Election News

The Road to 270: Iowa

October 19, 2020

The Road to 270 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. 

The Road to 270 will be published every Monday. The column is written by Drew Savicki, a 270toWin elections and politics contributor. Contact Drew via email or on Twitter @SenhorRaposa.

Home of the famed Iowa Caucuses, Iowa enjoys considerable attention every four years thanks to its small population and purple hue. Once a classic swing state, Iowa took a remarkable turn to the right in 2016 -- but there are signs the state is back on the radar. Following Donald Trump's commanding win in the state, Democrats largely thought Iowa was off the map in 2020. Recent polling indicates that while the Hawkeye State may not return to its Obama-era lean, the state is broadly competitive up and down the ballot. The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected Iowa's agricultural economy and has spread throughout the state's various meatpacking plants.

Geography

To understand Iowa, let us look at its political geography. Iowa's four congressional districts each represent a different region of the state.

  •  IA-1: Northeast Iowa. Partially located in the 'Driftless Area', the 1st District includes several of Iowa's biggest cities, such as Cedar Rapids and Dubuque. Northeast Iowa is home to a number of smaller, blue-collar counties that voted for Obama twice before flipping to Trump in 2016. In the western part of the district is Howard County, which saw the largest swing towards Trump of any county in the nation. 
  • IA-2: Southeast Iowa.  Home to Davenport and the University of Iowa, this district includes suburbs and a number of working-class towns.
  • IA-3: Southwest Iowa. The most suburban of the four districts, Iowa's 3rd District is anchored in Iowa's largest city, and its state capital, Des Moines. Although it may not look like it on a map, the vast majority of the population in this district lives in Polk County. Of particular note here is the county west of Polk, Dallas. A traditionally Republican suburban county, 49% of the population here has at least a bachelor's degree and this seems likely to be a Trump/Biden county. 
  • IA-4: Northwest Iowa. In close statewide races, this largely rural district is what keeps Iowa red. Of particular note is the northwestern part of this district -- this ethnically Dutch area is intensely Republican.

Congressional politics

As one of the swingiest states in the nation, Iowa sees significant turnover in its congressional delegation every few years. Republicans held three of the four seats after 2016; Democrats now hold the same margin after flipping two of those in 2018. Let’s look at the state’s three competitive congressional districts.

The 1st District is currently held by Democrat Abby Finkenauer. A former state representative, Finkenauer defeated Rep. Rod Blum in 2018 by five points. Finkenauer was one of Joe Biden’s most prominent Iowa endorsers ahead of the Iowa Caucuses; going back further, she actually worked on his 2008 campaign. Widely regarded as a rising star in the Democratic Party, Finkenauer has sought to keep it local during her time in office but she faces a strong challenge from State Rep. Ashley Hinson (R). Hinson has widely been considered to be one of the strongest Republican House recruits. She has proven an excellent fundraiser but she faces a somewhat uphill battle. Amidst sinking Republican fortunes in the Hawkeye state, Sabato’s Crystal Ball recently moved this race from ‘Tossup’ to ‘Leans Democratic.’ Republicans recently released an internal poll showing the race tied but Hinson was only at 45% of the vote. With statewide polling indicating a close race at the presidential level, it seems likely Biden will flip back this district, and thus carry Finkenauer with him.

Since he was elected in 2006, Rep. Dave Loebsack (D) has held down the swingy 2nd District in some tough years for Democrats, but is retiring this year. Loebsack, a former college professor, has proven very popular here and was not expected to face a competitive race this year. Running on the Democratic side is former State Sen. Rita Hart, who was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2018. On the Republican side, State Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks is making her fourth bid for this seat, after losing to Loebsack in 2008, 2010, and 2014. While this is her best shot at winning the seat, she is still an underdog as the Crystal Ball rates this race as ‘Leans Democratic.’ In a better year for Republicans, an open seat like this would be a top tier pickup opportunity.

Of the three Democratic held seats, District 3 clearly has the most Republican lineage. But as the most suburban of the three, it seems to be Democrats’ most secure seat in the state. Businesswoman Cindy Axne defeated Rep. David Young (R) in 2018 -- she’s struck a center-left tone in the House and catered to her district’s interests, with her committee assignments of Agriculture and Financial Services. Following Steve King’s loss of his committee assignments, Axne is the sole Iowan on the House Agriculture Committee. Although this is an Obama/Trump district, it swung the least towards Trump of the state’s four districts and its suburban nature means it is unlikely the President can carry it again. West of Des Moines, Dallas County, which Axne lost in 2018, may flip to her this year. 

The 3rd district is under-discussed compared to the other three districts but there is clear weakening Republicans in the Des Moines area. Although Omaha, Nebraska may be trending leftward, the Council Bluffs area on the Iowa side of the border has trended more Republican in recent years. 

Though the 4th District saw a competitive race in 2018, it was mostly due to the weakness of Rep. Steve King. In office since 2003, King was known for his controversial comments, which often had a racist overtone. In June, he lost his primary to state Sen. Randy Feenstra, who should be able to keep the seat more securely in GOP hands. Although King had become a pariah in the Republican Party by 2019, he was once a powerful kingmaker in Iowa politics. For years Republicans candidates would seek out his endorsement. Before he ran for President, Donald Trump was a supporter of King's and held a fundraiser for him in 2014.

