Election News

The Road to 270: North Carolina

November 2, 2020

This is the 51st and final installment in The Road to 270 series. The column is written by Drew Savicki, a 270toWin elections and politics contributor. Contact Drew via email or on Twitter @SenhorRaposa

North Carolina has transformed from being the heart of the tobacco industry in the old south to a bustling hub for business and technology. The Tar Heel state has shed its traditional conservative lean in favor of a decidedly purple or light pink status. A population boom over the last 10 years has brought enormous change to North Carolina. Bitter polarization has come to grip the state's politics during this period, with the Tar Heel state the subject of numerous court battles over voting rights, LGBT rights, same sex marriage, etc.

2010: A realigning election

2010 was probably the single most important election in the history of North Carolina. After over a century of Democratic control of the legislature, Republicans toppled the Democratic supermajorities and won supermajorities of their own. Governor Bev Perdue (D) went from having the trifecta to being a sitting duck with Republicans able to override many of her vetoes. The North Carolina Governor possesses no veto power over redistricting so the GOP had full control over the process. Republicans successfully gerrymandered their supermajorities to remain until 2018. That 2010 election ushered in an era of conservative dominance and transformed a once sleepy state party.

Following the election of Barack Obama in 2008, Democrats were quite optimistic about the upcoming elections in North Carolina and for good reason. Obama became the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter to win the state and Kay Hagan (D) had just defeated Senator Elizabeth Dole (R). Democrats set their sights on defeating freshman Senator Richard Burr (R) in 2010 and popular Secretary of State Elaine Marshall jumped in the race against him. National Democrats backed former State Senator Cal Cunningham, who had the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). Cunningham lost a runoff against Marshall by 20%. That would be the last time - until the Tennessee primary this year - that a DSCC backed candidate lost the primary.  2010 didn't turn out to be a good year for Democrats and Burr won reelection by 12%. 

By 2012, Governor Bev Perdue was deeply unpopular and opted against running for reelection. Democrats nominated Lt. Governor Walter Dalton, who although was elected separately, was nonetheless heavily tied to Perdue by Republicans. Dalton could not escape Perdue's shadow and lost the general election to Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory (R). McCrory - at the time a moderate Republican, was also the party's nominee in 2008. In office, McCrory was little more than a figurehead for the state's Republican establishment and signed nearly every piece of conservative legislation that came before his desk.

The 2010 election set in motion a chain of events that led up to present day and helps explain North Carolina's perpetually gridlocked and polarized politics.

Congressional politics

Due to court ordered redistricting, North Carolina is seeing several competitive congressional races this year, an unusual occurrence in recent cycles. Unlike many other states, North Carolina lacks a true swing district. All 13 Congressional Districts have voted the same way in the past three presidential elections.

Particularly of interest is the state’s 8th District, which includes Fayetteville and the surrounding communities. Home to the largest military base in the United States, NC-8 best resembles the 2nd district in Arkansas. A mixture of urban, suburban, and rural - with a large Black population - this district has been represented in some form by Rep. Richard Hudson (R) since 2013. Hudson faces a competitive race from former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Pat Timmons-Goodson (D). In Congress, Hudson has been fairly anonymous and this is his first real race since 2012 when he defeated Rep. Larry Kissell (D). There has been an uptick in spending in this district in recent weeks and Timmons-Goodson has the ideal profile for a Democrat here. Both Cook and the Crystal Ball rate this district as ‘Leans Republican’ so Hudson is the favorite but not prohibitively so. This Fayetteville centric district is also a major battleground for control of the state legislature. This area will be worth watching on election night.

Thanks to court mandated redistricting, Democrats are all but certain to pick up two districts. The 2nd and 6th Congressional Districts were redistricted from Republican gerrymanders to solidly Democratic seats. The new 2nd District encompasses much of Wake County including all of Raleigh and its southern suburbs. The new 6th district includes both Winston-Salem and Greensboro. Reps. George Holding and Mark Walker (R) decided to retire rather than mount considerably uphill battles for these redrawn seats.

