Election News

The Road to 270: Kentucky

February 17, 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 Seth Moskowitz, a 270toWin elections and politics contributor. Contact Seth at s.k.moskowitz@gmail.com or on Twitter @skmoskowitz.

Kentucky

Kentucky is all but certain to vote for Donald Trump in November. It has voted Republican at the presidential level - with few exceptions - since 1956. The president carried the state by 30% in 2016, continuing a fairly consistent trend of increasing GOP margins in each election since 2000. 

Given this inevitability, the second half of this piece is dedicated to the boogeyman of the left, Mitch McConnell. Democrats revile the cunning effectiveness of the Senate Majority Leader and hope, perhaps naively, to oust him in November.

First though, let’s look at Kentucky’s political legacy and how it evolved into the deep red state it is today.

Statehood and Civil War

Until 1792, the region we know as Kentucky was a part of Virginia. The Appalachian Mountains isolated western Virginians, who started to push for an independent state. In 1790, the Virginia legislature approved the new state and two years later Congress accepted it. The new state was framed by its geography, with the Ohio River to its north, Mississippi River on its western tip, and the Cumberland Mountains in its east.

For most of its first elections, Kentucky voted along with the rest of the south for Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party. The party broadly advocated for a less powerful federal government and supported the agrarian lifestyle of the south. Once the Democratic-Republican Party fractured, Kentucky shifted to the Whig Party that was founded by Henry Clay, at that time a U.S. Senator from the state.

In 1860, Kentucky cast its electoral votes for the Constitutional Union Party, which was a single-issue party focused on keeping the Union together. The state had economic ties to both the Confederate South and Union North and was physically located in the middle of the conflict — bordered by Tennessee and Virginia to the south and Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois to the north. Kentucky decided not to secede and initially claimed neutrality in the war. This stance ended in 1861 when the Confederate army invaded Kentucky in order to take control of tactical land before the Union army could. From then on, Kentucky sided with the Union.

Post-War Democratic Dominance

Kentucky, like most of the south, was steadily Democratic following the Civil War. The western region of the state was historically slave-holding territory and therefore voted for the Democratic Party. Meanwhile, the population in the state’s east had supported the Union and would reliably vote Republican. Through most of the 19th Century, however, these Republican regions were not enough to make the state competitive. Democrats regularly won the state by double digits.

The 1896 election broke the streak. That year, Democrats nominated the bimetallist and populist, William Jennings Bryan. The Republican standard bearer, William McKinley, eked out a 0.07% popular vote victory over Bryan, making him the first Republican presidential nominee to ever carry Kentucky. The state would flip back to its Democratic roots for the next six elections, but by smaller margins than before. In five of the six elections from 1900 to 1920, the Democratic nominee would win by less than 6%. In the 1920s lead-up to the Great Depression, Kentucky voted for two Republicans in 1924 and 1928. These were the Roaring Twenties and Kentucky, along with most of the nation, rewarded the incumbent Republican Party for the strong economy.

Then came the Great Depression. Kentucky voted for Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal which employed thousands of people in Kentucky and helped prop up and revive the coal, bourbon, and tobacco industries in Kentucky. 

A Shift Rightward

The popularity of the New Deal and Roosevelt would help Democrats win Kentucky through the 1952 election. Eventually, though, the Democratic Party’s leftward shift on social issues would push Kentucky progressively deeper into the Republican Party. In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower won reelection and carried Kentucky in a landslide election over his Democratic opponent, Adlai Stevenson. Since that 1956 Republican victory, Democrats have only carried the state four times.

All of these victors were southerners. First is Lyndon Johnson who carried Kentucky in his 1964 landslide. Second is Georgian Jimmy Carter who won Kentucky in his initial election of 1976 but lost it to Ronald Reagan in 1980. The last Democrat to win Kentucky was Bill Clinton of Arkansas in his 1992 and 1996 elections.