Locked in a surprisingly competitive race this year is Iowa's junior Senator, Joni Ernst. A Republican who was the first elected in 2014, Ernst is a former state senator and Army veteran from southwest Iowa. Promising to go to DC and “make ‘em squeal”, she scored a surprisingly large primary win in 2014. In the general election, she faced then-1st District Rep. Bruce Braley (D), who was not a particularly strong candidate. Retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D) was well-liked, but offered little help to the gaffe-prone Braley until it was too late. Buoyed by the national tide and the strong support of the state's popular senior Sen. Chuck Grassley (R), Ernst defeated Braley by eight points. In the Senate, Ernst has been a reliable party line vote, and until last year, maintained high approval ratings.

Initially considered a heavy favorite for reelection, Ernst’s political fortunes have sunk as Trump’s have in the Hawkeye State. Ernst is facing a strong challenge from Democratic businesswoman Theresa Greenfield. Greenfield has fundraised well -- in fact, in the third quarter of this year, she raised over four times as much money as the incumbent. In recent polls, Greenfield has opened up a small but stable lead, as Ernst is running behind Trump. It’s clear that enthusiasm among Obama/Trump voters for the President does not necessarily translate downballot. Many of these voters were not Republicans before Trump came along and they still do not identify with the Republican -- that poses a problem for people like Ernst. Some handicappers rate the race as a ‘Toss-up,’ but the trajectory of the race has seemed to favor Greenfield.

Iowa’s senior Senator is Republican Chuck Grassley. A staple of Iowa politics since the 1950s, Grassley first came to Congress in 1974 and then the Senate in 1980. Now President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Grassley remains one of the most senior figures in Congress. His longevity has allowed him to chair a number of committees over the years and gives Iowa considerable clout in Congress. Grassley has never faced a competitive reelection race. Now 86, it’s unclear if he intends on running for reelection in 2022. His retirement would be a huge shakeup in Iowa politics and would likely spur any number of candidates on both sides into running. These days, Grassley is well known for his humorous twitter account, which is something of a departure from your typical member of Congress's social media presence.

State level politics

Two of Iowa’s current statewide officeholders are the nation’s longest-serving officials in their respective positions. Attorney General Tom Miller and state Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald have been fixtures of state politics for years, with Miller having served in his position nearly continuously since the late 1970s.

There is perhaps no more iconic Iowa politician than Terry Branstad. A Republican, Branstsad began his career as a state representative in the 1970s before he was elected Lieutenant Governor in 1978. Branstad was elected Governor in 1982, and would serve in that position until he retired in 1998. He made a comeback in 2010 and served a second stint as Governor from 2011 until he resigned in 2017 to become U.S. Ambassador to China. Branstad is one of the most recognizable figures in Iowa politics and remains an in-demand surrogate for Republican candidates across the state.

A rising star in Iowa politics is state Auditor Rob Sand (D). The first Democrat elected Iowa’s Auditor since the 1960s, Sand has emerged as popular Democratic campaign surrogate in the state. A former Deputy Attorney General under Tom Miller, Sand was elected in 2018 when he defeated incumbent Auditor Mary Mosiman (R). A bowhunting Democrat from small town Decorah, Sand pitches himself as a Democratic whisperer to his state’s vast rural communities.

One of the unique things about Iowa is how it approaches redistricting. Iowa has a purely nonpartisan redistricting process that can not consider incumbency, competitiveness, or party registration. Iowa, along with West Virginia, is one of two states that does not split counties in its congressional map. In fact, Iowa’s redistricting commission is bound by law not to split counties at the congressional level. The Iowa General Assembly is not legally required to adopt the map, though it has deferred to the commission since the 1980s.

The Iowa General Assembly uses ‘nested’ districts, meaning that two House districts are in every Senate district. The Iowa House is made up of 100 members and the Senate is composed of 50. Unlike other states where legislative districts have considerable population deviations, Iowa’s are required to have as minimal deviation as possible. Although Republicans had full control of the state government in the last round of redistricting, they honored the traditional approach. Democrats are concerned that Republicans will not do so this time. If Democrats were to take the Iowa House this year, that concern would be moot.

A source of contention between the two parties in recent years is the federal ethanol subsidies. As Democrats have moved leftward on environmental policy, Iowa's ethanol subsidies are at risk the next time Democrats control the federal government.

Presidential politics

Iowa polls >>

Every four years, Iowa enjoys a deluge of visits by presidential candidates on both sides, but the importance of its caucuses has clearly waned in recent cycles. On the Republican side, the past three winners of the caucuses didn’t go on to win the nomination. For Republicans, Iowa is the first real test of a candidate’s strength among evangelicals -- but evangelicals don’t make up that large a portion of the Republican primary electorate. For Democrats, Iowa has increasingly lost its predictive value. The Democratic base in Iowa is considerably whiter and more liberal than the Democratic Party as a whole. Earlier this year, Joe Biden finished in fourth place in the caucuses. Biden’s resounding victory in South Carolina propelled him to the nomination and many Democrats were left questioning why Iowa is still going first in the primary process.

This year’s Democratic caucuses were plagued by technical issues and an accurate, complete count of the results was not entirely possible. Controversially, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg declared victory on election night and was certified as the winner of the caucuses by the Iowa Democratic Party. The technical issues and the changing electorate of the Democratic Party leaves the future of the caucuses unclear. Republicans will continue to hold caucuses but it remains a real possibility that 2020 is the last Democratic caucus in Iowa. Every four years the caucuses bring in a considerable amount of money and losing them would be a major economic blow to the state. Regardless of whether Iowa switches to a primary or not, they may not get to go first again in future Democratic primaries.

Historically, Iowa was a reliably Republican state until the farm crisis of the late 1980s put the state back in the Democratic column, starting in 1988. The farm crisis propelled Michael Dukakis to a 10 point victory in the Hawkeye state, and Democrats would carry the state in the next three elections. In his reelection bid, President George W. Bush narrowly carried Iowa in 2004 even as John Kerry ran well in the upper Midwest. The state returned to the Democratic column when Barack Obama carried it by 9.5% in 2008 and then by about six points in 2012. So Iowa consistently voted more Democratic than the nation for many years -- and then along came Donald Trump.

