have to add the disclaimer that my road trip did not take me through Dixie, the Southwest, or Philly/Jersey/New York* (see footnote below). A discussion about the best food in America without including those regions is like talking about the best pitchers of all time and omitting Greg Maddux, Nolan Ryan, and Roger Clemens. It's just not accurate.  

But I could visit only so many places on my food adventure. In the course of two weeks, I drove my 4Runner from the Chesapeake Bay to the San Francisco Bay, taking numerous pit stops and mini-vacations along the way to eat with my family, friends, and girlfriend. We dined at dives and four-star restaurants and ate healthy and junk. I surely missed some legendary spots along the way, but as with any good survey, I think I took a pretty solid sample. 

Industrial Heartland (Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Chicago)

I began in Baltimore with crab cakes at Ryleigh's Oysters. I'd usually choose to pick my crabs—preferably #1's from T.L. Morris in Trappe, Maryland, with a cold Bud—but Ryleigh's was good. If you want the best crab cakes in the Mid-Atlantic, your best bet is Faidley's Market in Baltimore or Kinkead's in D.C. 

My next stop was Pittsburgh, where I hit Primanti Brothers for the Almost Famous Pitts-Burger cheesesteak. It's really a burger patty (not a Philly-style steak), topped with provolone**, tomato, and slaw, and stuffed with fries. Legend has it that founder Joe Primanti, who started the business from a cart in downtown Pittsburgh during the Great Depression, put fries on the sandwiches so that steelworkers and truckers could eat a full meal on the job with one hand. 

Fifteen miles northwest of Steel City is Aliquippa, a classic ethnic, gritty, western Pennsylvania mill town. Jones and Laughlin Steel Corp., which once ran a seven-mile-long mill here on the banks of the Ohio River, owned the town and partitioned it into "plans" for the different groups—the Greeks, Polish, Serbians, Sicilians, blacks, and so on. It was here that Gust Avrakatos gained the worldview that helped him become a legendary CIA agent during the Cold War, and here that Mike Ditka starred for the Aliquippa High Fighting Quips. 

According to a must-read SI piece about the town's fabled football program, "The Aliquippa Works pumped out record tonnages of armor plate, shell forgings, bombs, landing craft, bullets and mortar tubing, proudly shaping the weapons to beat back Hitler and Tojo." I didn't stop to eat in Aliquippa, but with those ethnic traditions, it's certain to have some gems. With Bruce Springsteen on the soundtrack singing about "the mills that built the tanks and bombs that won this country's wars," I cruised across the rest of America's industrial heartland. 

I ended up in Chicago in front of what was perhaps the best sandwich of my trip. The Big Al contains slices of roast beef soaked in seasoned juices with sweet and hot peppers (giardiniera), served on an Italian hoagie roll dipped back in the juice. It's unreal. Chicagoans have fiercely debated the best Italian beef in town but my money's on Al's.

Another point of pride in the Windy City is the Chicago dog—"served with mustard, relish, freshly chopped onions, sliced red ripe tomatoes, kosher pickle and short peppers piled onto a perfectly steamed poppy seed bun." I'll personally take a New York dog, but Portillo's does a pretty good version of Chicago style. I ate three Portillo's dogs and drank two Miller Lites as my grandma and I watched the Cubs commit four errors and blow a 6-2 lead. Just another day in Chicago.

I put Chicago's skyscrapers in my rear-view and headed out on the Illinois prairie, where the skyline is interrupted only occasionally by grain elevators, water towers, and Presbyterian church steeples. I stopped to visit President Reagan's boyhood home in Dixon and President Grant's home in Galena. It's here on the Illinois prairie that the Industrial Heartland fades into America's Breadbasket and Dairyland.
 


America's Breadbasket and Dairyland (Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska)

"I'd been warned by students of authentic North American eats that I was in for a treat when I came to the Breadbasket," former Washington Post reporter Joel Garreau wrote when he coined the term for this region. "This was the land, I'd been told, for which the 1957 Chevrolet and warm summer nights were invented. Nowhere, my tutors has assured me, could one indulge in a ten-course meal-on-the-move as on the Plains." 

Two hours north of Chicago is Sheboygan, a town on the shores of Lake Michigan, known worldwide for bratwurst. Within 15 minutes of Sheboygan is Oostburg, a Dutch-American village where my great-grandparents settled, andJohnsonville, namesake of the brats you find in the supermarket. On the outskirts of Sheboygan is Gosse's Northwestern House. They know how to do brats here—grilled and soaked in beer/butter, served with onion, pickle, and mustard on a Kaiser roll so that the grease, mustard, and butter mix.

Culinary and political heritages still run deep in Wisconsin. Counties such as Sheboygan, which were settled by Germans, are overwhelming Republican, while those settled by, say, Norwegians, vote very Democratic. What they have in common is a great appreciation for the Holy Trinity of sausage, beer, and Aaron Rodgers.

Moving west, Iowa is all about corn, but boy they do a good burger.  I stopped in Waterloo at Culver's for a ButterBurger with cheddar and bacon, "served atop the lightly buttered, toasted bun that Culver's made famous," accompanied with wavy fries on the side. After stopping at the Iowa Cubs' ballpark in Des Moines to pay tribute to the AAA farm team, it was a straight shot to Omaha.