Bill Clinton was also the last Democratic presidential nominee to be competitive in Kentucky. Four years later, Democrats nominated Al Gore, whose signature issue was environmental protection. This did not play well in Kentucky’s coal country and, along with the Democratic Party’s liberal shift on social issues including abortion and gun control, helped push the state decisively towards George Bush.

Recent Elections & Political Landscape

Starting in 2000, every Republican nominee would carry Kentucky by double digits. George Bush did so by 15% and 20% in 2000 and 2004. John McCain beat Barack Obama by 16% in the state even as Obama won nationally by 7%. In 2012 Mitt Romney won the state by 23%. And finally, in 2016, Donald Trump expanded that margin to 30%, the largest margin of victory since 1868.

In 1996, Bill Clinton carried counties across the state. He won majorities in the mountainous east, the ancestrally Democratic west, and in the urban regions. Support for Democrats steadily eroded in most of these counties and every four years since, the Democratic nominee carried fewer counties than their predecessor.

While external forces are more to blame for the coal industry's decline, Barack Obama’s strict regulations on coal production did little to ingratiate his party to Kentuckians. In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s infamous “we're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business” quote1 1That often-quoted comment didn't capture the full context of what she actually said. did even more damage.

As jobs in the coal and manufacturing industry evaporated, Kentucky struggled to replace them. While the urban and suburban communities inside the Golden Triangle of Lexington, Louisville, and Cincinnati have thriving auto, equestrian, logistics, and bourbon industries, the rest of the state is in worse shape. Outside of this economically humming region, Kentuckians are facing lower incomes, higher poverty rates, shrinking populations, and drug addictions.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won just two counties, Jefferson and Fayette, that encompass the state’s biggest cities of Louisville and Lexington and are far more diverse than the state overall. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, expanded on Romney’s margin in nearly the entire state. He improved most in the state’s northeastern rural Appalachia. His populist calls to “Make America Great Again” were most effective with this struggling, shrinking, and disaffected population.

Demographics make the recent rightward shift unsurprising. 68% of the state's population are whites that do not have a college degree. This is a core constituency of today's GOP. Only neighboring West Virginia has a higher proportion (75%) of residents in this category. 

Republican Mastermind and Democratic Nemesis: Mitch McConnell

While Kentucky’s presidential contest in November is all but decided, Senate Majority Leader and Democratic boogeyman, Mitch McConnell, is up for reelection and Democrats are drooling at the idea of ousting him.

The Kentucky primary in the state is not until May, but both nominees are all but decided. Republicans are destined to re-nominate McConnell. Democrats are on track to nominate former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath. In 2018, McGrath made a high-profile congressional bid in Kentucky’s Sixth District against incumbent Rep. Andy Barr. It is a district much more receptive to Democrats than the state as a whole, but McGrath lost by 3%.

Democrats look at Kentucky’s 2019 gubernatorial election and hope that 2020 could be a repeat. Last year, Democrat Andy Beshear beat Republican Matt Bevin in Kentucky’s off-year gubernatorial election.  However, Bevin was a historically weak candidate who alienated voters at every turn.

McGrath boosters also point to McConnell’s extreme unpopularity as an indicator of his vulnerability. McConnell has had no problem carrying the state in the past even with low favorability ratings haunting him for much of his career. While his first two elections in 1984 and 1990 were real competitions — he won by just 0.4% and 4.4% — after that he was entrenched. His next four victories would be by 13%, 29%, 6%, and 17%. Even in 2008, a heavily blue year where Barack Obama won the national popular vote by over 7%, McConnell still won his election by 6%.

These victories were back when Kentucky was bluer, partisanship was weaker, and split ticket voting was more common. Voters today are less likely than ever to break with their party identity and Kentucky is more Republican than ever. With Trump at the top of the ticket, likely carrying the state by another 30% margin, Democrats would need an electoral miracle to oust McConnell. And with a candidate as vetted and battle-tested as he is, there is unlikely to be any surprising or unknown revelations that could damage his candidacy as to make him vulnerable.

