Editor's Note: 50 Mondays after today is November 2, 2020, the day before the presidential election. That gives us 50 weeks to review the 50 states.
The Road to 270 is is a weekly column leading up to the presidential election. Each installment is dedicated to understanding one state’s political landscape and how that might influence which party will win its electoral votes in 2020. We’ll do these roughly in order of expected competitiveness, moving toward the most intensely contested battlegrounds as election day nears. Leading off is Washington, D.C., the only non-state entity that casts electoral college votes in the United States presidential election.
The Road to 270 will be published every Monday. The column is written by Seth Moskowitz, a 270toWin elections and politics contributor. You can reach Seth at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @skmoskowitz.
The quadrennial contest for Washington, D.C.’s three Electoral College votes is consistently the least competitive in the nation. The District's residents began casting votes for president in 1964 and no Republican nominee has ever won an electoral vote. In 2016, Hillary Clinton received nearly 23 votes for each one cast for Donald Trump, winning by a 91% to 4% margin.
Before getting to the District’s outlook for 2020, let’s look at its history as our nation’s capital and why it has electoral votes at all.
Constitutional Cliff Notes
The Constitution stipulates in Article I, Section 8 that the U.S. Congress has the power to choose the seat of the Federal Government. It specifies that the District cannot exceed ten square miles and that Congress shall “exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District”. The Framers gave Congress this exclusive power over the District and separated it from the states so that no one state would have untoward influence over Congress. This independence also meant that the Federal Government would not have to rely on the states for physical protection.
Following ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788, New York and Philadelphia served as the temporary seats of government. In 1790, Congress decided that the future capital would be along the Potomac River. This was a part of the secretive Compromise of 1790 involving Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson. Madison and Jefferson agreed to allow the Federal Government to assume states’ debts while Hamilton agreed to establish a southern capital.
The president, George Washington, was given the power to decide the exact location of the capital. He settled on a tract of land between Maryland and Virginia. This federal territory was named the District of Columbia after Christopher Columbus. The city inside, Washington, was meant to honor the first president and man who chose the permanent capital’s location. In 1800, Congress officially moved to Washington, D.C.
The people living in the new seat of government, however, were no longer residents of a state. And because the Constitution only delegated electoral votes and congressional seats to the states, Washington, D.C. residents lacked federal representation.
This lasted until ratification of the 23rd Amendment in 1961. The Constitution grants each state electoral votes equal to its total representation in Congress (senators plus representatives). The new amendment gave Washington, D.C. a number of electors “equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State, but in no event more than the least populous State”. In practice, this limits Washington, D.C. to three electors because seven states, including the least populous state of Wyoming, have just three. However, it is also the number of electoral votes it would have as a state based on its current population.
At the time, the Amendment’s ratification was not crushed by political partisanship, as would likely be the case today. The primary political wedge endangering ratification was race rather than partisanship. According to the U.S. Census, the District was 54% black in 1960. Only one former Confederate state, Tennessee, voted to ratify the Amendment even though Democrats controlled most of the Confederate state capitals. Likewise, Republican-controlled northern states did vote to ratify. By 1970, the District had become 71% black, increasing 17% in just 10 years. This demographic change along with the 1964 Civil Rights Act made ballot access easier for black and minority residents. It shifted the District safely into Democratic hands.
The Ongoing Push for Statehood
Today, though, any structural reform that would tilt the electoral landscape is unlikely. Statehood, or any legislation that gives Washington, D.C. full representation in Congress, would essentially guarantee Democrats two additional Senators. It would also give residents a Democratic voting member in the U.S. House^. Even back in 1978, by which time the Democratic Party’s advantage in Washington, D.C. had become clear, a proposed Constitutional Amendment giving the District full Congressional representation failed. Although the amendment passed Congress with the requisite two-thirds support in both chambers (the last time any proposed amendment has done so), only 16 states voted to ratify it. This was far short of the 38 states needed.