In 2016, Donald Trump carried Iowa by over nine points, which was the largest Republican margin in the state since Ronald Reagan’s 13-point win in 1980. His populist message resonated with small town voters throughout the state, as he picked up 32 counties that voted for Obama four years earlier. Following Trump’s resounding victory here, Democrats largely wrote off Iowa. Four years later though, Iowa is once again a battleground. Polling shows Joe Biden is in contention and has a real chance at carrying the state. After ignoring Iowa for much of the year, President Trump recently returned to the state for a rally, the clearest sign yet that Iowa is genuinely in play.

As Biden has improved over Hillary Clinton with white voters across the board, Trump’s chances in Iowa are looking more and more precarious by the day. This isn’t a state Trump should need to worry about given his considerable margin here in 2016 but if he can’t hold the Hawkeye State, he has few realistic paths to 270 electoral votes. Conversely, if Joe Biden can’t win Iowa this year, it seems rather unlikely Democrats will give this state much attention again for a long time.


Two weeks until the presidential election. We'll wrap up the Road to 270 with North Carolina, home state of @SenhorRaposa

Next Week:  Georgia

November 2:  North Carolina

Reports in this series:

 

Interactive Map for the FiveThirtyEight House Forecast

October 15, 2020

We've added an interactive map for the FiveThirtyEight House forecast to our website, incorporating it into the Consensus House Forecast as well. As of this writing, their model gives Democrats a 96% probability of retaining control of the House.  The party currently holds 233 seats,1 1This includes the vacancy in GA-5, previously held by the late John Lewis. giving it a cushion of 15 over the 218 needed.

The map will refresh every four hours through November 2. Each update will reflect the then-current probabilities associated with all 435 districts. Click or tap the image below for full details and to use it as a starting point to create and share your own 2020 House forecast.

 

The Road to 270: Florida

October 12, 2020

The Road to 270 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. 

The Road to 270 will be published every Monday. The column is written by Drew Savicki, a 270toWin elections and politics contributor. Contact Drew via email or on Twitter @SenhorRaposa.

As the nation's largest swing state in recent decades, Florida enjoys considerable attention at all levels of government. Bolstered by its unique demographics, Florida is an unusual battleground. Its growing diversity is counteracted by the steady stream of white retirees moving in. The Sunshine State's tourism-based economy has been wrecked by COVID, throwing quite a wrench into this year's elections.  

The Almighty I-4 Corridor

Covering much of central Florida, the term ‘I-4 Corridor’ refers to the counties in central Florida that follow Interstate 4. From 1996 to 2012, the I-4 Corridor was a key bellwether for how the state would vote. Florida elections used to live and die by it, although that changed in 2016. Bolstered by the growth of the Orlando area, the corridor has shifted leftward but not enough to offset Democratic losses elsewhere in the state.

Congressional politics

As the nation's largest swing state, one would expect Florida to be home to a number of competitive congressional districts, right? Well, not really. Forecasters like Sabato's Crystal Ball, The Cook Political Report, and Inside Elections rate no more than four seats as competitive this year. Thanks to a highly polarized electorate, Florida lacks a true swing district.

This year though, Florida is seeing a highly competitive congressional race in an unusual place -- Miami. Located in southwestern Miami-Dade County and taking in the Florida Keys, the 26th District, on paper, shouldn’t be a close district -- but the area has some unique down-ballot quirks. Home to one of the largest populations of Cuban-Americans in the nation, FL-26 went for Hillary Clinton by 16% in 2016 but freshman Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D) is facing a tight race from Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez (R). Although he voted for Clinton in 2016, Gimenez has the backing of President Trump and the Republican establishment. Cuban-Americans are the most Republican-leaning group of Hispanics in the country and are still willing to split their tickets. Although polling of Florida had suggested Trump was making gains among Hispanics, a recent New York Times/Siena College poll found no evidence of such a shift.

College-educated whites in Florida don't often receive much coverage, but the 7th District is a fine example of the Republican collapse among these voters. Now Chair of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition, two-term Rep. Stephanie Murphy has quickly locked down a blue-trending seat in the northern Orlando suburbs. Following court mandated redistricting, Murphy ousted longtime Rep. John Mica (R) in 2016 and handily defeated State Rep. Mike Miller (R) with 58% of the vote in 2018. The redrawn 7th District would have narrowly voted for Obama in 2012; it went for Hillary Clinton by 7%. Murphy's political future has been the subject of much discussion and it is worth nothing that Sen. Marco Rubio (R) is up for reelection in 2022. Murphy's background may play well in a statewide race. A moderate from the Orlando suburbs, she is the first Vietnamese-American woman in Congress. Earlier in her career, she worked in national security. 

Two other districts that are worth mentioning as reach seats for Democrats this cycle are the 15th and 16th Districts, which the Crystal Ball rates as 'Leans’ and ‘Likely’ Republican, respectively. After Rep. Dennis Ross (R) retired in 2018, the 15th District is once again open. Scandal plagued freshman Rep. Ross Spano (R) lost renomination to Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin. The 15th district is located in the western and southwestern suburbs of Orlando. Democrats targeted this seat when it was open in 2018 but Spano prevailed 53%-47%. Democrats were discouraged when Spano lost his primary but both candidates remain relatively unknown, so forecasters are keeping this seat at Leans R right now.

