Election News

Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida Won't Run in 2020

December 11, 2019

Rep. Ted Yoho said Tuesday that he will not run for re-election in 2020. He represents Florida's 3rd congressional district, a solidly Republican district in the northern part of the state.  Yoho won his 4th term by 15% in 2018; Donald Trump won here by a similar amount over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

By retiring, Yoho is honoring a pledge - to serve no more than four terms - that he made when first running for Congress in 2012. He is the 32nd current member of the House to announce they will not run in 2020.

Andrew Yang Qualifies for Final Presidential Debate of 2019

December 10, 2019

Andrew Yang has become the 7th Democrat to qualify for the party's final debate of the year. He received 4% support in a Quinnipiac poll out Tuesday, giving him enough qualifying polls to make it.

Yang will join Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren on the debate stage.

Qualifying ends Thursday night for the December 19 debate which will be co-hosted by POLITICO and PBS. Tulsi Gabbard remains one qualifying poll short but she has indicated that she will not participate even if she receives an invitation. Michael Bloomberg is two polls short, but he is not taking campaign contributions and thus cannot meet the donor threshold set by the Democratic National Committee.




The Road to 270: Oklahoma

December 9, 2019

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.


Small State, Big Impact

Oklahoma, while usually uncompetitive1 in presidential elections, has shaped American history and contemporary politics. Historical events seem drawn to the flat plains of Oklahoma: The Trail of Tears, the Tulsa Race Massacre, the Oklahoma City Bombing. Considering that it is home to just over 1% of Americans, the Sooner State has had an outsized influence in American politics. 

The Trail of Tears to Statehood

Oklahoma’s modern history begins with the Trail of Tears. The Indian Removal Act, signed by Andrew Jackson in 1830, forced Native Americans out of the Southeast. They traveled west; most of the ones who survived the treacherous journey settled in what is modern-day Oklahoma. Over time, the 3,000 square miles on which no tribes settled became known as the Unassigned Lands.

After many attempts to open Oklahoma to white settlers by his predecessors, President Benjamin Harrison declared that the Unassigned Lands would be open to settlement on April 22, 1889. On that date, settlers literally lined up to get their chance at some territory in what became known as The Oklahoma Land Rush. At the sound of a gunshot, they rushed onto the up-for-grabs land with wagons and horses.

The Land Rush and various other cessions following the Civil War had shrunk Indian territories to what is now the eastern half of Oklahoma. A year later, in 1890, Congress passed the Oklahoma Organic Act, which designated the western half of the future state as Oklahoma Territory and the eastern half Indian Territory. The goal was to eventually consolidate the two into one state. A proposal to create a separate state out of eastern Oklahoma called Sequoia to give the Five Civilized Tribes self-governance and independence was rejected. And so, in 1907, Theodore Roosevelt signed the proclamation admitting the 46th state, Oklahoma, to the Union.

The 46th State

The state grew. Fast. Americans moved westward into the new territory for farmland and oil. The population ballooned from 1.5 million to 2.4 million between 1907 and 1930. Then came the dust storms. The land had been overused, eroded, and plagued by drought. Wind whipped up dust that made life uncomfortable and difficult. As chronicled in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”, many Oklahomans opted to move west out of the Dust Bowl for California. Oklahoma’s population fell to 2.2 million by 1950. 

During the second half of the century, Oklahoma’s population tracked with the demand for oil. The population grew quickly during the oil shocks of the 1970s, more slowly during the 1980s and 1990s as oil prices fell, and ramped up again in the 2000s as prices rose.

The state’s Electoral College representation has reflected these population changes. Oklahoma entered the Union in 1907 with seven Electoral College votes and peaked in the 1930s with 11.  It lost one delegate following the 1940 Census and another two after the 1950 Census. From 1952 through the 2000 elections, Oklahoma had eight Electoral College votes. This dropped to seven after the 2000 Census and has stayed there since. Oklahoma’s electoral delegation is projected to stay at seven after the 2020 Census.