Although it has flown under the radar this year, the 9th district could very well be a sleeper race. Rep. Dan Bishop was elected in a highly contested special election in 2018. This time the race hasn’t drawn much attention but this seat, which stretches from the Charlotte suburbs to rural Robeson County, could be quite competitive. The Charlotte suburbs have rapidly trended Democratic in recent years and Bishop could lose in a wave election.

Out west is the state’s 11th District, which is surprisingly competitive. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows represented this district from 2011 until his resignation in March. This Appalachia district was redrawn to include all of solidly Democratic Asheville. Republican Madison Cawthorn upset the Trump and Meadows backed candidate in the primary, and later got a primetime speaking slot at this year’s Republican Convention. However, Cawthorn faces allegations of sexual harassment and recently removed racist language from his website. The Democratic nominee, Moe Davis is hardly without problems either. The former Chief Prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay, Davis has few connections to the district and tends to shoot his mouth off. This race between two flawed candidates has turned more expensive as both parties have invested here. Cawthorn has the edge if ever so slightly. It’s possible Davis could win but western North Carolina isn’t particularly friendly turf for Democrats anymore. It seems likely that former Rep. Health Shuler (D) is kicking himself for not running this year.

If Shuler had sought a comeback, it’s possible he might be favored to win back his old district. A former NFL quarterback, Shuler represented NC-11 from 2007-2013. He was a very popular congressman but retired in 2012 when Republicans gerrymandered the seat to remove Asheville from it. Alternatively, had she not run for Lt. Governor, State Senator Terry Van Duyn would have been a strong Democratic candidate for this district.

North Carolina is no stranger to competitive or expensive U.S. Senate races but this year breaks the record. It is the most expensive U.S. Senate race in American history. According to OpenSecrets.org, almost $300 million has been spent on the race. Freshman Senator Thom Tillis (R) served previously as Speaker of the North Carolina House. A Chamber of Commerce style establishment Republican, Tillis’s political style is a poor fit for Trump’s populist Republican party. In the Trump era, Tillis has been viewed skeptically by the party’s right flank and the diehard Trump supporters. His orthodox conservative policies do not neatly mesh with Trumpism and his strident conservatism has alienated the other half of the state. Tillis was narrowly elected to the Senate in 2014 when he defeated the late Senator Kay Hagan. Hagan, a longtime Democratic state legislator from Greensboro, was elected in the 2008 wave. Tillis heavily tied her to Obama, who was unpopular in the state at the time.

This year, Tillis is facing a very close race from Cal Cunningham. After originally running for Lt. Governor, Cunningham has run a low-key healthcare centric campaign and it appears that is what voters want. In early October, revelations of an affair Cunningham was having came to light and Republicans have seized on the issue. Though it’s lowered his favorability numbers, it hasn’t made a dent in the horse race numbers. Cunningham continues to lead by low single digits as he did pre-scandal. As long as Biden holds his lead here, it’s hard to see a path to victory for Thom Tillis.

North Carolina’s senior Senator Richard Burr has maintained a low profile during his tenure. A former Congressman from Winston-Salem, Burr was first elected to the Senate in 2004 and served as Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee from 2015 until May of this year. Burr stepped down as Chair following the announcement of a criminal investigation into an insider trading scandal. Burr is a low profile affable Senator known for his odd car and the fact that he does not wear socks. After five terms in the House and three terms in the Senate, Burr is planning to retire in 2022. There are a number of potential candidates on both sides, ranging from folks like Mark Meadows to Roy Cooper. It seems likely this race will be highly contested regardless of the winner of this year’s presidential election.

State level politics

With all of its statewide offices elected in presidential years, North Carolina’s state politics are heavily influenced by the top of the ticket. Five statewide races were decided by less than 1% in 2016. With Joe Biden increasingly likely to win the state and Governor Cooper cruising to reelection, a downballot sweep seems more likely. North Carolina’s 10 statewide offices are part of what’s called the Council of State. Following the 2016 elections, Republicans hold a slim majority but that’s not likely to be the case after this year’s election.