In the Sarasota area, Rep. Vern Buchanan (R) is facing a challenge from Democratic State Rep. Margaret Good, who defeated his son in a 2018 special election. Buchanan won reelection by 10% in 2018, about matching Trump’s 11% margin there in 2016. The 16th District is a clear reach seat but it remains just on the edge of the playing field.

For Republicans, a similar reach seat may be the 27th District. The least Cuban of the three majority Hispanic districts in south Florida, this district is represented by former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala. Shalala caused some fretting among Democrats in 2018 for her inability to speak Spanish and Republicans have a quality candidate in Maria Elvira Salazar, a local news reporter. But in a district that Hillary Clinton carried 58%-38%, it’s unlikely Republicans will take reelection away from Shalala.

Going back to the I-4 Corridor, a seat Republicans would very much like to flip is the 13th District. Based in St. Petersburg and taking in much of Pinellas County, the district is represented by political chameleon and former Gov. Charlie Crist (R/I/D). Thanks to its large population of older non-college educated whites, this district swung heavily towards Trump in 2016 but there’s no sign Crist is in danger. An affable retail politician, Crist is well-known in the area. A mid-decade redistricting made this seat more Democratic, and Crist defeated then-Rep. David Jolly (an anti-Trump Republican who has since left the party). After the GOP’s favored candidate lost the 2018 primary, Crist had an easy reelection. Thanks to his strength among older voters, polling has shown Biden outpacing Clinton here and returning to Obama era margins. Crist appears to be running slightly ahead of Biden. The Crystal Ball recently upgraded this race from 'Likely Democratic' to 'Safe Democratic' and voters don't seem to mind Crist's ever changing party affiliation. With the defeat of Mark Sanford (R) in 2018, Crist is the only former Governor serving in the House.

Although not a competitive district, Florida's 20th District (Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach) has drawn considerable attention. Rep. Lois Frankel (D) is being challenged by far right activist Laura Loomer. Loomer, who is banned from all major social media sites, has the backing of President Trump in what is now his home congressional district. This district went for Hillary Clinton by 20% in 2016. Frankel is likely to run ahead of Biden against such a poor quality opponent.

Stylistically, Florida’s two senators could not be more different, and are not known for their strong working relationship. Florida’s senior Senator is Marco Rubio. The son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio served as Speaker of the Florida House before he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010. In 2010, Rubio fashioned himself as a Tea Party conservative but in his 2016 presidential bid, he pitched himself as the establishment alternative to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Rubio’s presidential campaign never really got far -- electorally, he ended up competing with Ohio Gov. John Kasich for suburban votes. Diehard conservatives had always viewed him with skepticism so he was never able to win Ted Cruz’s voters. Prior to his run for President, Rubio was really hyped up as the next big thing in the GOP but like many rising stars, he struggled on the national stage.

In the Florida primary, Rubio suffered a devastating setback when he lost his home state in a landslide to Donald Trump. Rubio decisively won his home county of Miami-Dade but struggled elsewhere. Unfortunately for Rubio, Hispanics are not a major voting bloc in a Republican primary. In the Senate, Rubio has shown an interest in foreign policy. After North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr stepped down from chairing the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this year, Rubio now serves as Acting Chairman until the next Congress -- he is also Chairman of the Small Business Committee. It seems very likely Rubio will mount a second presidential bid in 2024, but first he’ll have to face reelection in 2022.

Florida’s junior Senator is former Governor Rick Scott (R). Scott was elected in 2018 when he defeated three-term Sen. Bill Nelson (D). Compared to Rubio, Scott is more showy, and spends a significant amount of time appearing on Fox News. Before Scott prevailed by about 10,000 votes in the 2018 Senate contest, he won two terms as governor by razor-thin margins. Still, he’s a staunch supporter of the President and rarely breaks from the party line. He has also been mentioned as a possible 2024 candidate for President.

State level politics

For over 20 years, Republicans have dominated the state government in Florida -- despite the strong efforts of Democrats every four years, the governorship consistently eludes them. In 2018, now-Gov. Ron DeSantis decisively won the Republican primary over then-state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. At the time he entered the race, DeSantis was a little-known Congressman but campaigning near exclusively on Fox News landed him the endorsement of President Trump. An endorsement from the President is a powerful tool for a Republican, especially in Florida. A former congressman himself, Putnam had been preparing his bid for Governor for years and initially he looked to be on a glide path to the nomination.

In the general election, DeSantis was narrowly elected over then-Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who upset former Rep. Gwen Graham in the Democratic Primary. Gillum was bogged down in scandals over his tenure in office. As governor, DeSantis has governed as a pro-Trump conservative. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, DeSantis ranked among the nation’s most popular governors but with his approval ratings having since dropped, his political future remains unclear. Several Democrats have expressed interest in running for Governor in 2022: Graham may run again and the lone statewide Democrat in Florida, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, is someone to watch. Like Scott and Rubio, DeSantis has not been shy about his own ambitions and he is also considered a likely contender for the GOP nomination for President in 2024. Three Florida Republicans vying for the White House in 2024 would be something to watch.

Republicans have controlled the Florida legislature since 1997 and that seems likely to remain the case after this year. Democrats face a geographic disadvantage, with their voters clustered in a few urban areas. Republican voters are dispersed throughout the state. Florida has remained a Republican trifecta since 1999 and 2022 is Democrats next opportunity to win back the governorship, though Florida stubbornly remains slightly right of center.

Florida voters will weigh in on a handful of state constitutional amendments next month, but one notable measure is Amendment 3. If passed, elections in the state would be run under Louisiana-style jungle primary rules. To pass, constitutional amendments must clear 60% of the vote.