The Cook Political Report has the election rated as Likely Republican. The newsletter’s Senate and Governors Editor, Jessica Taylor, explained to us why she is bullish on McConnell’s reelection prospects.

“Given the sheer amount of money that Amy McGrath has been raising means this is a race to keep an eye on, but Democrats have been aiming to take down McConnell for years and have failed, and the Senate Majority Leader is heavily favored once again.

McConnell is a shrewd politician who will do anything to win, especially when it comes to his own seat. The Kentucky governor's race may have flipped, but that was even close with an incredibly unpopular Republican, and voters look differently at federal versus state races. McGrath got off to a rocky start too when she rolled out her campaign, and many House Democrats were not happy with the race she ran in 2018 which should have been winnable in a very good year for Democrats. The environment won't be as favorable for Democrats again in a presidential year with Trump expected to carry Kentucky handily.

If we are talking about this being a toss up race in the fall, Democrats will definitely be taking back the Senate and winning the presidency. But that's really hard to imagine such a scenario.” 

Last week, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — the campaign wing of the Senate Democrats — endorsed McGrath. But as Taylor points out, McGrath would likely need an extremely favorable national environment to oust McConnell. Her impressive fundraising numbers might help her get her message out, but in the deep red Bluegrass State, that message is unlikely to resonate with enough voters to propel her to victory.

Next Week: Massachusetts

Reports in this series:

The Nevada Poll: Sanders Leads Biden; 6 Candidates with Double-Digit Support

February 14, 2020

Polling from Nevada is very infrequent; this is the first we've seen since the middle of January.

Bernie Sanders leads Joe Biden by seven points in The Nevada PollTM, conducted by WPA Intelligence, that was released Friday.  Sanders saw 25% support to Biden's 18%; both candidates are polling statewide above the 15% threshold for winning delegates.  Also in double-digits are the four other candidates actively campaigning here:  Elizabeth Warren (13%), Tom Steyer (11%), Pete Buttigieg (10%) and Amy Klobuchar (10%). 

Thus far, five of these six candidates have qualified for the debate next Wednesday at Paris Las Vegas.  Tom Steyer is on the outside at this point; he has until February 18 to qualify via polling.  Given the lack of accredited polling leading up to the deadline, Steyer has asked the DNC to expand the window for qualifying polls to earlier in January.  Separately, although not on the Nevada ballot, Mike Bloomberg is just one poll away from making the stage. 

Early caucus voting begins Saturday and concludes Tuesday. The regular caucuses will take place next Saturday. 36 pledged delegates will be allocated based on the results. Yesterday, the State Democratic Party released details on how the vote will be transmitted, as it looks to avoid a results debacle like the one in Iowa earlier this month.

Sanders Narrowly Wins New Hampshire over Buttigieg; Klobuchar a Strong Third

February 12, 2020

Sen. Bernie Sanders has won the New Hampshire Democratic primary, narrowly beating out Pete Buttigieg. Sen. Amy Klobuchar came in a strong third. The three split the state's 24 delegates.  

As of Wednesday morning, with 91% of precincts reporting, Sanders held a 1.6% lead over Buttigieg, with each getting about 25% of the statewide vote. Klobuchar, at about 20%, easily outperformed her polling numbers.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden finished well back, each seeing under 10% support.

Dan Balz of the Washington post has an excellent article on the state of the Democratic race after Iowa and New Hampshire.  Balz writes:  "Democrats braced themselves Tuesday night for a long and divisive contest for their party's presidential nomination after New Hampshire voters added new uncertainty to a race already scrambled by last week's caucuses in Iowa."  He goes on to say that "if Sanders is the candidate of the liberal wing, those who are more moderate are still divided in their choice. The existence of that competition, and questions about each of the candidates seeking to become the alternative to Sanders, heightened the discontent about where this race might be heading."

