Election News

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.


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.


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



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.


The Road to 270: Ohio

September 28, 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.

Long one of the great American bellwether states, the Buckeye state lurched rightward in 2016 thanks to an exodus among non-college educated whites from the Democratic Party. Long a bastion of Democrats, blue collar Eastern Ohio swung sharply rightward. Donald Trump's focus on manufacturing played well with voters in towns decimated by outsourcing.

Congressional politics

Like in Wisconsin, Ohio Democrats face two problems in gaining a foothold in the state's congressional delegation: redistricting and the state's rightward drift. Even though both states are competitive overall, no congressional districts in either state have changed hands since the current lines were drawn in advance of the 2012 elections. That will largely continue in 2020. Of the state's 16 congressional districts but only one of them is considered highly competitive.

Ohio’s 1st District, in the southwestern corner of the state, takes in much of Cincinnati, but was drawn to include heavily-GOP Warren County. For Republicans, this gerrymander has held up well -- but there are some signs it may be breaking. Republican Rep. Steve Chabot was first elected in 1994, when he defeated then freshman Democratic incumbent Rep. David Mann. At the time, OH-1 was entirely within Cincinnati’s Hamilton County. Chabot would win three terms under those congressional districts with 53-54% of the vote; when the lines were redrawn after 2000, he was given a safe seat. Still, the anti-Bush Democratic wave hit hard in Ohio in 2006: Chabot held on just 52-48% that year. With Barack Obama atop the ticket in 2008, he lost 52-48% to State Rep. Steven Driehaus (D). Chabot made a successful comeback in 2010 and would easily win reelection until 2018. That year, he narrowly defeated a scandal-plagued Democrat by just four points.  Democrats have vowed not to make that same mistake this year. The party has a highly credible candidate in Healthcare executive Kate Schroeder. All three major forecasters rate this race as a 'Toss-up,’ so Chabot is in real trouble. 

Although Sabato’s Crystal Ball rates Ohio’s 12th District as ‘Likely Republican’, it is a district worth watching. The core of the district is suburban Delaware County, and it takes in a handful of more rural counties. The district is very similar to Indiana’s 5th district, which is considered a toss-up. This is the district former Gov. John Kasich (R) represented for many years -- and his endorsement of Biden could make things interesting here. Rep. Troy Balderson (R) is clearly favored and it is a reach target, but these are the kinds of areas where Democrats have been making inroads.

Democrats hold only four of the state's congressional districts. One of them may have been on the competitive radar this year had Trump's approval ratings been higher. Rep. Tim Ryan has represented Youngstown in Congress since 2003, when he succeeded the eccentric Jim Traficant (D). When this district was drawn, Republicans thought they packed every Democratic voter they could find. This blue-collar district gave Barack Obama 62% of the vote in 2008 and the Mahoning Valley had long been a stronghold of the Democratic Party. After years of losing manufacturing plants to China, many of the district's voters warmed to Trump's anti free trade message and cultural conservatism. Hillary Clinton won it by just seven points in 2016, down considerably from Obama's 27-point win in 2012.

Though Tim Ryan's margins have slipped over the years, OH-13 is still rated as 'Safe Democratic' this cycle. Backed by the ultra conservative House Freedom Caucus, the Republican nominee is former State Rep. Christina Hagan who unsuccessfully ran for the 16th District in 2018. Although she is endorsed by President Trump, Hagan has no actual connection to the 13th District or even the 16th. Republicans argue that Ryan's brief presidential bid hurt him with voters in the district but there aren't signs that's been the case. Furthermore, President Trump's call for boycotting Goodyear is likely to fall flat in this district, where their Akron factory is a major employer. This district isn't a serious GOP target but if Ryan's margin does slip again, his political future will look rather uncertain. His biggest problem is likely to be redistricting: Ohio is expected to lose a district and that means OH-13 will have to expand to take in redder turf. Depending on what district looks like, Ryan might be in for a real race come 2022.