Presidential politics and 2020 outlook

Florida Polls >>

For much of its history, Florida voted like the rest of the 'Solid South' -- that's to say overwhelmingly Democratic. Beginning with the post-war boom of the late 1940's, Florida's population skyrocketed, and the state would vote Republican for the next 40 years, with just two exceptions: 1964 and 1976.

Florida's status as a modern battleground began in 1992, when George H.W. Bush narrowly edged Bill Clinton. Each election since has been decided by six points or less, most famously the 2000 election. After much controversy and litigation, George W. Bush carried the state by 537 votes, out of nearly 6 million cast. The shifting demographics and the steady stream of conservative retirees has kept Florida as one of the nation’s most competitive in each election since then. The state should be close this year, regardless of the national picture, so let’s consider some counties to watch:

Pinellas County (St. Petersburg, Clearwater): Pinellas County narrowly voted for Trump after going for Obama in 2008 and 2012, but Joe Biden seems likely to flip this county back into his corner. It isn’t a must-win for Trump but it is for Biden. Polling shows Joe Biden doing quite well in the 13th district portion of Pinellas, which only went for Hillary Clinton by 2% in 2016.

Sumter County (The Villages): Home to the nation’s largest retirement community, Sumter is solid red but it’s important to watch the margins. Polling shows the dam is breaking against Trump among older voters and Sumter is retiree central. If Biden can cut down the margins here, he’s likely on his way to a statewide victory.

Duval County (Jacksonville): One of the few Dem trending counties in the state, Jacksonville is a prime pickup opportunity for Joe Biden. Although overshadowed by Orlando and Miami, Jacksonville is in fact Florida’s largest city (though Jacksonville and Duval County are coterminous). After voting for Rick Scott 54%-41% in 2014, Andrew Gillum carried Duval 52%-47% in 2018 and Senator Bill Nelson (D) carried it 51%-49%. Trump carried Duval by one point in 2016 but it’s hard to see him winning it again.

Miami-Dade County: Although Bill Nelson outran Hillary Clinton in much of the rest of the state, his underperformance in Miami-Dade cost him reelection. Instead of winning it by Clinton’s 29-point margin, Nelson won it by 21%, which wasn’t enough to win statewide. For Joe Biden to win Florida, he must win Miami-Dade by somewhere in-between Clinton and Nelson’s margins while improving in the state’s other metro areas. There are some signs that Trump has improved his standing among Cubans since 2016 and any erosion in support among them could cost Biden the state and thus the presidency.

A final note on how population shifts have impacted the electoral map: Florida will almost certainly supplant New York as the state with the third highest number of electoral votes effective with the 2024 election. Just 75 years ago, after World War II, New York had 47 electoral votes, most in the country.  Florida had just eight.


Three weeks until the presidential election. We'll wrap up the Road to 270 with North Carolina, home state of @SenhorRaposa

Next Week:  Iowa

October 26:    Georgia

November 2:  North Carolina

Reports in this series:

 

Sabato's Crystal Ball Updates Election Outlook

October 8, 2020

Sabato's Crystal Ball has updated its 2020 election outlook, making changes to its Electoral College forecast, as well as in races for Senate, House and Governor. 

October 8 update and analysis

Maps of the current Crystal Ball projections follow. (These images will automatically update for any subsequent ratings changes). Click or tap any of them for an interactive version.


President

October 8: Arizona moves from Toss-up to Leans Democratic; Georgia from Leans Republican to Toss-up; New Hampshire from Leans to Likely Democratic.


Senate

October 8:  Georgia (special) and Kansas move from Likely to Leans Republican; Mississippi from Safe to Likely Republican.

 
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House

October 8:  NH-1, PA-7, PA-8 move from Leans to Likely Democratic; NY-24 from Leans Republican to Toss-up.

 

Governor

October 8:  Vermont moves from Likely to Safe Republican.


Cook Political Moves South Carolina Senate Race to Toss-up

October 7, 2020

On Wednesday, The Cook Political Report moved the South Carolina Senate election from Leans Republican to Toss-up.  The race has shifted dramatically in the past five months: as recently as early May, the race was seen by Cook and most analysts as safe for incumbent Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Read the Cook analysis from Jessica Taylor

Graham is being challenged by Jaime Harrison, former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party. Harrison has outraised Graham, enabling him to get his message out. As Cook notes: "Harrison first went up on TV back in April with positive bio spots, and hasn’t gone dark since. That allowed Harrison to set the tenor of the race. And since then, he’s had a series of ads that are very clearly aimed at who they hope will be Graham’s Achilles Heel — white women. In several spots, middle age or senior women talk about how they were once longtime Graham voters but now see that he’s changed on health care and how Harrsion's "values" now more closely reflect their values. Harrison has made this race about character and in other Democratic ads they turn the tables and paint Graham as part of the "swamp," and that seems to be working."

Polls since early August have shown the race exactly tied, or Graham with a one-point lead, well within the margin of error.

The updated Cook Senate map, with this change is below. Click or tap for an interactive version.

The Road to 270: Arizona

October 5, 2020

The Road to 270 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. 

The Road to 270 will be published every Monday. The column is written by Drew Savicki, a 270toWin elections and politics contributor. Contact Drew via email or on Twitter @SenhorRaposa.

Buoyed by a shift among college educated whites and a growing Hispanic population, the Grand Canyon State finds itself at the center of attention this year. The fast growing suburbs of Phoenix have not just attracted retirees but young professionals as well. 2018 put Arizona Democrats back on the map: they won a U.S Senate contest there for the first time in 30 years, flipped three other statewide offices, one U.S. House seat, and a multitude of seats in both chambers of the legislature. With millions of dollars being spent on ads dominating the airwaves, Arizonans are learning for the first time what it's like to live in a swing state.