The Missouri River separates the rolling Iowa prairie flush with corn fields and hog farms, from the flatter Nebraska plains, where wheat and cattle reign. Geographically about halfway across America, Leo's Diner in Omaha is home to the nation's best breakfast sandwich. The Benson contains fried egg, American cheese, Swiss cheese, hash browns, and your choice of bacon, sausage, or ham. I went with bacon and sausage on thick-cut wheat bread.

With a full belly, I again turned west and followed the Platte River and the Union Pacific line across the plains. I pitted in North Platte, a rail yard town, and rolled past depressing-looking joints like the Hub Bar and Rodeo Bar. Alan Jackson played on the stereo and served as a perfect soundtrack for those emptying towns on the High Plains. "Boarded up like they never existed, Or renovated and called historic districts."
 


Powder and Petroleum (Aspen, Park City, Elko)

Colorado is a schizophrenic state, home to towns as wildly different as liberal Boulder and conservative Colorado Springs. In two hours, you can go from a sunny day in big sky country to a white-out on Fremont Pass to a red, dry desert with bighorn sheep roaming the hills. The mountains are forbidding, and "except for mining and skiing, few would have followed the Ute Indians and settled there."  The Almanac notes that "The miners who tracked gold and silver and lead ores also built Victorian towns with opera houses and gingerbread storefronts in Aspen and Telluride." 

Aspen hosts a wealth of great food, but L'Hostaria and Jimmy's stand out. L'Hostaria is an Italian restaurant with a great Saltimbocca alla Romana and a mean wine list; Jimmy's is the kind of restaurant a foodie would love with creations such as mac-n-cheese with bacon and jalapeno. But Aspen's real gem is the Main Street Bakery, which serves Eggs Alaska, a Benedict with Norwegian salmon, grilled tomato, and dill hollandaise.

My next destination after Aspen was Park City, but between these powder havens is petroleum country. Colorado's Picceane Basin and Utah's Uinta Basin are home to some of America's most productive oil and gas wells. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the Picceane Basin holds 1.525 trillion barrels of oil shale resources; by comparison, Saudi Arabia has 260 billion of crude. Driving through towns like Rifle, Rangely, or Roosevelt, it is not uncommon to see mud-caked F-150's emblazoned with Halliburton logos on their doors.

Park City got its start as a mining town, and locals will tell you that skiers in the 1960s would ride a rail car down a shaft to the heart of the mountain and then take a mining elevator to the summit. Today, Park City is a winter resort and home of the No Worries Café. This restaurant near the top of Parley's Summit serves the Dante's Inferno—"Sirloin tips, hot Italian sausage, tomatoes, spinach, two cheeses and fresh garlic tossed in a green pepper sauce, served frittata style and topped with savory Hollandaise and Cajun dust."

I descended into Salt Lake and across the State of Deseret. I let the horses sing on the straightaways of the Bonneville Salt Flats and great basins of Nevada. In Elko, I listened to one of the most colorful libertarian rants I'd ever heard, as the proprietor of B.J. Bulls told me stories about the "pig cops" in my native Virginia enforcing the speed limit. This is Ron Paul Country. B.J. Bulls serves Cornish pasties and sells them by the hundreds to the miners. I had a beef/potato/onion pastie and took a chicken/rice for the road.

Towns in Nevada were built to serve the Central Pacific Railroad and sprung up almost perfectly every 60 miles. Today, I-80 follows the same route carved by the railroad in the 1860s and connects the same towns: 59 miles between Elko and Argenta; 68 miles to Winnemucca; 60 miles to Oreano; 75 miles to Wadsworth. I rode with Waylon and Willie, listening to songs about mama, trucks, trains, prison, and getting drunk***. I crossed the border near Reno and spent the night in the railroad town of Truckee in the High Sierra.
 


California (San Francisco, Half Moon Bay, Mountain View, San Jose)

One of the many absurd aspects of California is that restaurants are required by state law to put calories on every menu item. Still, the Golden State has some great food traditions. One of the most popular practices in California is to put avocado on an otherwise ordinary dish and call it the "California" version.Burger King offers the "California Whopper" (a Whopper with guacamole) and a wings joint called Smoke Eaters in Santa Clara offers the "Californian" (buffalo chicken with guacamole).

But to be honest, an otherwise boring sausage, eggs, and hash browns at a place like Sam's Café in Half Moon Bay tastes a lot better with slices of avocado and pico de gallo. Thanks to the fertile Central Valley, avocados and other fresh produce are abundant. Although the state has become the freeway-clogged, Hollywood-saturated, fiscally bankrupt funny farm that it is today, it's still home to some of America's most productive and fertile farmland.

The Bay Area's Mediterranean climate lends itself to world-class vineyards in the cooler valleys to the north and productive orchards in the more arid valleys to the south. Silicon Valley was once "a landscape of orchards supplying half of the world's dried prunes," according to National Geographic. "Even through the [1960s], it bloomed with plums, pears, apricots, and cherries, one of the nation's most bountiful agricultural regions."

Today, the Central Valley accounts for less than 1 percent of the nation's farmland by acre, but yields over 8 percent of its agricultural output. But while San Francisco liberals enjoy the valley's bounty and praise "buying local," they also support policies that squeeze the farmer dry. Environmentalists recently turned off the irrigation taps for San Joaquin Valley farmers to protect baitfish upstream, devastating the Valley economy and leading to Detroit-level unemployment in these mostly Hispanic towns.