While a dominant candidate hasn't emerged from the first two contests, they have served to finally begin winnowing the large field.  Both Andrew Yang and Sen. Michael Bennet announced an end to their respective campaigns Tuesday, with Deval Patrick expected to do the same today

Sen. Michael Bennet Exits Race

February 11, 2020

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet is dropping out of the presidential race. Bennet had positioned himself as a moderate in the large Democratic field, but that translated into little support.  He was averaging at less than 1% nationally, and was seeing similar results in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary.

Bennet joins Andrew Yang in exiting the race Tuesday. 

Andrew Yang Suspends Presidential Campaign

February 11, 2020

Enterpreneur Andrew Yang ended his pursuit of the Democratic nomination on Tuesday. Yang had made a name for himself via his proposal of a $1,000 monthly universal basic income to help offset the reality that automation was significantly displacing workers. Yang believed this environment led to Donald Trump's victory in 2016.

His 'Yang Gang' was a core of fervent supporters, but it did not translate into significant votes in the first two states.  He received just 1% of the vote in Iowa, earning no delegates. Early returns in New Hampshire gave Yang about 3% of the vote.

New Hampshire Primary: Overview and Live Results

February 11, 2020

The first New Hampshire primary was held in March, 1916. In 1920, it moved to the front of the primary calendar; the state has maintained this first-in-the-nation status for the past 100 years. 

Three small towns in New Hampshire cast their votes overnight, just after midnight. If you are viewing this page prior to 7:00 PM ET, when polls close in much of the state, those are the results you will see.  Results are expected shortly after 7:00 PM and will automatically update on this page. The final polls close at 8:00 PM.

Democratic Primary

There has been no shortage of polling for this contest. If it is accurate, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg will finish 1-2 and earn the lion's share of the state's 24 pledged delegates. After that it gets a little murky:  Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden should be fairly tightly bunched - in some order - from 3rd through 5th.  It remains to be seen if any of them meet the 15% threshold for delegates.

Republican Primary

President Trump had a final average of 83.3% in the polls, with former Gov. Bill Weld of neighboring Massachusetts at 9.5%.  22 delegates will be allocated proportionately to candidates getting 10% or higher. The suspense, if any, is whether Weld will cross that 10% threshold. 

Latest Polling Averages in New Hampshire

February 10, 2020

There has been no shortage of Democratic polling in advance of Tuesday's New Hampshire primary. The results have been fairly consistent in recent days, with Sanders and Buttigieg running 1-2. Amy Klobuchar has seen gains, while Joe Biden has been fading. If the polls are accurate, Biden, Klobuchar and Warren should finish 3rd to 5th in some order; it remains to be seen if any (or all) of them are able to meet the 15% threshold for delegates.

For the Republicans, Donald Trump is averaging 83.3%, with former Gov. Bill Weld of neighboring Massachusetts at 9.5%.  22 delegates will be allocated proportionately to candidates getting 10% or higher. The suspense, if any, is whether Weld will cross that 10% threshold. 

Three small towns in New Hampshire will cast the first votes at midnight. The most famous of those is Dixville Notch. Those first votes should appear in the tables below once they are counted.  The rest of the state votes during the day Tuesday. Many polling places close at 7:00 PM, with the remainder closing at 8:00 PM. The first results are expected during the 7:00 PM hour. 

The Road to 270: California

February 10, 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 Seth Moskowitz, a 270toWin elections and politics contributor. Contact Seth at s.k.moskowitz@gmail.com or on Twitter @skmoskowitz.