Crucial Maricopa

Usually, Arizona elections are won and lost in Maricopa County. Home to 60% of the state's population, Maricopa is a sprawling county home to almost four million people. Since 2010, just one candidate has won statewide while losing Maricopa County. It is is the largest county in the nation that voted for Donald Trump in 2016. What makes it interesting is not just its size in terms of population but also its size in terms of area -- by land area, it’s larger than four states. As one of the nation's largest suburban counties, Maricopa has traditionally been Republican but there are signs the party's dominance is coming to an end.

In 2016, controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R) lost reelection to former Phoenix police sergeant Paul Penzone (D). An outspoken opponent of illegal immigration, Arpaio was the state's most controversial figure over the years. His office had repeatedly been accused of police misconduct, he used police resources to "investigate" then-President Obama's birth certificate, engaged in racial profiling, and erected what was called a "tent city" at the county jail. In office, Penzone has worked to restore public confidence in the Sheriff's office and has spent of much his term undoing his predecessor's decades long legacy. Arpaio attempted a comeback this year but lost in the primary to his former deputy. It seems unlikely Penzone is in much trouble but could have faced a tough race had Republicans nominated someone not connected to Arpaio.

Aside from the sheriff’s race, Democrats won the contest for County Recorder in 2016. Recorder Adrian Fontes handles elections -- though his office faced some criticism in 2018, Fontes won praise for overseeing a smooth primary election this year.

Congressional politics

Perhaps none define the spirit of Arizona more than the Grand Canyon's state's two most legendary Senators: Barry Goldwater and John McCain. Goldwater, the party's 1964 nominee for President, kickstarted the modern conservative movement, although his brand of libertarian conservatism has long since fallen out of favor with the party. A critic of the growing influence of the religious right in the GOP, Goldwater by the end of his career saw his star fade and was eclipsed by more mainline conservatives like Ronald Reagan. In addition, Goldwater's stance on abortion rights made him increasingly an outlier in a party that was becoming more and more defined by social conservatism. His support for gay rights and medical marijuana put him at odds with social conservatives, who vehemently opposed both. Goldwater got to the Senate after defeating Majority Leader Ernest McFarland (D) in 1952, and in 1964 gave up that seat to run for president. But he came back in 1968 to win the state’s other Senate seat. He retired in 1986, paving the way for then-Rep. John McCain to ascend to the Senate.

A Captain in the U.S. Navy who served his country honorably in Vietnam and became a prisoner of war, John McCain first ran for office in 1982, at the urging of his friend - Delaware Senator Joe Biden. McCain and Biden met a few years prior when McCain served as the U.S. Navy's liaison to the Senate and that experience working with Senators influenced his decision to run for Congress. McCain represented Arizona's 1st District in southeastern Maricopa for two terms before running for the Senate in 1986. During his time in the Senate, McCain was known as a moderate conservative. Although generally a reliable vote for his party, McCain did sometimes break with his party and his willingness to criticize his party earned him a reputation as a 'maverick'.  One of McCain’s signature achievements was the McCain-Feingold act, which regulated campaign finance. Another later achievement of his was the Veterans Choice Act, which President Trump has repeatedly taken credit for, even though it became law before he ran for President.

Known for his ‘straight talk,’ McCain ran for President twice, first in 2000 and then again in 2008. McCain's 2000 campaign is still fondly remembered as one of the most media accessible campaigns. McCain was quite popular with reporters but among the GOP faithful he fell flat. In a pre-9/11 world, his focus on defense issues just simply did not resonate with voters. One of the more noteworthy events of the 2000 campaign was a push poll ahead of the South Carolina primary that made a racist insinuation about his adopted daughter.

McCain long struggled with his right flank and that was again a problem for him in 2008. Still, McCain easily carried his some state that year and although he weighed retiring, ultimately ran for reelection in 2010. McCain's final election was 2016 where he faced his closest race from Ann Kirkpatrick (D), then the representative of the state's first district. During his last few years in the Senate, McCain had a fractious relationship with Donald Trump. McCain made no secret of his distaste for the President’s disruptive political style and Trump made no secret of his dislike of the legendary senator. In a moment that would define his career, John McCain voted down his party’s attempt at repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in the summer of 2017. McCain -- a traditionalist, was frustrated by the unusual and rushed process in which the repeal was considered.

Elected in 2018, Arizona’s senior Senator - is Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. The first Democrat elected to the Senate from Arizona since 1988, Sinema is one of two openly LGBT members of the Senate and the only religiously unaffiliated member of the body. A moderate Democrat, Sinema is known for her bipartisanship and often polls as the state’s most popular politician. In the Senate she has made a concerted effort to win the support of people who did not vote for her. Sinema has a long history in Arizona politics. She was first elected to the state legislature in 2004 as a progressive Democrat. Before she ran for office, she was a Green Party activist and even volunteered for the Nader campaign in 2000. In 2012, Sinema ran for the newly created 9th Congressional District, which was anchored in southeast Phoenix and its suburbs. Originally drawn as a swing district, Sinema quickly locked down the district and her margins grew with each passing cycle.

McCain's death, in 2018, came too late for a special election to be held that year. Gov. Doug Ducey appointed former Sen. Jon Kyl to the seat. Kyl had previously been a colleague of McCain's, serving alongside him from 1995 to 2013. Kyl served in a caretaker role, resigning at the end of 2018. Ducey then appointed Rep. Martha McSally, who had just lost the other Senate race to Sinema.

