Part I (50-41) and an explanation of the scoring is here.
Part II (40-31) is here.
Part III (30-21) is here.
20. Nebraska: 25.9 Points
Nebraska is the highest-ranked state that scored a zero in the yes/no questions. Note that I didn't give it any points for Obama's win in Omaha, since any number of large cities in red states would have gone to him if their vote was counted separately. The Cornhusker State ranks in our top 20 (barely) because of better than average scores including the 4th lowest unemployment rate and a very low infant mortality rate. Just another state that's a little better than average, but probably not all that exciting and not a place I'd want to live.
19. Oregon: 26.5 Points
Oh, Beaver State... You sneak ahead of a few states because you allow civil unions, you're not land-locked like Nebraska, and you have an NBA team that used to have its own crime blotter. You are the state where I once carried a baby goat in a parade (honestly, and check out the really bad editing on the fourth left-hand button from the bottom). You are the state where, when passing through Salem on the way to Seattle, a gas station attendant all but begged to join us and get away from his miserable existence. To be fair, Portland's actually really cool and has the best bookstore in the country. Oregon is not great for jobs (10th worst) and pretty average in everything else. This is the one where my scoring for politics backfires.
18. Wisconsin: 26.6 Points
Wisconsin is more or less the mirror image of a state like Indiana, where it ranks unspectacularly around the top 20 in just about every category. The Badger State has reasonably wealthy people, especially compared to some of its neighbors. It also has some of the great tailgating in the country. Lambeau Field is obviously famous for it, but we saw some great set-ups outside of Miller Park for a Brewers game. I should have deducted points because Wisconsin's State Insect is the European honey bee. Real patriotic!
17. Pennsylvania: 28.3 Points
Kind of a disappointing slot for the home of the World Champion Phillies and the first major Mid-Atlantic state in the rankings. The Keystone State earns points for being solidly blue, being a place I'd want to live, and having one the most underrated skylines in the country in Pittsburgh. It has a high number of doctors per capita and low number of mobile homes, but ranks between 22nd and 31st in the other categories. It's similar to Ohio, but just plain old better across the board.
16. Utah: 29.5 Points
Hands-down, without a doubt, I am more surprised by this state's rank than any other's. Utah, the reddest of the red states, has a religious makeup that is 58% LDS, with all of the stereotypes that come with it. Sure, it inexplicably has an NBA team, much less one named after a decidedly non-white style of music, but that is the only point it scored on the yes/no questions. That must mean that the Beehive State ranks very high in the chosen categories. It is the first state on this list to be 1st in the country in anything (lowest infant mortality rate) and has the 3rd lowest unemployment rate and 10th lowest rate of traffic fatalities. It ranks in the top half of every category besides doctors per 100,000 residents. Too mountainous and non-Jewish for me, but it's apparently a very pleasant place in which to live.
15. Colorado: 31.2 Points
The Centennial State, with its beautiful mountains, ranks no lower than 21st in any category. It has the second-highest percentage of residents with college degrees. Everyone I know who has gone to or lived in Denver raves about it. Maybe it started with Utah, but I declare that we are firmly out of the average states and into the very good ones.
14. Rhode Island: 31.3 Points
Aside from a very high unemployment rate (10th worst), The Ocean State scores very well across the board. I suppose the smallest state deserves the smallest paragraph, so that's what it will get.
13. Illinois: 31.7 Points
Due to a freak occurrence, Illinois is the only state in the country with only one U.S. Senator. Dick Durbin is still soldiering on though, after his junior counterpart decided to just up and quit for some reason or another. The Land of Lincoln is like Michigan but with an extra point in each category. It's reasonably wealthy and well-educated, but with pretty high unemployment. I give a big step up to states with a large city that I would live in and Chicago certainly fits the bill.
12. Vermont: 32.7 Points
The Green Mountain State, home to maple candy and Ben and Jerry's, gets the lowest remaining points from yes/no questions, with only three coming from the 2004 and 2008 elections and its recognition of civil unions. However, it ranks 6th in college degrees, 6th in doctors per capita, 11th in lowest poverty level, 3rd in fewest traffic fatalities per 100 million miles, and above average in every category other than a surprising 25th in the percentage of mobile homes. My favorite stat about Vermont is this: it has zero Target stores. Vermonters don't take kindly to the big box stores and while Wal-Mart was able to sneak two or three in, Target got shut out.
11. Virginia: 33.1 Points
Virginia is the highest-ranked state that went Republican in either of the last two presidential elections. That shouldn't be too much of a surprise as it has some of the wealthiest areas in the country in the DC suburbs and it has great history all over. Go to Williamsburg around Christmas sometime, it's one of the best places to be. The Old Dominion ranks 9th in median income, 11th in college degrees, 6th in the lowest unemployment rate, and 7th in lowest poverty level. One would think this is mostly driven by Fairfax and its surrounding counties, but recent elections have shown that these counties have become the true power in the state. Virginia misses the top 10 by just 0.1 points. A lower infant mortality rate (it ranks 35th)? If the Nationals had ended up in Potomac Yards? Either of these would have put Virginia even higher in our rankings and I expect, as it loses its reputation as a Southern state and comes to be known as more Mid-Atlantic, that a re-look at our rankings down the road would have them there.
Coming up tomorrow: The top ten, which you could figure out by process of elimination, will be revealed, but in what order as we still await the biggest upset and the largest (by far) gap between states.