Recently, Oklahoma has increased its production of other forms of energy in addition to crude oil. Natural gas took off around 2003, with production nearly doubling between then and 2018. The state now ranks 4th in crude oil production,  4th in dry natural gas, and 6th  for shale gas. Shale gas, which requires hydraulic fracking, has been blamed for the spike in number of earthquakes that Oklahoma felt starting around 2009. Oklahoma, located in a wind corridor, now ranks 3rd for wind energy production. The drop in oil prices from 2014 to 2016 cost Oklahoma jobs and tax revenue, making clear that the state’s fortunes are still closely tied to the energy sector.

The New Deal and the Southern Strategy

Along with almost the entire country, Oklahoma voted for Franklin Roosevelt in his four presidential elections from 1932 to 1944. Roosevelt’s popularity and New Deal coalition was less sticky in Oklahoma than in the state’s deep south neighbors to the east. Oklahoma quickly flipped to Republicans in 1952, while most of its southern neighbors stayed with the Democratic Party until 1964.

Oklahoma briefly returned to its Democratic roots in 1964, voting for Lyndon Johnson over Barry Goldwater. But the Republican Party’s Southern Strategy — winning over white southern voters with race-based appeals — succeeded in Oklahoma. The state voted for Richard Nixon in 1968 and every Republican since.

Recent Presidential Elections

Since 1996, every Republican presidential nominee has expanded upon his predecessor’s margin of victory. Bob Dole beat Bill Clinton in 1996 by 8%, but Clinton still carried most of the state’s southeastern counties in historically blue Little Dixie. Four years later, George Bush won with a 22% margin. He had flipped most of Little Dixie and Al Gore carried just 9 counties statewide. In fact, Gore was the last Democratic presidential candidate to win any county in Oklahoma.

Republican nominees John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Donald Trump won with 31%, 34%, and 36% margins, respectively. Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton 65% to 29% in 2016. This 36% margin is the largest of any Republican in Oklahoma except Richard Nixon’s 50 point blowout over George McGovern in 1972. Even in her best county — Oklahoma County, which comprises the core of Oklahoma City — Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump by 11%.

Only six of the state's 77 counties were bluer in 2016 than in 2012. Five of these counties — Oklahoma, Canadian, Cleveland, Payne, and Tulsa — are concentrated in or around the urban regions of Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The sixth is Texas County, where Clinton improved on Obama’s margin by 5%, losing by a 65% margin rather than 70%. The other 71 counties all swung towards Trump. The ancestrally Democratic counties in the east and southeast swung the hardest. 

Success of Down-ballot Democrats

Oklahoma’s Democratic identity from the first half of the century was stickier down-ballot. The state had many Democratic U.S. Senators throughout the 20th Century. Likewise, the House delegation was majority Democratic from 1933 through 1994. The 1994 midterms, known as The Republican Revolution, marked the end of a competitive Democratic Party in Oklahoma’s federal politics. Since then all of the state’s U.S. senators have been Republican and only a handful of representatives have been Democratic.

Democrats held on longer at the state level. In 2002, the party held the State House, the State Senate, and had just won the governorship. The party’s fortunes reversed quickly. They lost the State House in 2004, the Senate in 2008, and the governorship in 2010. Ever since, Republicans have had a hammerlock on state politics. As recently as 2014, though, the state had more registered Democrats than Republicans. As politics becomes increasingly nationalized, though, the Republican Party’s dominance on the presidential level has trickled down-ballot.

Republican hegemony, however, has also caused problems for the party. A New York Times headline from 2018 read, “Republican Purges and Feuds in Oklahoma Show the Pitfalls of One Party Rule.” Infighting between different wings of the party — moderate, conservative, Tea Party, evangelical — has irritated what should be a safely Republican electorate and opened the door to local Democratic politicians in urban areas. 

Oklahoma Geography: Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Little Dixie

Oklahoma City, located in the center of the state, is home to 650,000 people. The next largest city is Tulsa, northeast of Oklahoma City, with 400,000 residents. These metropolitan areas, along with the northeast rural areas, are ancestrally Republican. From Oklahoma’s first presidential election in 1908 until the 2004 election, these counties usually voted more Republican than Oklahoma as a whole. This Republican bent, relative to Oklahoma overall, intensified in 1932 with FDR’s first election and lasted through 2000.  Like in the rest of the country, Oklahoma’s metropolitan areas have trended Democratic in recent years. From 2004 through 2016, these regions were more Democratic than the state as a whole.