The partisanship that defeated the amendment back in 1978 has only strengthened. The Republican Party’s 2016 Platform calls for “Preserving the District of Columbia” while Congressional Democrats in both the House and Senate have introduced bills that would create the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth. Two hundred and twenty-three Democrats* have sponsored the House Bill and 36 Democrats have sponsored the Senate version. No Republicans have signed on to either.
Washington, D.C.’s Electoral History and Demographics
In every presidential election since the 23rd Amendment, Washington, D.C. has voted overwhelmingly for the Democratic Party. This was the case even in 1972 and 1984, when GOP incumbents (Nixon and Reagan) had landslide 49-state wins.
Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton continued the legacy of Democratic domination in the capital. In 2012, Obama beat Mitt Romney 91% to 7%, an 84% margin. In 2016, Clinton beat Donald Trump 91% to 4%, an 87% margin. By comparison, the most Democratic state in both those elections - Hawaii - went to Obama by a 43% margin in 2012 and Clinton by 32% in 2016.
Today, the District is approximately 48% black, a reliably Democratic voting bloc. In comparison, non-college educated whites, a key Republican constituency, only make up about 2% of the population. The District as a whole is densely urban and continues to grow quickly. These demographic trends make it clear why it is Democrats’ deepest blue stronghold.
And the Capital’s political effects are not contained within its boundaries. D.C.’s expanding suburbs helped Democrats flip Virginia's 10th congressional district in 2018 and partially explain why Virginia is becoming a reliably blue state in presidential elections.
Come next November, the Democratic nominee is all but certain to win Washington, D.C.’s three Electoral College votes. It’s nearly impossible to imagine a world - at least in the foreseeable future - where a Republican wins the nation’s capital.
^ Whether this would be a net gain for Democrats is unknowable. The number of voting seats in the U.S. House is fixed by law at 435. Assuming no change in the law, one state would lose a congressional seat.
*Excluding the primary sponsor, Washington, D.C.‘s non-voting delegate.
Next Week: Wyoming
Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has won a 2nd term in Louisiana.
As polls predicted, the election was very competitive, but Edwards is now projected to finish ahead of GOP businessman Eddie Rispone.
The runoff election for Louisiana governor takes place on Saturday, November 16. Incumbent Democratic Gov. Jon Bel Edwards is seeking a 2nd term. He faces off against Republican businessman Eddie Rispone. Polls close at 9:00 PM Eastern Time. Live results will appear below after that time.
This is a very competitive race. Edwards has a one point lead in the Real Clear Politics average. That is consistent with the toss-up rating assigned by most forecasters. Sabato's Crystal Ball does see a small edge for the incumbent, and moved the race to Leans Democratic the other day. You can read their analysis of the race here.
Saturday's election is a top-two runoff, necessitated when no candidate received a majority of the vote in the state's all-party primary on October 12. Edwards ended up at about 47%. Rispone and GOP Rep. Ralph Abraham split most of the remainder of the vote, with Rispone finishing slightly ahead.
While the polling may ever so slightly favor Edwards, Saturday's vote could still go either way. In Rispone's favor is the fact that the two main Republicans combined for 51% of the total vote in the primary and, of course, Louisiana is a deep red state. President Trump also held a rally for Rispone in Bossier City earlier in the week.
This is the last of three gubernatorial elections in 2019, all competitive races in Republican strongholds. The parties have split the other two races, with the GOP prevailing in an open seat contest in neighboring Mississippi. Democrats flipped the seat in Kentucky, defeating the incumbent. There will be 11 gubernatorial elections in 2020.
Republican Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has conceded the governor's race to his Democratic challenger, Attorney General Andy Beshear. Bevin, who trailed by about 5,000 votes in the Election Day count, had requested a recanvass of the vote. That was done Thursday, with a change of only one vote. Beshear will be sworn in on December 10.
We've updated the 2019-2020 consensus Governor Interactive Map to reflect the Kentucky result, as well as the GOP win in Mississippi.
This Saturday, the final gubernatorial race of 2019 will be decided, as Louisiana holds a runoff election. Incumbent Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards is seeking a 2nd term. He's opposed by the Republican nominee, businessman Eddie Rispone. Polling has shown a very tight race, but most surveys give Edwards a 2-3% lead. This Mason-Dixon poll is reflective of that.