Ohio’s two Senators don’t agree on much but are known for their strong working relationship. The Buckeye State’s senior Senator is the populist progressive Sherrod Brown. Despite Ohio’s rightward shift, Brown remains a solid fit for the state. As evidenced by Trump’s convincing win here in 2016, there is clearly an audience for populism. Brown has been a longtime opponent of free trade, dating back to his time in the House when he opposed NAFTA. After Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016, Brown was mentioned as a possible presidential candidate. As a Democratic Senator from an Obama/Trump state, Brown had exactly the kind of appeal with blue collar voters that Hillary Clinton lacked. Had Democrats won the governorship in 2018, it’s hard not to see Brown actually running.

Brown has had a long career in Ohio politics, from his time in the legislature to his two terms as Secretary of State, followed by seven terms in the U.S. House, and now three terms in the Senate. Brown was first elected to the Senate in 2006 when he defeated Sen. Mike DeWine (R). With President Bush’s popularity on the wane that year and the unpopularity of the Iraq War, Brown won the election by 12 points. In 2012, with Obama on the ballot, he faced a strong challenge from then State Treasurer Josh Mandel (R). Brown was among Republicans most targeted Senators up that cycle but he turned back Mandel by six points.

By 2018, Brown was again a top GOP target, particularly since Ohio went so strongly for Trump in 2016. Mandel initially sought a rematch but dropped out abruptly, citing his wife’s health. Mandel’s departure from the race prompted Rep. Jim Renacci (R), who was initially running in a crowded gubernatorial primary, to drop out of that race and switch to the Senate contest. Despite support from President Trump, Renacci never really gained steam against Brown. Brown will be up again for reelection in 2024, and he’s likely to face a tough race as that will be a presidential year.

Ohio’s junior Senator is the bookish Rob Portman. A wonkier Republican, Portman is deeply ingrained in the party establishment. He worked in the administration of President George Bush before he ran for Congress in a 1993 special election. Portman resigned his House seat in 2005 to join the administration of President George W. Bush as U.S. Trade Representative and later became Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Portman resigned from the administration in 2007 to become a lobbyist. When Sen. George Voinovich (R) announced his retirement in 2009, Portman announced his campaign for the seat. Portman cleared the field in the primary and handily won the open seat with 58% of the vote. At the beginning of the 2016 cycle, Portman was thought to face a competitive race but ultimately cruised to reelection. His opponent was former Gov. Ted Strickland (D) who served as Governor for one term from 2007-2011. Though Strickland initially looked like a favorite -- perhaps due to better name recognition -- Portman ran a smart campaign, and by the summer, began to pull away. Portman far outpaced Trump, winning a second term 58%-37%, and he even carried Tim Ryan’s OH-13.

Pre-Trump, Rob Portman had often been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate but that now seems unlikely. His low-key style is a poor fit for today’s Republican Party and it seems likely he’ll be able to remain in the Senate for as long as he wishes.

State level politics

Gov. Mike DeWine (R) is an institution in Ohio politics: he’s held elected office almost continuously since the 1970s. He has served at all levels of government in Ohio, from local to federal. After he lost his Senate seat in 2006, he staged a successful comeback in 2010, and was elected state Attorney General. Eight years later, he launched a campaign for governor, and won. As the state’s chief executive, DeWine has governed as a conservative, but establishment-style Republican. In the era of COVID, DeWine has found significant trouble on his right flank. Many of President Trump’s diehard supporters are deeply skeptical of government and many of DeWine’s actions, particularly in regard to his statewide mask order, have been unpopular with them. At a recent Trump rally, Lt. Governor Jon Husted was booed by the crowd as he urged attendees to wear masks. Some Republican legislators have accused DeWine of breaking the law with his orders and some even want him impeached.