First elected to the state legislature in the 1980’s, Governor Roy Cooper has been a staple of North Carolina politics for many years. Having served four terms as North Carolina’s Attorney General, Cooper ran for Governor in 2016 and narrowly defeated Governor McCrory. Cooper heavily focused his campaign on the blowback North Carolina received from House Bill 2. Colloquially known as the ‘Bathroom Bill’, HB2’s passage caused an immediate uproar. This bill not only barred transgender people from using the bathroom of their identified gender but also overturned an LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council. It also prevented cities from raising their minimum wage higher than the state’s minimum wage. This bill prompted severe backlash against the state of North Carolina. Sports tournaments, conventions, concerts, business events, etc. were all canceled. This had a tangible economic impact and North Carolina. Especially in a southern state, the evangelical wing of the Republican Party is quite powerful and they represent a major wing of the state party. This bill was met with widespread approval by them but found backlash elsewhere. Caught between a rock and a hard place, McCrory doubled down in his defense of the bill and it probably cost him reelection.

As Governor, Roy Cooper has largely been a sitting duck but one of his biggest achievements was negotiating a repeal of HB2. Was it a perfect bill that had everything Democrats wanted? No, but it fulfilled a campaign promise of Cooper’s. Having to deal with Republican supermajorities for most of his time as Governor, Cooper has been almost entirely unable to get his agenda passed. Despite the divided government, Cooper has maintained high approval ratings as Governor and his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has earned him accolades. Cooper is a prohibitive favorite for reelection against the Lt. Governor Dan Forest. Forest - a staunch social conservative, is running a largely moribund campaign and struggling to drum up enthusiasm against an affable Governor. Cooper will glide to reelection and there is a great deal of discussion about his future. With an open U.S. Senate seat in 2022, Cooper could very well be a candidate for it, if Democrats flip the open Lt. Governor’s race this year. As one of the nation's weakest chief executives, the North Carolina Governor is hardly an enviable position to have, especially under divided government.

With Cooper’s possible coattails, Democrats have realistic chances at flipping at least one chamber of the North Carolina General Assembly. Combined with Democrats holding their majority on the North Carolina Supreme Court, that would give them leverage in redistricting. One of Cooper’s key priorities has been to expand Medicaid and if Democrats do flip both chambers, that will be a big priority for the new Democratic majorities.

Presidential politics and 2020 outlook

North Carolina Polls >>

This is only the fourth election in which North Carolina is a swing state. Like Georgia, this is a state that George W. Bush had no trouble winning either time. Even with North Carolina Senator John Edwards in 2004, John Kerry still lost this state by double digits. Since then, millions of new voters have come to North Carolina, transforming the Tar Heel state from solid red to a sort of pinkish color. As a decidedly center-right state, North Carolina’s not quite purple but it is very competitive.

Since the Tar Heel lacks a true bellwether county let’s look at a few interesting ones.

Robeson County (Lumberton): This rural majority minority county in southeastern North Carolina is on paper an odd place to trend rightward. Home to the Lumbee tribe, this socially conservative county overwhelmingly backed Amendment 1 in 2012, which outlawed same-sex marriage in North Carolina. Robeson is a quirky little place. Once reliably Democratic, it’s made a strong trend rightward in recent years as Democrats become increasingly associated with social liberalism. This county flipped to Trump after voting for Obama twice. It’s not a must win for Trump but he really can’t afford a slippage in other rural areas.

New Hanover (Wilmington): This suburban county is one of the likeliest Trump/Biden counties in the country. As one of the more educated counties in North Carolina, there’s really not much going for Republicans here. This probably isn’t a must win for Trump but he will need to keep Biden’s margin down.

Gaston and Union: Bordering Mecklenburg county to the west and east are the GOP strongholds of Gaston and Union. These exurban counties are reliably Republican but the population boom in recent years might change the composition of the electorate a bit. It's evident that Trump and Republicans are feeling the heat in Gaston County as the President recently rallied in Gastonia. It's rather uncommon to see a GOP nominee for President rallying there days before the election. If Biden can hold Trump to below 60% of the vote in both of these counties, he's on his way to victory statewide.