McSally is now trying to win a 2020 special election to complete the final two years of McCain's term. As an Air Force veteran, she has an impressive story, but has struggled in polls. In the House, McSally was known as a moderate Republican but she tacked sharply to the right when she ran for the Senate. Since her appointment, she has been a reliable supporter of the President’s agenda. She is facing a strong challenge from former astronaut and Navy veteran Mark Kelly. The husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who used to represent Arizona’s 2nd District, Kelly is one of the Democratic Party’s strongest first-time Senate candidates this year. Kelly has outraised McSally in every fundraising quarter and led her in all public polls this year. Both Sabato’s Crystal Ball and the Cook Political Report rate the race as ‘Leans Democratic,’ and it’s not out of the question that Kelly could win even if Trump carries the state again. Sinema recently weighed into the race -- she endorsed Kelly and blasted McSally.

Although the state has seen considerable action this year at the Presidential and Senate levels, there has been comparatively little attention to paid to the state’s House seats. The Crystal Ball and Cook list two and three districts as competitive, respectively. Let’s take a look at those seats.

Encompassing Flagstaff,  the Navajo Nation, and Casa Grande, the 1st District is roughly the size of Georgia. This sprawling northern Arizona district was drawn to be a fair-fight district but Democrats have held it since 2012, as Republicans have fielded a number of poor candidates over the years. A racially diverse and polarized district, it is currently represented by Democrat Tom O’Halleran. A retired police officer and former Republican, O’Halleran ranks among the most moderate Democrats in the House. He was won two terms by about 7-8 percentage points both times. This district has a strong liberal base in Flagstaff but a strong conservative base in places like ancestrally Democratic Greenlee County.

This district leans slightly right of center in presidential elections but the growth in Flagstaff and the impact of COVID on the Navajo Nation suggests it could vote for Joe Biden. Democrats are spending minor amounts here to shore up O’Halleran but Republicans don’t seem terribly interested. Forecasters disagree on how to rate this district. Both the Crystal Ball and Inside Elections rate it as ‘Likely Democratic’ but Cook has it at ‘Leans Democratic.’ O’Halleran faced a surprisingly close primary challenge this year from former Flagstaff City Councilor Eva Putzova. O’Halleran struggled in Flagstaff but dominated in the more rural parts of his district, especially so in the Navajo Nation. He has made Native outreach a priority during his time in office and it paid off in spots.

Nestled in the southeastern corner of Arizona, AZ-2 is home to much of Tucson and its suburbs. After she lost her bid for the Senate against McCain in 2016, Ann Kirkpatrick moved to Tucson and ran for the open 2nd District -- it being vacated by Rep. Martha McSally, who was running for the open Senate seat. McSally was generally popular in this district, as she easily won reelection in 2016 while Hillary Clinton carried the district. Kirkpatrick won the open seat by almost 10 points in 2018. In the Senate race that year, McSally lost it by 7% to Sinema. The Crystal Ball still rates this as ‘Likely Democratic’ but Cook has it as ‘Solid Democratic.’

The most educated district in the state is AZ-6 -- it is entirely within Maricopa County and includes Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, and part of Phoenix. It was once a Republican bastion but there are signs that’s changing. Rep. Dave Schweikert (R) has been stung by a long-simmering ethics probe into his campaign finance practices and the suburban revolt against President Trump has pushed this district into the ‘Toss-up’ category. After spending a considerable amount on legal fees, Schweikert’s campaign account is nearly empty. Democrats have an ideal candidate in Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, who has considerably outraised Schweikert. Tipirneni unsuccessfully ran for the neighboring 8th District in the 2018 special election and then again in the regular November election. Given her competitive performance in that redder district, she seems like a strong candidate. This is a district to watch, not just at the House but at the presidential and Senate levels too.

State level politics

2018 saw a breakthrough for Democrats at the state level. The party picked up three state executive offices. Although Democrats largely ignored the gubernatorial race, those wins give them a solid bench for 2022. This year, Arizonans will be voting again on recreational marijuana in a referendum. A similar measure failed to pass in 2016 -- it looked on track to pass this year, but more recent polling suggests the result could be close.

Though he was easily reelected in 2018, Gov. Doug Ducey has seen his approval ratings fall as his state dealt with a large COVID-19 outbreak. Although the state is long past its peak, Ducey’s approval ratings have not risen. He is often mentioned as a potential 2022 candidate against Mark Kelly, should he win. However, given Ducey’s underwater approval ratings, his political future seems less clear.

Democrats are seeking to flip both chambers of the legislature this year and as of right now, they are slight favorites in both. Democrats need to pick up two just seats in the House and three in the Senate in order to win control.

Arizona is set to gain another congressional district following the Census. Unlike many other states, Arizona uses a bipartisan commission with an independent tiebreaker. In the 2001 redistricting, the commission emphasized protecting incumbents and in 2011, the commission emphasized drawing competitive districts. It seems likely that the redistricting process next year will use both criteria to some extent.

Presidential politics

Arizona Polls >>

Arizona last voted Democratic for President in 1996 but it is one of Joe Biden’s top pickup opportunities in the nation. So how could the home of Barry Goldwater become a swing state? Well first let’s look at its history. Arizona was settled first settled by prospectors in search of gold and the Mormons led by Brigham Young, as they ventured out west. As a heavily industrial state, Arizona was reliably Democratic from statehood until the rise of suburbia in the 1950s. The advancements in air conditioning technology and the creation of age-restricted communities brought flocks of older Republican voters from the East Coast. The Grand Canyon state would vote Republican for President from 1952-1992.

By 1996, President Clinton was enjoying a rise in popularity and the economy was booming. A member of the Baby Boomer generation himself, President Clinton had something of a kinship with those voters, and Arizona had many of them.