Then-Secretary of State Jon Husted initially ran for Governor in 2018 before dropping out and agreeing to join the ticket as DeWine’s running mate. His political future is the subject of much discussion. As the nation’s oldest serving governor, there is considerable speculation about whether DeWine will seek a second term. An ambitious politician in his own right, it seems unlikely that Husted would have joined the ticket had he not been promised the opportunity to run for Governor again. Regardless, either DeWine or Husted are likely to face a challenge from the party’s right flank in 2022.

Democrats have struggled to break through at the state level in Ohio. Democrats thought they had their ideal candidate in 2018 in former state Attorney General Rich Cordray, who served in the Obama administration as Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). His running mate was Rep. Betty Sutton, who defeated the rather eccentric Congressman Dennis Kucinich in a 2012 redistricting contest. Known for his appearances on Jeopardy, Cordray is a wonky politician but his years in DC kept him away from Ohio for too long. By the time he ran for governor, the state had simply changed too much. With its bench depleted over the years, Ohio Democrats lack a frontrunner for the 2022 gubernatorial race. Rep. Tim Ryan has occasionally flirted with a statewide bid but given the rightward trend of his congressional district, that seems rather unlikely at this point.

In 2018, Ohio voters approved an intriguing redistricting amendment that establishes a bipartisan redistricting process. It doesn’t create an independent commission, rather any map created by the legislature requires some buy-in from the minority party, and limits to the extent which counties can be split.

Presidential politics and 2020 outlook

Ohio Polls >>

As Sabato’s Crystal Ball editor Kyle Kondik outlined in his 2016 book, Ohio has a reputation as a presidential bellwether state -- but, going forward, the Buckeye State’s dramatic shift towards Trump prompted considerable debate about that status. Though Hillary Clinton won the nationwide popular vote by 2% in 2016, Donald Trump carried Ohio by eight points.

The Democratic margins fell throughout the state but the drop-off was particularly stark in eastern Ohio, which is in Appalachia. Like in West Virginia, coal mining was once dominant in this region and the Democratic Party’s embrace of environmentalism pushed those once reliably Democratic voters into the Republican Party. Based on polling from other states in the Midwest, there seems to be a clear distinction between these voters and other non-college educated whites in the north. Joe Biden is polling better in Michigan and Wisconsin than Ohio and Pennsylvania -- perhaps this is because the former two states have been comparatively less reliant on mining. Essentially this can be boiled down to what we can call the manufacturing vote vs the mining vote. Not all areas in Appalachia were dependent on coal mining, but those that were used to be very Democratic. Those areas - with a long history of labor unions - did not become GOP-friendly until the 2010's.

The key for Biden winning Ohio is to win back Obama/Trump voters in the rest of the state. Outside of the Appalachian eastern part of the state, these voters may be movable. Biden has considerable room to grow across the state, particularly in the Columbus suburbs. For Trump, it’s not clear he can squeeze out more votes in Appalachia or make a serious play for flipping Mahoning County (which houses the economically ailing Youngstown). A few other areas Biden really needs to gain some votes in are the Dayton area and the traditionally Republican northwest. Parts of rural northwestern Ohio swung towards Sherrod Brown from 2012 to 2018 so it seems like these areas have votes to gain for Democrats.

Until recently, Ohio was not seriously considered a top state for Biden campaign to invest in. But polling has tightened, and Biden is even leading in some surveys. If Biden were to win Ohio, Trump would have essentially no path to the presidency. As John Kasich would often point out during his 2016 run for president, no Republican has ever won the White House without it. On the other hand, if Biden wins the presidency in a clear national vote and can’t carry Ohio, it would be evidence that the state has truly moved off the playing board.

Next Week:  Arizona

Tentative Schedule:  Georgia (10/12), Florida (10/19), Iowa (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:


Minnesota 2nd Congressional District Election Delayed after Candidate Dies

September 24, 2020

The November election in Minnesota's 2nd congressional district will be delayed after the death of Adam Charles Weeks, nominee of the Legal Marijuana Now Party. The seat will be vacant from the start of the 117th Congress in January until after a special election is held on February 9, 2021. 