With Biden recently gaining in the polls here, Democrats have been increasingly optimistic that the Tar Heel state will flip. Biden is likely to get previously unthinkable margins out of the two largest counties in the state – Wake and Mecklenburg, both of which voted for George W. Bush at least once. The state will be one to watch when the polls close at 7:30 Eastern Time on Tuesday. There are few paths to victory for Trump without North Carolina. Likewise, Democratic hopes of taking control of the Senate will take a significant hit if they can't flip the seat here.


Select a state on the map to read its 'The Road to 270' article.

 

Politico: Final Election Forecast

November 2, 2020

This is Politico's final forecast for the 2020 general election.

November 2 update and analysis

The full Politico election forecast

Click or tap any of these maps for an interactive version.


President

November 2: Alaska moves from Likely to Leans Republican; Georgia from Leans Republican to Toss-up; Indiana from Safe to Likely Republican.


Senate

November 2: Georgia (regular) moves from Leans Republican to Toss-up; Virginia from Likely to Safe Democratic.


House

November 2: 17 changes (scroll to 'Latest rating changes')


Governor

November 2: New Hampshire moves from Leans to Likely Republican.


Uncontested: House Races with no Major Party Opposition

October 30, 2020

While over 300 of the 435 House seats are considered safe for the incumbent party, there is a subset that is especially solid: those with no major party opposition. This year, 27 seats fall into that category, down from 42 in 2018.  19 seats have no Republican candidate on the ballot, while eight have no Democratic candidate. 

The list falls into three groups, which are listed below. In the tables, one Margin of Victory column reflects the 2018 House election, with the other column being the margin between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016. Asterisks in the House column mean the incumbent was unopposed in 2018.

Totally Unopposed: There are 11 incumbents that have the ballot all to themselves. Not on the list is GA-14, where the Democratic nominee has withdrawn, but remains on the ballot. 

Same Party Opposition: California and Washington hold top-two primaries, where all candidates, regardless of party, appear on a single ballot. The two highest finishers go on to the general election.  Eight districts - seven in California and one in Washington - advanced two Democrats. The ^ in Nanette Barragan's listing reflects that there was also an election with two Democrats in 2018.

3rd Party Opposition: The longest-tenured member on this list, Eliot Engel, was defeated by Jamaal Bowman in the Democratic primary. Bowman and the other seven incumbents  have one or more opponents on the ballot, but all are 3rd party or independent candidates. None are expected to pose a major challenge.

While the 'unopposed' list is almost exclusively associated with House elections, an honorable mention goes to the Arkansas Senate race. Only one Democrat filed to run in the party's primary; he dropped out after the filing deadline. Republican Sen. Tom Cotton faces Libertarian Ricky Harrington, Jr. as he attempts to win a second term.

Inside Elections Updates Outlook for President, Senate and House

October 28, 2020

Inside Elections has updated its 2020 election outlook, making changes to its Electoral College forecast, as well as in a number of congressional races.

October 28 update and analysis (may require a subscription)

Maps of the current Inside Elections projections follow. Click or tap any of them for an interactive version.


President

October 28: Georgia and North Carolina move from Toss-up to Tilt Democratic; Texas moves from Tilt Republican to Toss-up.

 

Senate

October 28: Alaska moves from Likely to Leans Republican; Georgia (regular) from Tilt Republican to Toss-up; Georgia (special) from Leans to Tilt Republican.

 
 

House

October 28:  23 Ratings Changes (too many to list here).

 
 

Governor

October 28:  No changes.

 

Cook Political Moves Texas to Toss-up in Presidential Race

October 28, 2020

Less than a week out from the presidential election, The Cook Political Report has moved Texas to Toss-up status. The Lone Star State hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential nominee since 1976 (Jimmy Carter) and hasn't elected a Democrat to any statewide office since 1994. However, recent elections have been increasingly competitive. Donald Trump's nine-point win in 2016 was the smallest GOP margin since 1996. In 2018, Sen. Ted Cruz narrowly won reelection, defeating Beto O'Rourke by about 2.6%. 