California

In the 2018 midterms, Democrats netted 41 House seats and took control of the House of Representatives. They did so in large part by flipping suburban districts across the country that were once safely Republican. No place better illustrates this political realignment than Orange County, California. This county was once a breeding ground for Republicans including Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. In 2018, Democrats flipped four congressional districts in Orange County. The county that Reagan called the place “where the good Republicans go to die” became ground zero for the 2018 blue wave. Democrats now hold 45 seats in the California House delegation and Republicans hold six.1 1There are two vacancies. Prior to that, Democrats held a 46-7 edge.

California, however, wasn’t always the Democratic stronghold it is today. From 1952 to 1988 it only voted for one Democratic presidential nominee. Recently, though, demographic changes like those that overwhelmed Republicans in Orange County have pushed California ever deeper into Democratic territory.

Las Californias to the Gold Rush

California was once a part of Las Californias, a Spanish territory that comprised modern day California, Baja California, and Baja California Sur. Spain split up Las Californias and created a new province that comprised modern day California, Utah, Nevada, and pieces of other Western states. The new parcel was passed on to Mexico in 1822 following Mexico’s War of Independence and renamed Alta California.

In 1848, two events changed the course of California history. First, Mexico ceded territory, which included Alta California, to the United States following the Mexican-American War. Second, gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill. The population exploded — not only with miners hoping to strike it rich, but also entrepreneurs catering to the needs of the new immigrants. The people selling tools, clothing, food, and other supplies were the real money-makers of the time. Perhaps the most famous of these entrepreneurs was Levi Strauss, who added metal rivets to pants and founded the top selling jeans brand in the world

Statehood and the California Dream

Just two years after becoming an American territory, California became the 31st state. Agriculture spread throughout the state's northern region to feed the massive population growth associated with the Gold Rush. Eventually, agriculture became a career of choice for unsuccessful miners.

Immigration to California continued through the 1800s as promises of economic success and the California Dream pulled in newcomers. The construction of the Transcontinental Railroad that connected Omaha to San Francisco brought in laborers, most of whom were Chinese immigrants. A similar need for agricultural labor attracted workers, largely of Native American, Asian, and Mexican ethnicity and descent.

In the early 20th Century, aqueducts to the dry southern region of the state allowed the development of Los Angeles and San Diego. The state’s industrial farms and oil fields had an endless thirst for labor and so the population continued to boom. The state was also a destination for devastated farmers escaping the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. By 1940, California’s population had reached nearly seven million; at the time of statehood in 1850, it was less than 100,000.

World War II and a New Economy

Even so, the biggest boom was yet to come. World War II demanded more defense and agricultural production than ever before. California’s labor force made it a natural home for these industries that required difficult work. During the war, California received 10% of U.S. defense spending and accounted for 14% of total American production. From 1940 to 1945, California’s population grew by 30%, about 2.5 million people. After the war, the population continued to climb; people who had moved to the state during the war liked living there. The state’s natural beauty and pleasant climate prevented a post-war exodus. The state also became a primary entry point and destination for immigrants as the growing defense, manufacturing, automobile, film, and technological industries demanded more labor.

From 1940 to 1970, California’s population grew from seven million to 20 million, eventually overtaking New York as the most populous state. After the war, the state developed its housing, freeways, roads, schools, bridges, and transportation infrastructure to accommodate the population influx. The economic and population boom lasted through most of the 20th Century. During the 1980s, the military and defense industries continued to grow. So too did Silicon Valley, the Northern California tech hub that had originated in the region due to a confluence of an established defense industry ecosystem, Stanford University, and venture capital.

Disaster Strikes

In the 1990s, California’s cycle of growth and prosperity stopped. Drought, fires, earthquakes, mudslides, and other environmental disasters plagued the state. In 1991, according to Republican Governor Pete Wilson, California’s financial situation had deteriorated from a “crisis” to an “emergency”. He blamed the Gulf War, recession, and environmental disasters for the state’s ballooning deficit and precarious finances. The state’s response was to hike taxes and government spending. Between 1990 and 2008, the state’s budget grew from $51 billion to $96 billion.