Per Minnesota law, if a major party nominee dies within 79 days of Election Day, a special election will be held on the second Tuesday of February. The Legal Marijuana Now Party qualifies as a major party in the state.

Statement from Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon

District 2 covers the southern part of the Twin Cities metro area. Democratic Rep. Angie Craig flipped the seat in 2018, defeating incumbent Republican Jason Lewis. The GOP nominee this year is Tyler Kistner, a former U.S. Marine Corps officer.  Craig is favored to win a second term, although there is some disagreement among analysts about how strong her position is. Cook Political has the seat as Leans D; Sabato's Crystal Ball Likely D; Inside Elections Safe D.

Complicating an Electoral College Tie

This temporary vacancy may prove relevant should the presidential election need to be decided in the House of Representatives (e.g., in a 269-269 tie).  In that case, each state's U.S. House delegation gets one vote. The partisan split is currently 5-3 in favor of Democrats. There are three safe Democratic districts and two safe GOP districts. District 1 leans Republican. If GOP Rep. Jim Hagedorn wins there, the split will be 3-3 with the majority decided by the result in District 7. This is a true toss-up: Democrat Collin Peterson is seeking a 16th term in a district that has grown progressively more GOP-leaning over the years. It voted for Donald Trump by 31% over Hillary Clinton in 2016, far and away his largest margin in any district represented by a Democrat in the House.

Interactive Map for the FiveThirtyEight Senate Forecast

September 22, 2020

FiveThirtyEight recently added a Senate forecast to its website.  As of this writing, their model gives Democrats a 62% probability of winning control.  The most likely outcomes are a 50-50 split, followed by a 51-49 Democratic margin. In a 50-50 split, the outcome of the presidential election will determine Senate control.  The 62% figure is therefore somewhat influenced by the site's presidential forecast.

We've created an interactive map based on this model. It will update every two hours, reflecting the then-current probabilities associated with each race. Click or tap the image below for full details and to use it as a starting point to create and share your own 2020 Senate forecast.

The Road to 270: Texas

September 21, 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 Southern college-educated whites have begun to vote like their Northern counterparts, the Lone Star State - long a bastion of the Republican Party - has emerged as a newly competitive state. Dominated by several large metro areas and a diverse economy, Texas has seen migration from across the country. Though its rugged, cowboy persona still characterizes the state, elections are being increasingly decided in the suburbs of its large metro areas.

Congressional politics

Texas has emerged as a major congressional battleground in recent years. Forecasters such as Sabato’s Crystal Ball put about a dozen Lone Star seats on the board this cycle, and almost all those districts are currently in GOP hands. By contrast, in 2012, the Crystal Ball ended the cycle by rating 34 of the state’s 36 seats as Safe for either party -- an indication of how the playing field has expanded there.

All of this year’s competitive Texas districts voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, but either gave Trump a lesser share, or outright flipped to Clinton four years later. The key factor is the education level. The Texas suburbs are home to no shortage of college-educated white voters -- a constituency that was receptive to Republicans like the Bush family but one that has been cooler toward Trump.

Let’s start with two seats that are currently thought of as reach targets for Democrats. These are seats that the Crystal Ball rates as ‘Likely Republican,’ meaning they have potential to be competitive, but Republicans have a clear advantage.

TX-2: Outer Houston suburbs. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R) was elected in 2018. Around the time of his election, Crenshaw came to fame after being mocked on SNL, and he later made an appearance on the show. A youthful veteran with a strong social media presence, Crenshaw seems likely to be around in politics for quite a while. Still, his district, which arcs north around Houston, is becoming less GOP. Trump won it by just nine points, after Romney carried it by 27% in 2012. Senator Ted Cruz (R) carried it by just one point in 2018. In his race, Crenshaw won the open seat by seven points in 2018. As the incumbent, he seems to have the upper hand now, but he’ll need to keep generating that type of crossover support.