The president currently holds a one-point lead in the 270toWin polling average, reflecting recent polls that have ranged from a Trump lead of five points to Biden being ahead by three.

Read the Cook analysis from Amy Walter

The updated Cook electoral map is below. Click or tap for an interactive version.

 

The Road to 270: Georgia

October 26, 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.

The Peach State makes a surprising addition to the battleground list this year. A state last won by Democrats in 1992, the erosion of Republican support in the booming Atlanta metro area has shifted the state's politics. With two competitive U.S. Senate races on the ballot, the Peach State is getting uncommon attention this cycle. Powered by their surging support among college educated whites and the diversifying population of the Atlanta suburbs, Democrats are making a real push for Georgia this year. Let's look beneath the surface and figure out how Georgia got to where it is now.

Growing Atlanta Metro

This year, Georgia will be won and lost in the Atlanta metro area. Increasingly Georgia politics is dominated by the booming Atlanta metro area, much to the chagrin of Republicans. These diversifying suburbs have attracted expats from around the country and the growth shows no signs of slowing down. Using the state of Georgia's official definition of the Atlanta metro area, let's look at how it's voted since 2000. George W. Bush narrowly won that year with a little over one million votes cast. By 2016, Hillary Clinton carried it by 25 points and almost 1.8 million votes were cast.

Congressional politics

Georgia has two U.S. Senate races on this year, and both are heavily contested. First let's look at the special election being held. As 2019 came to a close, longtime Sen. Johnny Isakson (R) retired due to declining health. Gov. Brian Kemp (R) appointed businesswoman Kelly Loeffler, likely due to her ability to self-fund her campaign and on the premise that she could win back suburban voters. Now on the campaign trail, Loeffler has taken a somewhat unexpected turn. Facing a strong challenge on her right flank from Rep. Doug Collins, who had openly campaigned for the Senate appointment, Loeffler has veered to the right -- in a recent ad, she claimed to be more conservative than Attila the Hun.

The Loeffler campaign’s antics may have something to do with the election’s format. In Georgia, special elections are held under Louisiana-style jungle primary rules: if no candidate clears 50% in November -- which is likely, as there are about twenty -- the top two finishers will advance to a January runoff. With one runoff berth looking likely to go to a Democrat, Loeffler seems to be trying to out-right Collins for the other spot. As the incumbent, Loeffler also has the full support of the Senate GOP Conference.

An ardent conservative from northeast Georgia, Rep. Doug Collins is mounting an underdog bid against Loeffler. As ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, Collins had a front row seat during impeachment but, prior to his Senate bid, he’d been a fairly low-profile congressman. Most polls have him getting squeezed out of a runoff but Democrats are certainly happy that he has dragged Loeffler to the right in a protracted battle, and he is still winning a large chunk of Republican voters. Many House colleagues are backing Collins and he has gotten considerable support from the Georgia political establishment, including the powerful state House Speaker David Ralston.

The main Democratic candidate is Raphael Warnock. As pastor of the church Martin Luther King Jr. attended, Warnock is one of the most interesting Senate candidates this cycle. While his campaign was slow to take off, a recent push by the party and an endorsement from former President Obama has paid dividends. His fundraising has seen a significant boost and he has surged to the top spot in polls. Recent polling from The New York Times showed Warnock taking 59% of the Black vote -- expect him to consolidate more of that vote as Election Day nears.

In the regularly scheduled U.S. Senate election, freshman David Perdue (R) is facing an increasingly competitive race. From a political family -- his cousin is former Gov. Sonny Perdue, who currently serves as the Secretary of Agriculture -- Perdue was a wealthy businessman before he was elected to the Senate in 2014. Perdue finds himself in an interesting predicament for reelection. In a fast-growing state, a low-key Senator like Perdue isn’t all that well-known as many Georgia voters didn’t live in the state when he was first elected.