Mexicans have been a part of life in California since the land was a province of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, and thankfully, taquerias are everywhere. I tried many of these taco shacks, but my favorite was Taqueria La Bamba in Mountain View. This dimly lit joint was packed with Mexicans and gringos alike eating at stand-up counters. I had a carnitas taco and fish taco, both with pico, onions, cilantro, and jalapeno, and chased them with a cold Modelo.

I also found a Caribbean place that seems like it was lifted out of Queens or South Florida.  Back-a-Yard serves the best jerk I've ever tasted and is operated by a chef whose culinary adventures have taken him from Jamaica to Antwerp to Menlo Park. I loved the jerk chicken/pork combo, grilled with a "fiery mixture of spices, including Scotch bonnet pepper, pimento, nutmeg, and thyme," and served with fried plantains, rice, and beans.

California is maybe the most international state in the Union, but it also prides itself in maintaining some American traditions like baseball and burgers. In my first night in the Bay Area, I caught a Giants game (unfortunately, it was the Buster Posey demolition game). I was impressed by what seemed like a playoff atmosphere on a Tuesday night, but more impressed with the signature garlic fries. AT&T Park has some of the best food in the bigs, but I'll still take a Ben'shalf-smoke "all the way" at Nationals Park.

I also made a pilgrimage to the famous In-N-Out Burger, where I got a Double-Double, Animal Style; Animal-Style fries; and a chocolate shake. "Animal Style" for you Easterners is "A mustard-cooked beef patty with additional pickles, cheese, spread and grilled onions diced up and mixed together on the grill." In-N-Out burgers are excellent, but I'm sorry, Californians, it takes the silver to Five Guys's gold. It just can't measure up to Five Guys's toppings and fries.



New England (Nantucket)

After traveling over 3,500 miles, I made the next logical move and caught a red-eye from SFO to BOS. I spent Memorial Day with my family in Massachusetts, where we had our traditional Figawi dinner: Lobster, chowdah, corn-on-the-cob, and Whales Tale Pale Ale on our porch. I could write another 2,000 words about clambakes, rawbars, keepers, blues, and shineboxes, but I'll save that for the next chapter of my food adventures. 

In August, I'll be driving back from California to Virginia, but this time will take the southern route and travel through such food meccas as Sante Fe and Memphis. If you have any suggestions, or gripes with my previous recommendations, please let 'er rip in the comment section.

* To make up for this omission, I ordered a New Haven pizza from Pete's New Haven Style Apizza in D.C.—"white pizza, local Chesapeake clams, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, Pecorino Romano, oregano"—and I found a cheesesteak joint called Amato's in San Jose run by Philly expats, where I got a 12" wit' whiz.

** The first Pitts-Burger I ever ate was at the Winter Classic with whiz.

*** David Allen Coe says the perfect country and Western song must say something about "mama, or trains, or trucks, or prison, or gettin' drunk." He wrote what might be the perfect verse: "Well, I was drunk the day my Mom got outta prison / And I went down to pick her up in the rain / But, before I could get to the station in my pickup truck / She got runned over by a damned old train."

The Town that Built the Tanks and Bombs that Won This Country's Wars

I'm driving cross-country in a couple of weeks and I feel compelled to visit Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, home of such great Americans as Mike Ditka and Gust Avrakotos. I was planning on picking up a Primanti Brothers sandwich and eating it in the grandstands of Aliquippa High School Stadium -- aka The Pit.

What else do I need to see when I'm in the area?

For those of you unfamiliar with Aliquippa, here's a summary:

Aliquippa, about 20 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, was just one of many burgs built to process all that ore and coal wrested out of the hills, one more town full of people from Eastern and Southern Europe who kept the coke ovens fired and the stacks smoking 24 hours a day, 13,000 workers filling three daily shifts on the other side of the Aliquippa Tunnel. Jones & Laughlin Steel designed and built the town just after 1900 and divided it into 12 ethnically specific "plans," separating labor from management, hunkies from cake-eaters. But the soot still fell all over, dirtying your shirt collar even if you never set foot in the mill that stretched for seven miles along the Ohio River.

The Aliquippa Works pumped out record tonnages of armor plate, shell forgings, bombs, landing craft, bullets and mortar tubing, proudly shaping the weapons to beat back Hitler and Tojo.

Where Does the South Begin?

The Post had an interesting article last weekend about how the Washington, D.C. region has lost most of its southern identity in recent decades as northerners move in and the federal capital's culture, food, and dialect became more standardized.  The article raised the inevitable question -- Was D.C. ever a southern city?  And it so, where does the South begin? Most Americans would agree that Richmond is a southern town, but how far north above the capital of the Confederacy does the South extend?  Is Fredericksburg a southern town?  Annapolis?  Harper's Ferry?  Louisville?

In some sense it's a ham-handed question since "the South" has many sub-cultures.  Charleston is very different than Dallas; the Great Smokies look nothing like the Delta; and Lexington-style barbecue is sacrilegious in Memphis.  But at the same time, most Americans, southern and otherwise, have an psychological concept of the South.  The question is the geography of it.