The Great Recession only exacerbated the state’s financial troubles. Californians who had bought suburban homes outside Los Angeles and San Francisco found themselves deeply in debt. Cities including San Bernardino and Stockton filed for bankruptcy, largely due to generous public employment benefits that had been negotiated by powerful unions.

Economic Powerhouse or Urban Tragedy

Despite the troubles, California has the most powerful economy of any state. If it were its own country, it would be the fifth largest economy in the world. The state has pockets of extreme wealth and extreme poverty. Republicans point to California’s homelessness, crime, and crumbling infrastructure as a result of Democratic leadership and government regulations. But the state’s booming metropolises and pristine environment are also used as arguments in favor of government regulation and environmentalism.

Early Electoral History (Statehood – 1948)

From 1860 through 1928, California voted according to the regional lines drawn by slavery and the Civil War. The state was reliably Republican on the presidential level with exceptions in 1880, 1892, 1912, and 1916. During this era, Californians were also willing to vote for progressive outsiders. In 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt broke from the Republican Party and ran under as a third-party contender, 42% of Californians voted for him. This was Roosevelt’s second best showing of any state. Again in 1924, 33% of Californians voted for the Progressive Party’s candidate, Robert La Follette, while his national average was 17%.

In each election from 1932 to 1944, California voted decisively for Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt and did so by a larger margin the national average. The New Deal was popular in California and helped boost the Depression-ravaged, agriculture-based economy. From 1933 to 1939, the New Deal allocated California the second most money in total and the tenth most per capita of all the states. The New Deal also strengthened California’s unions, an important support system that would help Democrats organize and win future elections. Roosevelt’s popularity in California helped his Democratic successor, Harry Truman, eke out a 0.44% victory over Republican Thomas Dewey in 1948.  

Republican Dominance (1952 – 1988)

After this stretch of Democratic victories, Republicans would again take hold of California for the next four decades. From 1952 through 1988, only one Democrat — Lyndon Johnson in the landslide of 1964 — would be able to win California’s electoral votes. In 1952 and 1956, the moderate Republican, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who ran largely on his experience with international affairs, carried the state. In 1960, 1968, 1972, 1980, and 1984, California’s very own Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan would lead the Republican ticket and carry California. In 1988, however, the state’s leftward migration became clear when Republican George H.W. Bush won California by less than 4%.

A Turn to Democrats (1992 – 2004)

Two demographic shifts are responsible for the Democratic ascendancy in California that began in the 1980s and continues to this day. First, as the state’s economy struggled in the 1990s, blue collar and uneducated whites moved out of the state while college educated whites moved in. This new population was more aligned with the Democratic Party’s positions on social issues like same sex marriage and abortion.

The other demographic change is the growth in the Hispanic and Asian populations. These demographics — generally friendly to the Democratic Party — have been growing in California since the 1970s. In 1994, when Republican Governor Pete Wilson ran a campaign supporting Proposition 187 that denied public services to illegal immigrants, California shifted decisively to Democrats. The hardline stance against immigrants was a death knell for California Republicans on the presidential level. Democrats would strap Republicans to Governor Wilson’s unpopular stance on immigrants and solidify their support among Hispanics and Asians.

The electoral consequences of these demographic shifts were stark. Democrat Bill Clinton carried California by 13% in both 1992 and 1996. Al Gore won by 11% in 2000, and John Kerry won by 10% in 2004.

Obama and Clinton Nation (2008 – 2016)

Barack Obama’s 24% margin over John McCain in 2008 was the largest Democratic victory since FDR’s landslide in 1936. Obama again dominated the state in 2012 with a 23% margin over Mitt Romney. Then, in 2016, Hillary Clinton expanded that margin even further to 30%.

Hillary Clinton received about 900,000 more votes than Barack Obama did in 2012 and Donald Trump received about 350,000 fewer than Mitt Romney. Clinton outperformed Obama’s margin in most of the state’s populous and dense counties including Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Sacramento Counties. Trump, meanwhile, outperformed Mitt Romney in some more rural counties in northern and inland California. The overall shift, however, clearly favored Clinton.