The Democratic nominee against Perdue is former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff. A documentary filmmaker and former congressional staffer, Ossoff nearly won a 2017 special election for the state’s 6th District, which at the time broke fundraising and spending records. With polls in the presidential race tightening, those in the Senate race have tightened as well. With the presence of a Libertarian on the ballot, this race may also go to a January runoff. -- so this race could go to a runoff, along with the special election. Regardless, the winner of the special election will be on the ballot again in 2022, when the current term is set to expire.

Aside from the presidential race, candidates in Georgia must be elected with a majority of the vote. As noted, at least one and perhaps both of these Senate races are headed for a top-two runoff in January. One of the big Democratic concerns around this prospect is turnout. Historically, Georgia Republicans have turned out more consistently in runoffs, giving them an advantage. However, the dynamic may be different this year depending on the circumstances. If Joe Biden is elected president and Democrats have secured a Senate majority, it is easy to see Democratic turnout falling. Conversely, should Donald Trump be reelected or Democrats fall short in their quest for control, turnout will be higher. Of course, the highest turnout - and spending - for both parties is likely to be around the very real possibility that the runoff(s) will actually determine who controls the Senate. The scheduled date for the runoff is January 5, 2021, two days after the new Senate is seated. Should either Democrat win that day, they will start at the bottom of the seniority list when seated.

While Jon Ossoff was unsuccessful in his bid for Georgia’s 6th District, Democrats ended up flipping it in 2018. Democrat Lucy McBath defeated Rep. Karen Handel in this Northern Atlanta suburban district. McBath, whose son Jordan was a victim of gun violence, was backed heavily by Mike Bloomberg. As the most educated congressional district in Georgia, GA-6 saw a considerable leftward swing from 2012-2016. Mitt Romney carried GA-6 by 23% in 2012 but Trump carried it by just 1.5%. Both the Crystal Ball and Cook Political Report rate GA-6 as ‘Likely Democratic.’ Karen Handel is seeking a rematch against McBath but this district is has trended too far away from Republicans. The area that was once represented by Newt Gingrich in the House is now firmly Democratic turf. Even if Rep. Tom Price hadn’t joined the Trump cabinet, he likely would have faced a real race in 2018 and would be a top Democratic target this year.

The other competitive congressional district in Georgia is the neighboring 7th District. This includes parts of diversifying Gwinnett County and also takes in much of Forsyth County, which is redder. After winning reelection by only a few hundred votes in 2018, Rep. Rob Woodall (R) is retiring and Democrats are favored to flip this seat. 2018 nominee Carolyn Bourdeaux is back and has the energy and money behind her to defeat Republican Rich McCormick. An E.R. doctor, McCormick has a good profile for this seat but his association with Trump will hurt in a district that Biden should carry comfortably.

There was perhaps no politician more beloved in Georgia than the late Rep. John Lewis. A key figure in the Civil Rights movement, Lewis was the soul of the House and widely respected across the aisle. A true legend, Lewis faced violence as a young man fighting for civil rights and grew into one of the most respected figures in American politics. The congressman from urban Atlanta, Lewis represented Georgia’s 5th District from 1987 until his death earlier this year. A stalwart progressive, Lewis nonetheless shared a close friendship with now-retired Sen. Johnny Isakson.

Lewis’ death triggered a special election in this solidly Democratic seat and the winner will serve in the lame duck session of Congress. State Senator and Chair of the Georgia Democratic Party Nikema Williams was chosen by the party to replace Lewis on the November general election ballot. She opted not to run in the special election and thus will be sworn in come January. Although the Republican candidate has raised quite a lot of money, this district gave Hillary Clinton 85% and thus is all but certain to remain in Democratic hands.

State level politics

Republicans took control of the legislature in 2005 and the party has dominated state politics for the past 15 years. Democrats made inroads in 2018 but fell short of capturing any statewide offices. Democrats rely on a diverse coalition to win in Georgia and getting their core voters to the polls in midterm years remains an obstacle. In her unsuccessful bid for Governor in 2018, then state Rep. Stacey Abrams (D) improved upon Hillary Clinton’s showing in the suburbs but fell behind in many of the state’s rural counties. Turning out rural Black voters is essential to a Democratic victory in Georgia and that has proven difficult for Democrats in the post-Obama era.