The town of Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley was the base to legendary southerners such as Harry Byrd and Stonewall Jackson, yet it is north of Washington, was settled by Quakers, and has the feel of a Pennsylvania mill town.  Not surprisingly, Winchester changed hands 72 times during the Civil War.

The border is obviously hazy, as anyone familiar with the events of 1861-65 can attest.  The five most widely used borders are the Rappahannock River, the Potomac River, the Ohio River, the Mason-Dixon Line, and U.S. Route 40.  Each of these can seem equally logical and preposterous depending on what kind of metric you're using.  Here are some of the best ways decide:

Surveys and Censuses

The Mason-Dixon Line is the most traditional border between North and South, and to some extent the line made sense in its time.  Maryland was a slave state, home to the likes of Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman, and Lincoln had to send federal troops into Baltimore to quell secessionist riots -- all suggesting Maryland was a southern state.

The Line endures today and the U.S. Census still lists Maryland and D.C. as part of the South.  In fact, the Census even calls Delaware southern, which seems a bit misguided.  The concept of the Mason-Dixon Line today is outdated, as few people would describe Baltimore, with its ethnic neighborhoods and industrial tradition, as southern.

Free States and Slave States

Roads

Many historians and sociologists decided long ago that the Mason-Dixon Line was too clumsy and that U.S. Route 40 -- the old National Road -- was a more accurate border.  The road extends from Baltimore to Frederick to Cumberland, through Wheeling, across southern Ohio, through Columbus and Indianapolis, across southern Illinois, and out to St. Louis.

In the "Nine Nations of North America," Joel Garreau noted that there are "substantial differences in food, architecture, the layout of towns, and music to either side of that highway." Southern Indiana, he wrote, "is definitely part of Dixie, and has been ever since the Coppherheads (those Northerners who sympathized with the Confederates in the 1860s)."

National Road 2

Rivers

Gen. George McClellan could never cross the across the swampy Chickahominy River outside Richmond, and so everything south of there is clearly property of Dixie.  But a more frequently-used border is the Rappahannock, which is about halfway between Washington and Richmond.  Most neighborhoods north of the Rap feel metropolitan while counties south are rural.

The Potomac was also the effective border between the USA and CSA.  The Feds' decision to coin the Army of the Potomac was symbolic, as it hinted at the central point.  Similarly, the Army of the Ohio suggested that the Ohio River was the western border between North and South, which seems reasonable if you consider Kentucky southern and Ohio northern.

Religion

If you look at the Kentucky/Ohio and Kentucky/Indiana borders, you'll also see that the southern state is overwhelmingly Baptist while the northern one is a mix of Catholics, Methodists, and Presbyterians.  Not surprisingly, the Baptist counties in southern Illinois supported Stephen A. Douglas (who founded a Baptist seminary) over Lincoln, who was a Presbyterian.

The divide roughly follows the Ohio River, but it cuts across West Virginia, where the southern tier is Baptist and speaks will a drawl and the northern tier is ethnic and cheers for the Steelers. Maryland was a colony founded by Catholics, while Virginia is mostly Baptist with a strong Methodist following in the hills.

Baptist Line

Language

If religion is voluntary, dialect is involuntary.  Every American knows what a southern accent sounds like, thanks in no small part to southern characterures from Boss Hogg to Larry the Cable Guy.  The reality of course is that the South consists of a fabric of dialects from the mountain twang of Johnson City to the smooth drawl of Panama City.

What those accents have in common, according to Rick Aschmann's research of regional dialects, is that the South is defined by areas where people pronounce "pen" as "pin."  The region he defined as "the South" roughly followed the Baptist/Ohio/Potomac border, with differences between Lowland and Inland and distinct pockets in the old world towns of Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans.

Southern Dialects

Food

It's tough to think about towns like New Orleans without thinking about food and drink, and really no beverage is more southern than sweat tea.  The Post article notes that McDonald's went national with sweat tea in 2008, but prior to that decision, one of the best ways to measure a location's southerness was whether or not Mickey D's served sweat tea.

The map below show the so-called Sweat Tea Line of McDonald's that served the tasty drink in 2004.  It's a surprisingly southern border, below Richmond even. The second map is the Slaw Line of West Virginia shows the geographic dispersion of HDJ's (hot dog joints) that serve with slaw and without (h/t Strange Maps).  Again, the map is similar to the Baptist Line.

Sweat Tea Line

West Virginia Slaw Map

Politics

Lastly, no discussion of the South could be complete without an understanding of its politics.  Chuck Todd has said that 2006 was the year that "Virginia seceded from the Confederacy," and sure enough the Old Dominion and neighboring North Carolina voted for Barack Obama in 2008.  For this reason, we can't simply look at the recent electoral map.

The best way to measure the South through politics is by examining the "Solid South" of the Wilbur Mills/Sam Rayburn/Willie Talos days in the century following Appamattox.  As recently as 1982, Democrats controlled a near monopoly in states like Alabama (105-4 split in House; 35-0 in Senate), Georgia (157-23, 51-5), and South Carolina (107-17, 41-5).

So Where is the Border?

It follows beings with an imaginary line from Cambridge, Md. to Fredericksburg, Va., follows the Rappahannock River up into the Piedmont, across the Baptist Line in West Virginia, along the Ohio River, and along the Baptist Line in southern Illinois.