Polls close at 9:00 PM Eastern on Saturday. Visit 270toWin for live results.
Ten Democrats have qualified for the 5th Democratic debate, to be held on November 20 in Atlanta. The event will be hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post and broadcast live from 9:00 PM to 11:00 PM Eastern Time.
Those making the stage include former Vice President Joe Biden; New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker; South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard; California Sen. Kamala Harris; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar; Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders; businessman Tom Steyer; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren; and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
Update: The candidates will appear in this order, from left to right on stage: Booker, Gabbard, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, Warren, Biden, Sanders, Harris, Yang and Steyer.
Neither Texas resident that participated in October's debate will be in Atlanta. Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro did not meet the Democratic National Committee's polling requirements, although he did cross the donor threshold. Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke withdrew from the race on November 1.
Looking ahead, the final debate of 2019 will be held on December 19 in Los Angeles*. It will be hosted by PBS and Politico. At this point, six of the ten candidates in next week's debate have met the DNC's more stringent qualifying criteria.
* Originally scheduled for the campus of UCLA, the debate has been moved to Loyola Marymount University.
Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's brief challenge to President Trump has ended. Sanford, who had announced his campaign for the GOP nomination in early September, said Tuesday that he was suspending that effort.
Sanford was averaging less than 2% in limited national polling. Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh remain in the race, but are also seeing little traction against an incumbent president who enjoys broad support within the Republican party.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is reportedly considering a late entry into the 2020 Democratic field. The news comes days after former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg filed to run in Alabama's March primary. Both individuals had previously decided against running in 2020, but both apparently see an opening despite the historically large number of candidates already in the race.
The filing deadline for New Hampshire's February 11 first-in-the-nation primary is this Friday. Given the proximity to his state, it would seem likely that Patrick would register for this contest if he is serious about jumping in to the race.
Rep. Peter King of New York announced he will not seek re-election in 2020. He is in his 14th term, representing the state's 2nd district, which covers parts of the south shore of Long Island. King is one of only two GOP representatives in downstate New York; Lee Zeldin's 1st district covers the remainder of Long island to the east.
In a statement posted to Facebook, King said he wanted to spend more time with his family. It is notable that his 2018 election win was by just 6 points; he had never previously won re-election by fewer than 12 points. The district voted for Donald Trump by 9 points in 2016, after preferring Barack Obama by 5 points in 2012. Given the loss of incumbency and the overall political climate, the district is expected to be more closely-contested in 2020. Sabato's Crystal Ball has changed its rating from Likely to Leans Republican, with a hint that it could be a toss-up later on. We expect other forecasters to update their ratings earlier this week.
Crystal Ball House ratings change: NY-2 moves from Likely Republican to Leans Republican following long-time Rep. Peter King’s retirement. Could easily be a Toss-up too - south-central Long Island, Obama-to-Trump district (53-44 Trump).— Kyle Kondik (@kkondik) November 11, 2019
King is the 20th current GOP member to retire; 8 Democrats have also announced they will not run for re-election in 2020.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to file paperwork to qualify for the Alabama Democratic primary in advance of the state's Friday deadline. The filing doesn't mean he is going to jump into the race, but it is clearly under serious consideration.
Bloomberg's spokesman Howard Wolfson said "We now need to finish the job and ensure that Trump is defeated — but Mike is increasingly concerned that the current field of candidates is not well positioned to do that". He went on to say that "If Mike runs he would offer a new choice to Democrats built on a unique record running America’s biggest city, building a business from scratch and taking on some of America’s toughest challenges as a high-impact philanthropist.”
Rep. Pete Visclosky of Indiana announced his retirement Wednesday. Now in his 18th term, he's the third most senior Democrat in the U.S. House. Visclosky chairs the defense appropriations panel, overseeing a budget of over $700 billion.
Visclosky represents Indiana's first district, a fairly safe Democratic district in the northwestern part of the state, including Gary. Hillary Clinton won this district by about 13 points in 2016.
27 current House members have announced they won't seek re-election in 2020. This includes 19 Republicans and 8 Democrats.
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