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Eric Ostermeier

Eric Ostermeier

A smart look at politics

Blog offers a nonpartisan take on the political landscape

By Rick Moore

January 29, 2008

It's rare for a political blog to take a neutral position and comment on the changing electoral landscape in as balanced and objective a manner as possible.

But that's precisely the mission and the day-to-day undertaking of "Smart Politics," a blog from the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the U's Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs.

Smart Politics calls itself a home to "timely, pointed, nonpartisan discussion of Upper Midwestern and national politics." Its focus is on the issues driving the forthcoming 2008 elections but its purview includes campaigns and races in Iowa, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, as well as Minnesota. It's a destination for both political junkies and casual observers looking for a more fulsome take on the latest trends and stories.

Smart Politics is produced and updated virtually every day by Eric Ostermeier, a post doctorate who works out of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance.

Ostermeier, who received a law degree from the University of Michigan in 1995, earned his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Minnesota in 2006 and began working at the center a few years ago.

The blog was actually the brainchild of the center's director, Larry Jacobs, who then suggested that Ostermeier write it.

"I had been, to be quite honest, turned off by blogs at the time," says Ostermeier. "A lot of the hate that's on blogs just didn't appeal to me."

"There's not the room for these harsher, partisan types to leave these 'drive-by-shooting'-type comments, because I'm not inspiring that type of hatred," says Ostermeier.

But after discussing with Jacobs the idea of a nonpartisan blog that would offer analysis of local and national politics that wasn't being provided elsewhere, he warmed to the idea. The Smart Politics blog launched in the fall of 2006, in time for that year's election flurry.

Incidentally, Ostermeier made predictions a couple of days before the 2006 elections and called 27 of 28 high-profile Upper Midwest races correctly, including 21 of 22 Congressional contests and all four gubernatorial races. He also predicted the Democratic takeovers of the Minnesota and Iowa House and Wisconsin Senate. "So I'm really nervous about 2008, keeping up this track record," he jokes.

Polling trends and much more

In addition to his blogging, Ostermeier has been busy compiling the most comprehensive database for election returns in the Upper Midwest, along with an expanding archive of public opinion polls. Having that data at hand helps him to put current trends and results in a larger perspective.

One day the blog might examine a trend in the presidential primaries; the next it's acting as media watchdog when Ostermeier spots a reporting inaccuracy. Within a span of a week earlier in January, Ostermeier posted a lengthy and pointed Q&A with Michael Brodkorb, the author of the conservative blog Minnesota Democrats Exposed, and an enlightening analysis as to why the Michigan primary shouldn't be considered "do or die" for Mitt Romney, even though that's what the pundits had been proclaiming. Ostermeier has also been doing "live blogging" during the evenings of some of the major primaries, providing up-to-the-minute totals and analysis.

What's absent are the divisive opinions, which in turn inspire passionate, if not nasty, comments.

"There's a place for that, but it's not what we're doing," says Ostermeier. "There's not the room for these harsher, partisan types to leave these 'drive-by-shooting'-type comments, because I'm not inspiring that type of hatred."

Regular readers seem to appreciate the niche that Smart Politics has created. "We're carving out our own space, and we're getting a lot of good feedback," Ostermeier says. "There's a wider audience that isn't interested in the traditional tone of a blog."

And is Smart Politics truly nonpartisan, or do Ostermeier's own biases sneak up to the surface? He points out that people "who take a semi-serious look" at the blog will realize that the coverage of the various parties is balanced. "It would be very difficult for someone who knows me to think that this would be a left-leaning blog, which is the common association with the University of Minnesota."

For the record, Ostermeier was asked if he had any off-the-record predictions for who might emerge from the primaries as the presidential nominees.

He offered some interesting scenarios, but stopped well short of any prognostications, given the fluidity of the races. And besides, the reputation that he established two years ago is at stake.

"We're not going to make predictions for a while at Smart Politics," he says with a smile.

Visit Ostermeier's blog at Smart Politics.