Testaments to Better Times Still Stand Solid in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH -- As a Washington sports fan, I've never had much nice to say about Pittsburgh, but on a recent visit to the city for the Winter Classic I was impressed by the solidness of it.  As I sat in Heinz Field watching the Caps handily dismantle the Pens 3-1 in front of 68,000 fans, I admired its surprisingly commanding skyline.  Don't get me wrong, I'll never like Pittsburgh, but I gotta hand it to the Steel City -- it was built at a time when cities rose at strategic locations and prospered on raw industry. Pittsburgh was built on the foundations of Ft. Duquense (French) and Ft. Pitt (British).  In its heyday in the railroad age, the iron ore and coke of the Pennsylvania hills were baked in blast furnaces to produce the steel that built the Union Pacific Railway and Empire State Building.  In 1909, sociologist Paul Kellogg wrote in a report called "The Pittsburgh Survey," that "in coal and coke, tin plate, glass, cork, and sheet metal ... its output is a national asset" (h/t Bill Steigerwald).  Companies like U.S. Steel funded Mellon Bank and PNC Bank, and hotels with ornate masonry arose downtown.

Today, of course, Pittsburgh is a gloomy place with a rough economy and a nearly bankrupt municipality.  Yinzers leave in droves for greener pastures in Charlotte, Atlanta, and Northern Virginia.  Those places have humming economies but definitely lack the character.  Charlotte prospered thanks to the liberalization of state banking laws in the 1960s and 70s, and Northern Virginia boomed in the 1980s and 90s, thanks in part to Beltway Bandits capitalizing on government spending.

Pittsburgh, for all its faults and horrible hockey teams, is a solid city full of people who know how to make things.  Bruce Springsteen might as well been talking about Pittsburgh when he sang in "Youngstown," "These mills they built the tanks and bombs that won this county's wars."  The map below shows the increase in steel production from 1941-45, with Pittsburgh clearly leading, and the second map shows furnaces, rollings mills, and steel works in Pittsburgh in 1879:

Pittsburgh Steel

Pittsburgh Steel Map

How Solid was the South for Democrats?

I was browsing the 1982 Almanac of American Politics and came across a fascinating chart detailing the control of state legislatures.  We all know that the South used to be solidly Democratic for generations post-Appomattox, but did you have any idea it was this solid? State Legislature Split in 1982, measured D-R

State Upper Lower Gov.

Alabama       35-0       105-4        D

Arkansas      34-1        93-7          D

Florida          27-13     81-39        D

Georgia         51-5       157-23       D

Louisiana     39-0       91-10         D

Mississippi   43-4       116-4         D

N. Carolina   40-10     96-24       D

Oklahoma     37-11       73-28       D

S. Carolina    41-5        107-17       D

Texas              24-7       58-39        D

Virginia          31-9       74-25        D

83% of Congressional Districts Trended Republican in 2010

Two years after Barack Obama and Democrats reached their electoral high point, the political pendulum swung quickly and definitively back to Republicans in 2010. It was a political "whiplash" of sorts -- a swift refudiation of the way the country was moving. Republicans reclaimed congressional districts from the New Hampshire coast to the swamps of Louisiana to the Iron Range of Minnesota to the Las Vegas suburban desert. Indeed, they won everywhere, but the "whiplash" was stronger in some places than others.

Out of the 435 congressional districts, Democratic candidates underperformed Barack Obama in 83% of districts and overperformed him in 15% (they matched him in the remaining 2%). In an ominous sign for 2012, Democrats ran under Obama's 2008 margins in every single district in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana.

To calculate what I call the Whiplash Vote, I measured Obama's margin of victory in 2008 against each Democratic candidate's margin in 2010. So, for example, if Obama beat John McCain by 15 points in Virginia's 11th district (57%-42%), and Gerry Connolly and Keith Fimian essentially tied two years later (49.3%-48.6%), the Whiplash Vote there is -15.

Interestingly, Democrats outpreformed Obama in many districts in the South and West and still lost. Blue Dog Jim Marshall went down to defeat in Georgia's 8th by six points to Austin Scott (53%-47%), but Obama had lost by 13 points in the district -- therefore, the Whiplash was a positive +7.

The most extreme Whiplash was in Florida's 21st, where McCain edged Obama by two points in 2008, but where Democrats failed to field a candidate in 2010. That led to a Whiplash of -98 (the difference between -2 and -100), which of course is an aberration but nonetheless stunning.

On the other side of the spectrum, Democrat Dan Boren beat his opponent by 14 points in Oklahoma's 2nd, which was 46 points better than Obama's 32 point deficit there.

The full map is below. I created it using a fantastic product called Google Fusion Tables where you can visualize data (like election results) on Google Maps. If you click on each district, you can view the Whiplash. Dark red signifies a Whiplash of over 14 points, medium red is 6-13 points, and light red is 0-5 points.

Here is a link to the interactive map.

Whiplash Vote

Republicans Roll from the Eastern Shore to the Western Slope

It was a well-rounded rout, from the Eastern Shore of Maryland to the Western Slope of Colorodo.  The map went red last night from the mountains of Idaho to the swamps of Louisiana, from New England to Las Vegas, from the Orlando burbs to the Dakota prairies.  Freshman like Tom Perriello and committee chairman like Ike Skelton all fell to the same Republican wave. I thought that the Big Ten would be Democrats' worst region, and they did indeed lose a massive 21 seats in the eight states that constitute that conference.  But they also lost a net 15 seats in the eight states of SEC Country, and bled 20 in the 11 states that made up the old Confederacy.