TX-3: Plano and other northern Dallas suburbs. Rep. Sam Johnson (R) held this district for 28 years -- he retired in 2018 and died earlier this year. Respected on both sides, Johnson was a veteran of both Korea and Vietnam, and was a POW during the latter conflict. In fact, in Vietnam, he shared a cell with another congressional giant: the late John McCain. Taking up most of Collin County, this area was one of the first in the state to start voting Republican. Romney carried it 63%-34% but Trump brought that down to just a 55-41% win, while Cruz only won this district by 3.5% in 2018. This district boasts the highest number of college-educated voters of any Republican held seat . Given the exodus of college-educated whites from the GOP, this is a real race to watch in November. Rep. Van Taylor (R) was elected in 2018 by a ten-point margin but some polling suggests a close race. If Biden flips Texas, or comes close, there’s a good chance he carries this district. 

The Crystal Ball also rates districts 6, 25, and 31 as ‘Likely R’ but these seats are not seeing the same level of attention as the other discussed above.

Moving on to the more competitive seats, there are two that are favored to flip to the Democrats, one is rated a tossup, and another rated as ‘Leans Republican.’

TX-10: Western Houston to Austin. One of the wealthiest members of Congress, Rep. Mike McCaul has represented this district since 2005. In 2016, McCaul toyed with a 2018 intraparty challenge to Ted Cruz after the Senator declined to endorse then-nominee Donald Trump at the party convention. Eventually, Cruz warmed to Trump. McCaul faced the closest race of his career in 2018, winning by just 4%. By comparison, in the Senate race, then-Rep. Beto O’Rourke squeaked out a win in the district. Overall, there seem to be better Democratic targets this time: McCaul's personal wealth allows him to bankroll his campaign.

Let’s look at the two that are likeliest to flip -- the Crystal Ball rates districts 23 and 24 as ‘Leans Democratic’:

TX-23: San Antonio suburbs, U.S./Mexico border, and El Paso. Rep. Will Hurd (R), a moderate Republican and the lone Black Republican in the House, is retiring after just three terms. In 2018, Hurd prevailed by less than 1,000 votes against Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones. Jones is back again and seems favored to flip this geographically vast seat. She maintains a considerable financial advantage over Republican Tony Gonzales.

TX-24: Northern Dallas suburbs. Democrat Candace Valenzuela seems favored to flip this diversifying district held by retiring Republican Kenny Marchant. Marchant has been a backbench conservative who narrowly fended off a poorly funded challenger in 2018. That year, O’Rourke, carried the district and Valenzuela seems to have an ideal background to build upon his performance. In a video kicking off her campaign, she outlined her biography as an Afro-Latina woman who grew up in poverty and is now on a local school board. Over the past two decades, the area has moved left quickly. Republicans have a serious nominee in former Irving mayor Beth Van Duyne, but if Texas is as close as state polling indicates, Biden could help Valenzuela flip the seat.

Looking at two Democratic held seats that the party flipped in 2018, both incumbents appear to be in good shape for reelection.

TX-7: Western Houston suburbs. In 2018, Democratic Attorney Lizzie Fletcher defeated nine-term Rep. John Culberson (R) in the state’s 7th District. Once represented by George H.W. Bush, TX-7 is one of the most historically Republican districts in the state. Encompassing much of western Harris County, the 7th District is home to a large population of affluent white voters. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) recently canceled ad buys in the Houston market, a sign that they are giving up on winning back TX-7. The Crystal Ball currently rates this as ‘Leans Democratic,’ but that could change given the cancellations by the NRCC. Republicans have a credible candidate in veteran Wesley Hunt. He has proven himself a strong fundraiser but it seems the trendline is too steep for him to overcome. As one of the few Black Republicans nominated for a congressional seat, Hunt has enjoyed considerable attention from the Republican establishment, including endorsements from President Trump and Senator Ted Cruz (a resident of this district).