Arizona reverted Republican in 2000, and has remained there since. But bolstered by a changing electorate and Trump’s unpopularity among suburban voters, Hillary Clinton lost the state by just 3.5%. Although Joe Biden is lagging slightly behind Clinton with Hispanic voters, his strength with older voters and college educated whites bodes well for him in Arizona. All is not lost for Trump, though --  Arizona does have a rather large non-college educated population, including one demographic that has been reliably Democratic in the state, Native Americans.

Perhaps Biden's greatest asset in the state is his endorsement from John McCain's widow, Cindy. President Trump, for his part lashed out at her endorsement, a decision that is unlikely to help him with the suburban women whose votes he needs. Senator McSally responded very differently, though McCain has said she will sit out the Senate race.

Compared to previous Republican nominees, Trump has made great gains with non-college educated voters across racial lines. Particularly worrisome for Arizona Democrats is Apache County. Though solidly Democratic and 75% Native American, it has very low levels of college attainment and those voters are essential part of the Democratic coalition in the state. Mobilizing the Native vote is a key priority for the Biden campaign to put the state in their column on November 3.


Next Week:  Florida

Remaining Schedule:  Iowa (10/19), Georgia (10/26), North Carolina (11/2). Dates subject to change. 

We use the model powering the 2020 presidential election simulator to determine the following week's state. Specifically, we will look at the 'Battleground 270' results of 25,000 simulations run late Sunday afternoon.  Of the states remaining, the next to be covered will be that with the highest likelihood of a Trump or Biden win as of that date. View the current state-by-state probabilities in the table at the bottom of the Battleground 270 page.

Reports in this series:

 

Sen. Pat Toomey to Retire in 2022

October 4, 2020

Politico reports that GOP Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania will not seek a third term in 2022. Toomey first won election to the Senate in 2010, narrowly defeating Democrat Joe Sestak.

That 2010 election was notable: the prior year, long-time incumbent Republican Sen. Arlen Specter switched to the Democratic Party; he was defeated by Sestak in the primary. 

Toomey had a close reelection in 2016, winning by about 1.5% over Democrat Katie McGinty. He becomes the second Senator to opt out of the 2022 cycle; North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr (R) previously said his 2016 run would be his last. 

34 Senate seats will be up in 2022. This includes 20 Republicans and 12 Democrats. Special elections this year - one in Arizona and one in Georgia - will determine the final partisan composition in 2022.

 

 

 

Sabato's Crystal Ball Updates Presidential, Senate and House Outlook

October 1, 2020

Sabato's Crystal Ball has updated its election outlook, making 18 total ratings changes to its Electoral College and congressional forecasts.  

October 1 update and analysis

Maps of the current Crystal Ball projections follow. (These images will automatically update for any subsequent ratings changes). Click or tap any of them for an interactive version.


President

October 1: Delaware, Rhode Island move from Likely to Safe Democratic; Maine (at-large) Leans to Likely Democratic; ME-2 Leans Republican to Toss-up; Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania Toss-up to Leans Democratic.


Senate

October 1:  Alaska moves from Likely to Leans Republican; Colorado from Leans to Likely Democratic.

 
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House

October 1:  AZ-6, MN-1, NJ-2, VA-5 move from Leans Republican to Toss-up; CA-21 Leans Democratic to Toss-up; FL-13, IL-6 Likely to Safe Democratic; IA-1 Toss-up to Leans Democratic; IL-14, ME-2, TX-7 Leans to Likely Democratic, MT-AL Likely to Leans Republican.

 

Consensus Electoral Map with No Toss-ups

September 30, 2020

Our consensus electoral map combines nine different forecasts to come up with a consensus forecast for the 2020 presidential election. It is a mixture of full-time analysts (e.g., Cook Political), statistical models (e.g., FiveThirtyEight), prediction markets (e.g., PredictIt) and media analysis (e.g., CNN).

Each rating category (safe, likely, leaning, tilt, toss-up) has a point value.1 1A ten-point scale is used. Positive and negative values are used to offset disagreements across forecasters about who is ahead. Toss-ups receive a score of zero. We add up the points for each state and divide the total by nine to get the average.

Original Consensus Map

In the original consensus map, where the average falls along the scale determines how the state is rated.  The image below reflects the current ratings. Click or tap for an interactive version.

 

No-Tossup Consensus Map

Ultimately, however, there will be a winner and loser in each state, with the winner getting all the electoral votes. This second version of the map map reflects that, awarding the state to Biden or Trump if they have the higher net score, regardless of how large or small it is. There are no toss-ups unless the state is exactly tied.

Note that as we publish this (September 30), North Carolina and Florida are extremely close - a small shift in a single forecast could move either of those back into the Trump column.

The image below reflects the current ratings. Click or tap for an interactive version.

 

Georgia District 5 Special Election: Overview and Live Results

September 29, 2020

Voters in Georgia's 5th congressional district go to the polls Tuesday to choose a replacement for the late Rep. John Lewis. The civil rights icon died in July at 80; he was in his 17th term.

  • This is a special election for the remainder of Lewis's term.
  • If none of the seven candidates gets a majority of the vote, there will be a top-two runoff on December 1 
  • One of the seven, Barrington Martin opposed Lewis in the state's June primary, receiving 12% of the vote
  • After Lewis died, the Georgia Democratic Party chose State Sen. Nikema Williams as a replacement for the November election
  • Neither Williams nor GOP nominee Angela Stanton-King is running in the special election
  • Therefore, whoever wins the special election will only hold the seat until the end of the year

Results will appear here after the polls close at 7:00 PM ET.