In the West, where Democrats have made significant gains in recent years, Republicans flipped seven seats.  And even in the Northeast, which has become as solidly blue as anywhere in America, Democrats lost the better part of a dozen.  Across the nation, rural Democrats felt the most pain, and over half of the 52 Blue Dogs lost.

Republican governors claimed the executive mansions in the trifecta of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and reclaimed the governors office in the critical battlegrounds of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa.  The GOP also captured the Pennsylvania and Wisconsin Senate races and even won in Illinois -- which has to sting for Obama.

Indeed, the braintrust at the White House must have a major headache this morning.  Obama promised to scramble the electoral map in 2008, and he delivered, winning red states like Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia, and even claiming one electoral vote in Nebraska.

But Republicans rolled in Indiana's bellwether Ohio River Valley last night, knocked off 28-year incumbent Rick Boucher in Virginia's historically Democratic coalfields, recaptured a battleground seat in Hampton Roads, stole a Democratically-gerrymandered seat in North Carolina's coastal plain, and even won North Carolina's state House for the first time since 1898.

Those three so-called "blue states" have to be considered "pink" at best, and the White House will probably be better off focusing on holding what they've got.

NYT 2010 House Electoral Map

A Loss for Gerrymandering

Illinois' 17th is one of the ugliest gerrymandered districts in America. It was carved out by Democrats in 2001 to connect union-heavy manufacturing towns such as the Quad Cities with the urban centers like Springfield. But in 2010, Republican Robert Schilling will beat Democrat Phil Hare by over tens points. Call it a win for Republicans, a loss for gerrymandering.

Illinois-17

"Blue States" Indiana and Virginia Looking Ruby Red Tonight

Only two states voted for Republican presidents from 1968-2004, and then flipped to Barack Obama -- Virginia and Indiana. In fact, the blue tide was so strong in those two states that Democrats enjoyed a 5-4 House majority in the Hoosier State and a 6-5 House majority (and both senator seats) in the Old Dominion. Tonight, Democrats will lose two seats in Indiana and at least three in Virginia (and possibly a fourth in NOVA). Republicans won in the bellweather Ohio River Valley in Indiana, knocked off 28-year incumbent Rick Boucher in the coalfields in Virginia, and recaptured a seat that Obama won in Hampton Roads.

The White House cannot be happy about the results in these two states. Obama must have known that it would difficult to defend these two battlegrounds in 2012, but the elections tonight show that Virginia and Indiana are two "blue states" that have to be considered at least pink in 2012.

Here's a screen shot from the NYT map:

Virginia and Indiana Electoral Maps

Your Map Guide for Poll Closings

We probably won't know the full extent of Republican gains until Wednesday morning, but some key early races will be a good signal of what we can expect.  These races aren't perfect bellwethers, but ones that I think have some interesting stories and color and will be watching closely tomorrow evening. I'm a Virginian, so I'm very interested in a couple of races in the Old Dominion, where polls close at 7 pm (EST).  Tom Perriello is sure to lose his Southside and Charlottesville district, but the question is by how much?  He was the only House member that Obama stumped for and he was the benefit of a flood of liberal money and support.

I'll also be watching 28-year incumbent Rick Boucher in the southwest part of the state.  He's a great fit for the district and is a master of constituent relations, so if he falls, then we can probably expect Democratic losses on the high end.

At 7:30, I'll check to see if Joe Manchin can pull off a win in the West Virginia Senate race.  If he wins, then Democrats effectively hold the Senate.

Also at 7:30, Ohio polls close.  Like many election, the Buckeye State is the premier battelground with at least five incumbent Democratic representatives and incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland on the hot seat.

And at 8:00 pm, my eyes will be trained on Pennsylvania, which has five Democratic members of the House in danger and also features a Senate race that is likely to be a photo finish.

By 9:00 pm, most of those returns will have become public, and I think we'll have a good indication of the score in this election.  Of course, there are nearly 100 House seats in play and dozens of governors and Senate seats, so we'll have massive amounts of returns to analyze.

Keep this map with you throughout the night as a reference to when the polls close:

Poll Closing Times, 2010 Elections

The map is also embeddable on you blog with this code: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/theelectoralmap/5136055605/" title="Poll Closing Times, 2010 Elections by TheElectoralMap.com, on Flickr"><img src="http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4019/5136055605_d2ff67c778.jpg" width="500" height="373" alt="Poll Closing Times, 2010 Elections" /></a>

Foursquare to Map Out Real-Time Voter Turnout

What if you could see real-time data of voter turnout on an interactive map of your community? Well, tomorrow, the geosocial website Foursquare will make that wish a reality. Foursquare's "I Voted Project" will feature a map of every polling place in America synced with real-time data about the volume and gender of voters who have "checked-in" at various locations. For those of you unfamiliar with Foursquare, it's a social network that allows users to pin updates to specific locations -- bars, restaurants, and now polling places -- by checking in.