Clinton’s strong performance in California boosted her national popular vote total but had no effect on the Electoral College. Even though she expanded Obama’s margin in California by over 1 million, she received no additional electoral votes. Across the country, Clinton widened the Democratic margin in deep blue states like California and New York while losing narrowly in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. This led to a popular vote victory but an Electoral College loss.

Orange County Collapse

While Californians exodus from the GOP did not impact the Electoral College, it does have downballot effects. In the 2018 midterms, Republicans lost seven House seats in California including four — the 39th, 45th, 48th, and 49th districts — based in Orange County. That county, once a Republican stronghold, exemplifies the national trend of educated, suburban white voters realigning behind the Democratic Party. 

California’s Current Political Landscape

California’s 55 electoral votes are safely Democratic. Registered Democrats currently outnumber Republicans 44% to 24%, while No Party Preference voters are at 27%.

California is 39% Hispanic/Latino, a population that makes up the plurality of the state. Asians, and Blacks make up 16%, and 7% of the population respectively. Only 37% of Californians are non-Hispanic whites and the key Republican constituency, non-college educated whites, only make up 27% of the state.

While California used to be politically divided between north and south, the current splits are urban vs. rural and coastal vs. inland.  As with much of the rest of the country, California’s urban communities vote Democratic and its rural regions lean Republican. California has plenty of liberal cities in the Bay area and Southern California that overpower the conservative, rural regions. Communities on the coast are generally wealthier, more educated, and environmentally-focused whereas inland California is less wealthy, more agrarian, and less college educated.  

While California may be uncompetitive in the general presidential election, it is an important date on this year’s Democratic presidential primary calendar. The state moved its primary from June to March, increasing its influence in the early stages of the primary process. California Democrats are allocated 415 pledged delegates in the primary, meaning that the state could tip the primary results and narrative coming out of Super Tuesday. While the state’s in-person voters will cast their ballots on Super Tuesday, absentee and mail-in voters have already received their ballots.2 2That said, the state is quite methodical in counting ballots; final results will likely not be known for several weeks after Super Tuesday.

The real presidential competition in California will happen in March when California Democrats make their preference for a nominee known. Demographic trends have pushed the state deeper than ever into the Democrats’ corner, making it a safe state for whichever candidate ultimately wins the nomination.

Looking past 2020, Democratic domination in presidential elections isn't likely to change. However, slower population growth in the past decade means the state may lose a congressional seat - and an electoral vote - after the 2020 Census. If this happens, it will be the first time the Golden State has ever lost representation after a Census.

Next Week:  Kentucky

Reports in this series:

Buttigieg Wins Final Iowa Delegate; Edges Sanders 14-12

February 9, 2020

With 100% of precincts now reporting, Pete Buttigieg has emerged from the Iowa caucuses with the most delegates to the national convention.

Buttigieg won 26.2% of state delegate equivalents, edging Sanders who had 26.1%.  That translated into a 14-12 edge for the former South Bend mayor. Elizabeth Warren had 18%, good for eight delegates while Joe Biden with 15.8% was fourth. Amy Klobuchar was fifth with 12.3%. Despite being below 15% statewide, she had enough strength in parts of the state to secure a single delegate.

No winner has been declared by the Associated Press. It cited the close margin and inconsistencies in results.  

The New Hampshire primary is up next on Tuesday. Polling indicates Sanders and Buttigieg are running ahead of the field here.

 

Updated Iowa Delegate Counts

February 7, 2020

Per calculations from The Associated Press, Pete Buttigieg has captured 13 pledged delegates from Iowa, with Bernie Sanders one back at 12. Elizabeth Warren has won eight, Joe Biden six, and Amy Klobuchar one.  One delegate remains to be allocated.