The eastern and southeastern portions of the state were Democratic strongholds. Much of the population in this region had migrated from the more Democratic states to Oklahoma’s south and east. This part of the state, called Little Dixie, was heavily Democratic. The jobless and economically depressed voters that stayed here through the Dust Bowl latched onto FDR and the New Deal Democratic Party. Even as Republican presidential candidates were winning Oklahoma, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, and Bill Clinton all won in Little Dixie. Likewise, local and downballot elections in Little Dixie were dominated by Democrats.

But local and national forces alike have pushed Little Dixie rightward in recent years. First, Little Dixie had legendary Democratic leaders throughout the 20th Century. But as these figures left politics in the 90s and early 2000s, party loyalty waned. Second, the ancestrally Democratic voters in Little Dixie were conservative, rural, religious, and white. These voters have, on a national level, fallen in line with the Republican Party. While it may have taken them longer here, those voters in Little Dixie shifted toward the GOP as well.

The urban shift to Democrats and the rural shift to Republicans, which shuffling the underlying electoral cards, has not changed the topline presidential results. Republicans continue to win Oklahoma, as they did for most of the second half of the 20th Century. 

Oklahoma Demographics

Compared to other Republican strongholds, Oklahoma has a relatively racially diverse population. Only about 74% of the population is non-Hispanic or Latino white.

Oklahoma still has a large population of Native Americans, who make up about 7% of the state’s residents. Only Alaska and New Mexico have larger populations, by percentage, of Native Americans. The eastern and northeastern regions of the state have the highest portion of Native Americans. Oklahoma doesn’t currently have traditional Indian reservations, although a case is pending a Supreme Court decision as to whether the eastern half of Oklahoma is an Indian reservation. The questions is unanswered because Congress never explicitly revoked treaties granting land to the Muscogee Creek Nation.

And while there are differences between tribes, one study found that Native Americans favored Democrats by about 30 points in the 2018 midterms. This is a big split, but not quite as large as the gap by which Blacks and Latinos support Democrats. These groups make up 7% and 5% of the state, respectively, and are concentrated around Oklahoma City.

With this relatively diverse population, it might be surprising that Oklahoma is so overwhelmingly Republican.  But Oklahoma’s white population is heavily non-college educated. Only 27% of Oklahoma’s whites have a Bachelor’s Degree, meaning that the Republican base — non-college educated whites — make up 54% of the population. It’s also a heavily rural state, with just 55 voters per square mile. And most of this density is in concentrated in Oklahoma City and Tulsa; the rest of the state is overwhelmingly rural and sparsely populated. 

Uncompetitive, But Still Relevant

Even the least competitive states on the presidential level can be important in national politics.

Elizabeth Warren, a leading candidate in the 2020 Democratic Primary, was born in Oklahoma City. Her Oklahoman origin was the center of a dust up that nearly tanked her campaign when she tried to prove her Native American ancestry with a DNA test that backfired. The kerfuffle has faded, but led to President Trump nicknaming her “Pocahontas” and could haunt her in the Democratic primary or in the general election. 

Oklahoma also came into the national spotlight during the 2018 midterms when Democrat Kendra Horn won an upset in the 5th Congressional district, centered around Oklahoma City. Before Horn, the last Democrat to represent the state federally was David Boren, from ancestrally Democratic 2nd district in eastern Oklahoma. Horn beat the Republican incumbent, Steve Russell, who had won reelection in 2016 by over 20% in a district that Trump carried by 13%. Horn is now a top Republican target in 2020.  

Related: 2020 Battlegrounds - Oklahoma's 5th District

Oklahoma has a tendency to make history and shake up American politics. The state may not competitive on the presidential level, but it is still one to watch for its political quirks and down-ballot contests.

1Only seven of the state's 28 presidential elections have been decided by a margin of fewer than 10 points.

Next Week:  Hawaii

Reports in this series:

Introducing the 2020 Democratic Delegate Calculator

December 7, 2019

The road to an uncontested Democratic nomination requires a candidate to earn 1,990 pledged delegates1 and begins in Iowa on February 3. To that end, the first version of our 2020 Democratic Delegate Calculator is now available.  It is based on available statewide polling.  An interactive version, where you can create your own forecast, will be available in the near future.