This is a big development in political campaigns, in which the two most important concerns have always been getting out the vote and building a community. By allowing uses to declare #ivoted via Foursquare and Twitter, it serves as the digital version of sporting the classic emblem of civic participation -- the "I Voted" sticker.

This project was the product of some of the sharpest minds in political activism, including Foursquare's Eric Friedman, Direct Media Strategies' Jordan Raynor, Engage's Mindy Finn and Patrick Ruffini, and JESS3's Leslie Bradshaw. Mindy and Patrick were already busy working with Google and Pew on the Voter Information Project to compile and map out every polling place in the nation, and JESS3 developed the platform. I was privileged to be along for the ride and to offer input on the fusion of politics and geography. Jordan has a good full recap of how the idea came to fruition and who was involved.

Of course, the "I Voted" map will only be as good as the volume of people who use it, so whether you're a Democrat, Republican, independent, member of the media, techie, political junkie, or just an everyday citizen, be sure to check out the map tomorrow and shout to the nation that you voted.

Here are a couple of screen shots of what will be live tomorrow.

Screen Shot of I Voted

Screen Shot 2 of I Voted

Google Maps and the Best Election Resource of 2010

"I've used the Google to bring up maps," George W. Bush shared in 2006. "I kinda like to look at the ranch."  Four years later, Google Maps is still the best resource for ranch-gazing from Washington, but now the site has a fantastic new feature that will be far more valuable to those in politics trying to dial in to more consequential matters across the country. The Google Maps team is up with a 2010 election mashup that shades every House, Senate, and Governors race according to ratings from Cook, CQ, Rothenberg, RCP, and Sabato. When a user visits the site (maps.google.com/2010elections), it randomly uses one of the ratings firms, and then users can click on a race and toggle through each of their predictions.

So, for example, W can click on his Crawford-area district and see that Democrat Chet Edwards' reelection prospects are rated "lean GOP" by four of the five agencies.  It's the only place where he would be able explore the contours of the electoral map, learn the ratings for a race, and research the candidates, all in one stop.

The mashup is the latest example of Google's increasing importance in politics, although it was the brainchild the Maps division in New York, not the policy offices in Washington.  The idea was hatched by Google Maps marketer Jesse Friedman, who created the project in the "20% time" that Google affords employees to purse creative projects.

A self-described map geek and armchair political junkie, Freidman calls the mashup of Google Maps and elections a "no-brainer" and says he hopes it will encourage voting "Google devotes a lot of resources to doing what we can to help voters be better educated and make participation easier," he said in an interview at the offices in New York on Monday.

To this end, they've also develop a tool at the Google Election Center, where you can plug in your address, get the address and directions to your polling place, and in some cases see the full ballot that you will be voting," according to Friedman. They also offer a feature where users can create their own maps with Census demographic data through Google Fusion Tables.

But I'm most excited about 2012 redistricting, which Friedman notes will be the first time new lines are cut in the era of Google Maps. If their product is anything like the 2010 midterm map, it'll be the go-to resource for that election cycle.

 Google Midterms Map

Volatility at an Historic High

If Democrats and Republicans can agree on one thing, it's that they both want "change." Barack Obama called for it in 2008, and Republicans are calling for it now. What that "change" means is of course up for debate, but one thing's for sure: 2010 will be the third straight change election. Chuck Todd made this observation recently and noted that "In 2006, Democrats won control of Congress. In 2008, Democrats won the White House. And in 2010, Republicans appear poised to take back control of Congress."

Chuck added that only three times since World War I have 20 or more seats flipped in three straight elections -- after World War I, during the Great Depression, and after World War II.

The map below shows fairly steady voting patterns from 1976-2000 through most of the nation, with the Mississippi River Valley and the Ohio River Valley standing out as the nation's preeminent battlegrounds.

The map is unfortunately somewhat outdated, but as recently as 2006, Stu Rothenberg wrote that "The Ohio River has become a focal point of American politics recently, and that isn’t likely to change this year."

He was right, the Ohio River Valley still a major battleground, the only difference is the rest of the nation has embraced its thirst for change.

Volatile Counties, 1976-2000

A Philadelphian Rest His Hope on Steelers Country

During World War II, the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers came together to form the Pennsylvania Steagles. It was about the last time the cities united on anything. Despite both being Keystone State cities, Philly and Pittsburgh have always been cultural and political rivals. Philly is a Metroliner city founded by English aristocrats that has historically produced politicians like Arlen Specter, while Pittsburgh is a frontier city founded by Scots-Irish scrapers that has historically produced pols like John Murtha.

But if Philly-area native Joe Sestak wants to close the gap against Pat Toomey in the Pennsylvania Senate race, he's going to have to run up the score in the western part of the state. The Pennsylvania map is famously a "T," with blue counties in the southwest and southeast and red "Pennsyltucky" taking up the middle.

The red "T" isn't going to vote for anyone with a "D" next to their name in 2010, and Philly is going to go deep blue if the White House has anything to say about it. But metro Pittsburgh in the southwest is part of that classic Jacksonian Belt that has is culturally conservative, historically Democratic, and recently Republican.