TX-32: northern Dallas suburbs, this is the home district of former President George W. Bush. Former NFL linebacker and attorney Colin Allred defeated Rep. Pete Sessions 52%-46% in 2018. This district went for Hillary Clinton 49%-47% in 2016, after Mitt Romney carried it by 15 points in 2012. Allred has proven to be an outstanding fundraiser and this seat has fallen off the target list, as the Crystal Ball rates it as ‘Likely Democratic’.

Although he doesn’t represent a competitive district, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D) (TX-28) is one of the more interesting members of the congressional delegation. The Laredo Democrat opposes abortion rights and was a close ally of then Governor W. Bush while he was in the Texas legislature. Cuellar faced a close primary earlier this year and will likely remain a big target for progressives in the future. Cuellar’s stance on abortion is to put it mildly, quite of step with the party. Given his friendliness with many Republicans in the legislature, Cuellar is a rare Democrat the party will try to shore up in redistricting, likely by removing the San Antonio suburbs where he was quite weak in his primary.

Texas also has a Senate election on the ballot this year, one that has taken on a much lower profile than the barnburner 2018 Cruz/O’Rourke race. Sen. John Cornyn (R) was first elected in 2002 and previously served as the Senate Majority Whip from 2015-2019. Earlier in his career, Cornyn was a County Judge, then State Supreme Court Justice, and in 1998 was elected Attorney General of Texas. This seat has not been a priority for Democrats seeking to reclaim the majority in the upper chamber. The Democratic nominee - Veteran MJ Hegar came close to flipping a House seat in 2018, but has struggled to raise the money necessary to compete in a very large and expensive state.

A villain among Democrats, Texas’s junior Senator, Ted Cruz, first came to the Senate in 2013. A former state Solicitor General, Cruz has straddled the line between establishment and anti-establishment conservative in the Senate. The son of an evangelical pastor, Cruz heavily targeted those voters in his ill-fated presidential bid in 2016. Cruz’s path to victory in the primary was predicated on strong support from evangelicals, Tea Party conservatives, and libertarians. When that 2016 primary ended as essentially a two-man race between Cruz and Trump -- with Ohio Governor John Kasich as a third wheel -- the Texas senator, ironically, found himself appealing to the party’s establishment elements. What Cruz couldn’t see coming when he launched his bid was Trump’s ability to bring out droves of newer, often less ideological voters, to Republican primaries.

State level politics

With Republicans support among college-educated whites declining, Democrats are making a play for the Texas House of Representatives this year. Unlike in Wisconsin, where Democrats are clustered into two major areas, Republicans face a geographic problem in Texas. Simply put, too many of their voters are located in the state’s sprawling rural areas. GOP strength in the Panhandle, Central Plains, and the eastern Piney Woods is close to being maxed out, and only so many voters are there.

By contrast, the Democratic-trending suburbs have seen explosive growth. After picking up 11 seats in 2018, Democrats need nine more to gain the majority. The party has released a flurry of internal polls showing them either leading or close in seats that would have once been unthinkable for the party to contest. Meanwhile on the Republican side, internals have been scarce. With rural Democrats being a thing of the past, the party is almost entirely on offense.

If there's one seat that's a bellwether in November, it's House District 134. Sarah Davis is perhaps the most moderate Republican in the chamber and the only Republican in the legislature who supports abortion rights. If she loses, Democrats will have taken the chamber. 

The Texas governorship has been a launching pad for presidential campaigns, and that seems likely to continue. Gov. Greg Abbott is a favorite of conservatives and as governor of a large state, he enjoys a large platform. It seems likely that Abbott will run for President regardless of whether Trump loses this year. Not bound by term limits, he’ll be up for reelection in 2022 and seems likely to seek a third term, much to the chagrin of some other state Republicans. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Attorney General Ken Paxton are known to have bigger ambitions, so Abbott may be creating something of a logjam. Another Texas politician to watch is Land Commissioner George Prescott Bush. Though the office is low profile, he’s notable as a member of the Bush family.