In the legislature, Democrats gained in 2018, winning historically Republican seats in the suburbs of Atlanta. Democrats are largely playing offense again this cycle in the Georgia House but there is one district that needs to be monitored. House Minority Leader Bob Trammell is a rare white Democrat representing a rural seat in the Georgia House. As the only Democrat from a district that voted for now-Gov. Brian Kemp in 2018, Trammell is at the top of the GOP target list.

Democrats seem likely to make modest gains in both chambers of the Georgia legislature but outright winning either chamber will be a difficult task. Flipping at least one chamber would give Democrats a leg up in redistricting.

Presidential politics and 2020 outlook

For much of its history, Georgia was part of the solid south. It voted exclusively Democratic after the Civil War through 1960. The state shifted to GOP nominee Barry Goldwater in 1964, despite his landslide loss nationwide. In 1968, it sided with George Wallace, running as a third party candidate. Since then, it has voted with the GOP except for when Democrats nominated a southerner. This included native son Jimmy Carter in 1976 and 1980. Without Carter on the ballot, Georgia swung 35 points towards Ronald Reagan in 1984 and would vote Democratic just once after that, for Bill Clinton in 1992. Still, gone are the days when Republican nominees would carry Georgia by double digits -- Georgia has been within single digits in the past three elections.

Though the trends are encouraging, Democrats still find it difficult to get over the top. Much of the focus has been on the populous Atlanta metro area, and there’s certainly good reason for that, but there are some other important areas to talk about. Key to Democratic success in Georgia is turning out rural Black voters who predominately reside in southwestern Georgia. Much of southwestern Georgia is in the state’s 2nd Congressional District. Represented by Democrat Sanford Bishop, this largely poor and rural district is home to a big chunk of the state’s African-American population and the home of former President Carter. A conservative Democrat, Bishop is a rare African-American Democrat who has substantial crossover appeal with white southern conservatives.

Part of the problem for Democrats is turning out rural Black voters but another part of the problem is significant population decline in that part of the state. A number of these small rural majority Black counties are losing population so Democrats have to look elsewhere for votes.

One overlooked area in the state is Savannah and its surrounding suburbs. The Savannah metro area doesn’t get the attention Atlanta does but it can potentially be another source of votes for Democrats. Chatham County is growing and has seen a similar leftward shift in recent years. Its suburbs have seen the same changes others have. Future Democratic campaigns would be wise to give Savannah and other cities outside Atlanta another look. Further north along the South Carolina border, Democrats have also seen some favorable shifts in the Augusta area.

Going back a moment to the Atlanta area, a key county to watch is the now solidly Democratic Gwinnett. Once the heart of the Georgia Republican Party, this suburban county has strongly trended leftward in the Trump era. Now Georgia’s second largest county, Trump must hold down Biden’s margin here if he hopes to win the Peach State again. Should Biden win Gwinnett with over 60% of the vote, it seems likely he’ll be winning statewide.

Trump faces considerable headwinds in this rapidly Dem trending county. A poor performance by the President is likely to drag down the few remaining local Republican officeholders with him.

For the first time in a long time, Democrats have a real shot at carrying Georgia in a presidential election. The emergence of Democratic strength in the Atlanta metro area merits watching the state and all indications are that Georgia will be one of the closest states this year. The only question is if Georgia flips, will it be a Virginia or a North Carolina? Virginia was a Republican bastion for years until it wasn’t, and it hasn’t looked back. North Carolina on the other hand remains one of the nation’s most closely divided states.


Final Installment Next Week:  North Carolina

Reports in this series:

 

Cook Political Updates 12 House Ratings

October 21, 2020

The Cook Political Report has updated its outlook for 12 House races. It now sees Democrats gaining between five and 15 seats in the 2020 election.

The Cook House map has been updated with these changes; click or tap for an interactive version.

 

 

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: