In the last presidential election, Ronald Reagan won every Midwestern state but Minnesota. It has been 20 years since Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, or South Dakota went Democratic in a presidential election.
But Democrats, who badly need the Midwestern states to win, appear to be growing more confident that they can make some important inroads this time -- particularly in the "big three" industrial states -- Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio.
* They are encouraged by Mr. Reagan's declining lead in Michigan, where Democrats have long outnumbered Republicans. A poll taken by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research shows that Reagan's lead in Michigan declined from 14 percent in June to 7 percent in late August. Though most of the Mondale gains appear to be among Democrats themselves, University of Michigan research scientist Michael Traugott, who worked on the poll, says it indicates Walter Mondale is "in striking distance." (But Michigan Reagan-Bush campaign spokesman Bob Delaney says "the overall picture still looks good for us.")
* Joan Mondale presided at the opening this week of Mondale-Ferraro headquarters in Chicago. Standing near a pot of yellow chrysanthemums and a "Chicago is Mondale Country" banner, she said Illinois is "absolutely crucial" to her husband's election.
Democratic Party loyalty is regarded as exceptionally strong in Illinois, and the split between Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and the City Council majority is expected to help Mondale as both sides work hard to turn out the city vote.
"The consensus now is that Mondale is probably about five points behind in Illinois -- which at this stage is pretty good," says an Illinois Mondale-Ferraro campaign spokesman. However, a GOP poll conducted after the Democratic convention and a statewide poll by a Champaign radio station during the event showed Reagan with 10- and 15-point leads, respectively.
* A Columbus Dispatch poll last weekend gave Reagan a 16-point lead over Mondale in Ohio. Though Democrats in that state hold both US Senate seats and the majority in both houses of the legislature, the governorship and every state constitutional office but one Supreme Court seat are held by Republicans.
Still, Republicans insist Ohio is a swing state. "There is a strong Democratic organization in Ohio, and there's no question in my mind but that the race will tighten up," says Ohio Republican Committee director Norm Cummings. "But I think the President looks pretty good throughout the state, and we plan to win."