Barone wrote about the area's Democratic roots in 2008:

Metro Pittsburgh in 1988 had just gone through a decade of massive losses of steel industry and related jobs; it was one of the most anti-Reagan metro areas in 1984 and one of the most anti-Bush metro areas in 1988. If northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania had been a separate state in 1984, it would have cast its electoral votes for Walter Mondale, and by a bigger percentage margin than Mondale won in his home state of Minnesota.

But metro Pittsburgh also was home to the only six of Pennsylvania's 76 counties that went from blue to red in 2008. In fact, only one congressional district in America voted for John Kerry and John McCain, and that was Pennsylvania's 12.

When John Murtha passed away, I was sure the Republicans would win this seat, but the Democrats retained it in a special election. If Sestak wants to win the state, he's going to have to convince the highly-unionized, anti-free trade voters of the 12th that Toomey is not one of them -- something Obama couldn't do.

Below is the map for the only Kerry-McCain district, broken down my precincts (thanks to Swing State Project):

Pennsylvania's 12th District in 2008

A Reagan Comparison the White House Wants to Make

Ronald Reagan is respected among most Americans as a president who tore down the Iron Curtain, ushered in a 15-year bull market, and generally restored optimism. Even Barack Obama admitted in 2009, that "I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America." But if you flash back to this day in 1982, nearly two years before Reagan declared that it's "morning again in America," the president had a 42 percent approval rating, according to Gallup. For comparison, Obama has a 45 percent Gallup approval rating. (You can compare historic data with this great interactive graph).

Unemployment was also much worse during Reagan's first term that it is during Obama's. The first map below from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows regional unemployment in October, 1982, right before Reagan's Republicans lost 26 seats in the midterms. The second map shows the most recent unemployment map available, which is August, 2010.

This probably doesn't mean Democrats will limit the bleeding to 26 seats (larger cultural factors are at work), but it does mean that Obama has plenty of time after the midterms to rescue his presidency. And while Obama-Boehner may not have the charm of Reagan-O'Neill, it'll surely help the White House to differentiate its policies against Congress.

10 20 Umemployment Rate 1982 vs. 2010

Two Maps that Help Sum Up this Election Cycle

It's tough to throw a pin on map these days and not hit an area with some kind of economic distress. So today when the Washington Post and Mint.com released maps of home foreclosures and poverty levels, respectively, it looked like just about the whole nation was facing hard times. The first map from the Post about home foreclosures highlights the tricky politics that Democrats face. A moratorium on foreclosures could freeze up the whole market, but it might be a political winner with liberals and working class voters thirsty for some populism. The Post notes the last thing Harry Reid wants are images on TV of Clark County voters being tossed from their homes.

The second map from Mint shows poverty in America, which is unfortunately on the rise. Many of the worst areas have long legacies of poverty -- Appalachia, the South's Black Belt, south Texas, Indian reservations -- but I was surprised to see coutnies in Florida, Arizona and other Sun Belt locales with such high levels of poor.

The only states that seem to not have at least some high pockets of poverty or home foreclosures are Nebraska, Kansas (wheat boom), Wyoming (oil and gas boom), and Minnesota (health care boom and strong Lutheran work ethic). I would include Virginia (government spending boom), Iowa, Wisconsin, and most of New England, if it weren't for higher than average foreclosure rates.

It's no surprise that The Atlantic named Wyoming the best economically perfoming state in a study that measured debt per capita, unemployment, home price change, and median household income. Second place went to North Dakota, followed by Iowa, Vermont, and Minnesota. Bringing up the rear? Arizona, California, and Kentucky.

Taken as a whole, the maps shows an economically sick county, which more than anything else sum up the 2010 elections.

Washington Post Home Foreclosure Rates

Mint's Poverty in America

The Defense of Alaska

From the Russians to Lisa Murkowski, it's never been easy to defend Alaska. On this day in 1867, the Russians likely gazed across their backyard and  breathed a sigh of relief that the United States was taking over the great land mass across the Bering Straight.  Alaska had become a liability to the Russians, who feared they may eventually could lose it to a rival such as Great Britain, but on October 23, it officially passed to the United States.

Nearly a century and a half later, the acquisition once-known as "Seward's Folly" has proven to be a wise investment.  The $7 million purchase (which equals two pennies an acre) seems like nothing when you consider that the Alaska Permanent Fund alone is worth $33.3 billion.

But if the strategic value to the United States is clear, the economics and politics have always been much murkier.  It's a state that loves to hate Washington, and yet receives more assistance from the federal government per capita than any other.  It's a ruby red state that senators expected would be thoroughly Democratic when they approved its admittance to the union in 1959.

Alaska is definitely is own unique place with its own quirky characters, but even there we've seen some familiar rifts in the electoral map.  A week ago I highlighted the O'Donnell-Castle divide.  It turns out Alaska had a similar dynamic in the Republican Senate primary.

This great map from the Anchorage Daily News shows that Anchorage, the coastal areas, the Eskimo areas, and the North Slope voted for Lisa Murkowski while the inland areas, including Wasila, supported Tea Partier Joe Miller.  The map suggest to me that Murkowski has more work cut out for her if she wants to win that write-in campaign, as she'll have to traverse the interior while Miller can work the coastal towns.

Judging by Miller's rhetoric on the trail, he'll likely be quoting Ty Webb: "This isn't Russia. Is this Russia? This isn't Russia."  Since today on 1867, the answer is no.

Alaska Republican Primary Senate