Texas is a rare state where arguably the Lt. Governor is a more powerful position than Governor. As President of the Texas Senate, the Lt. Governor has an outsized role in setting the majority's agenda and running the day to day operations of the chamber. The position greatly resembles the Lt. Governors of the old South, who also enjoyed similar powers but were reduced over the years. Like how it was in those states, the Texas Lt. Governor's powers are established by Senate rules rather than being enshrined in law. If a majority of Senators wanted, they could easily shift the powers to the President Pro Tempore. Although a Democrat, Lt. Governor Bob Bullock enjoyed a strong relationship with then Governor George W. Bush and was a key player in pushing Bush's agenda as Governor. Texas is also rather unique in that neither chamber is technically organized by party, but the divisions are quite clear.

Presidential politics

Texas Polls >>

Texas’s emergence as a presidential battleground is rather new. The state has reliably voted Republican for President since 1980 and has elected only Republican Senators since the  1990s. Texas lurched rightward in the Reagan era thanks to the Democrats increasingly becoming a party of social liberalism and environmentalism. The oil industry is a major economic powerhouse in the Lone Star state, employing thousands of people across the state -- indeed, pumpjacks have long been iconic fixtures that dot the west Texas landscape. With the party running liberal candidates in 1984 and 1988, there wasn’t much to offer to Texas voters.

In 1992, the state was more competitive, as the Democratic nominee was Arkansas governor Bill Clinton. Though President George H. W. Bush claimed Texas as his adopted home, another Texan on the ballot, Reform Party nominee Ross Perot, also made the race closer than usual. With then-Gov. George W. Bush on the ticket, Texas wasn’t in play in 2000, and Bush cleared 60% there in 2004. Despite the national wave that year, Texas wasn’t in play in 2008. By 2016, Texas Republicans had virtually maxed out in the state’s rural areas, but had considerable room to fall in the populous educated suburbs that dominate the state.

There has been limited high quality polling of the state this year but most recent surveys have been close, generally within the margin of error. Although Biden is seeing weaker support among Hispanics in Florida than Clinton did in 2016, Hispanics in Texas are a different bunch. His increase in support among college-educated whites offsets any losses among blue collar Hispanics in the Rio Grande Valley. Those areas don’t offer many votes.

The real battle for Texas is in the suburbs of places like Houston, Austin, and Dallas. Three counties in the Dallas metro area are worth watching this year: Denton, Collin, and Tarrant. To win Texas, Tarrant seems like a must-win county for Biden, and he’ll need to keep the other two within a few points.

What does Trump need to do to keep the state in his column? He needs to reverse his slide with college educated voters, particularly white women. Unlike in the Midwest, non-college educated whites are not a swing group in Texas -- a large majority of them will support Trump. If Trump continues to slide with college educated white voters, the Midwest won’t be his pressing concern -- it will be Texas. Fresh polling from CBS shows Trump leading Biden 48%-46% in Texas. CBS gives Trump a 53%-40% lead with white college graduates, but that’s a clear drop from the 62%-31% margin he earned with them in 2016.

Texas has 38 electoral votes, second only to California, a number that’s expected to grow by three after this year’s census. Trump has virtually no path to reelection without Texas, and, given the larger trends, future Republican nominees will have to work increasingly hard to keep it in the red column.

Next Week:  Ohio

Tentative Schedule:  Georgia (10/5), Iowa (10/12), Arizona (10/19), Florida (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:


Polling Map with No Toss-ups

September 16, 2020

Our new polling map categorizes states as red or blue based on who is leading in the polling average. There are no toss-ups here unless the state is exactly tied. This map will update three times a day; the image below will reflect the latest update. Click or tap for an interactive version.

You can compare this to the more granular polling map, which rates states based on the margin between the two nominees. This map updates on the same schedule as the no toss-up map, so that they remain in sync.  Click or tap for an interactive version.