As we launch, the display shows all candidates projected to earn delegates based on polling, as well as anyone with a national polling average higher than that of the lowest delegate-qualifying candidate.  As of now, five candidates would earn delegates based on polling: Biden, Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg and Klobuchar.  Also displayed are Bloomberg and Yang, who have a higher national polling average than Klobuchar.

Unlike the GOP, the Democratic Party allocates pledged delegates the same way in each state. It is a proportional allocation, with a 15% minimum to qualify for any delegates. However, within each state, delegates are split into groups.  There is some variety, but in most states this means some delegates are allocated based on the statewide vote, with the remainder based on the vote within each congressional district. The 15% threshold is applied to each location, meaning a candidate who gets less than 15% statewide could still earn some delegates

Several important caveats here:

  • Due to the Thanksgiving holiday - and probably the holiday season in general - there hasn't been all that much recent state polling released. Until that catches up, this page may lag the true state of the delegate race. 
  • As noted above, statewide polling - which is all we have to work with - is unlikely to mirror the vote within each district.  That means even if the polling average we've calculated ends up being exactly right, the actual delegate allocation could be somewhat different. 
  • While the overall number of pledged delegates for each state is known, the numeric distribution by groups is not final.  As those become better understood, the calculation for each state could change slightly, even if the polling doesn't.  You can click/tap the '+' in each state row to see the estimated breakdown.
  • The primaries and caucuses take place over a four-month period, with each contest influenced by the ones before it. Candidates will gain/lose momentum, and many will drop out. The point is that polling today may in no way reflect the race closer to a state's primary.  The interactive version we are building will give you the option to predict a dropout date for each candidate as a way to somewhat model this dynamic.

This number might still change slightly. 

Rep. George Holding to Retire; First Casualty of Redrawn Congressional Maps

December 6, 2019

GOP Rep. George Holding of North Carolina has announced he will not seek a 5th term in 2020.

Holding is the first casualty of North Carolina's new court-approved 2020 congressional map. From the Cook Political Report's Dave Wasserman: "Talk about a 'total makeover:' under the new map, the 2nd CD sheds Republican outer suburbs and picks up all of the city of Raleigh, converting it from a district President Trump carried by 12 points to one Hillary Clinton carried by a massive 24 points - and rendering it unwinnable for any Republican."

Here is a comparison of the old and new maps, from Sabato's Crystal Ball.

The new map is expected to net the Democrats two additional seats in what is currently a delegation of 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats. The new 6th district "unite(s) the urban Greensboro and Winston-Salem areas. In the old map these two cities were split between the 13th and 5th districts. With the shift, the 6th District would move from a Trump +15 district to Clinton +21." That seat is held by Mark Walker, now in his third term. There has been some speculation that Walker will challenge incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis in the Republican primary next year.

The new map will likely only be in effect for the 2020 cycle. Most states will redraw their districts in 2021 based on the outcome of the 2020 Census. Those new boundaries will be used beginning in 2022.  

Holding is the 31st current member of the House to announce they won't seek reelection in 2020. 

The 270toWin Consensus House Map includes ratings changes around redistricting as they become available.  However, the lines on the map itself are still the old boundaries. We'll have that updated in the next few days.

Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia Will Not Seek Reelection in 2020

December 5, 2019

Six-term Republican Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia will retire at the end of this term, he announced Thursday. Graves first won election to congress in a 2010 special election in the state's 9th district. In 2012, he ran in the new 14th district, established in redistricting after the state gained a congressional seat from the 2010 Census.  

The 14th district is in the northwest corner of Georgia, and is one of the most heavily Republican in the country. Donald Trump won here by 53 points over Hillary Clinton in 2016, the president's 10th largest margin of victory by congressional district that year.  The district is therefore expected to stay in GOP hands.

Graves is the 30th current member of the House to announce they will at the end of this term. 21 are Republicans, 9 Democrats. Of these 7 Republican and 1 Democratic seat are seen as competitive for 2020. Click or tap the map below for more information.

Rep. Denny Heck of Will Not Seek Re-election in 2020

December 4, 2019

Democratic Rep. Denny Heck of Washington announced he will not seek a 5th term in 2020. He serves on the House Intelligence Committee, which most recently conducted a high-profile impeachment inquiry into President Trump. The findings were sent on to the the House Judiciary Committee, which began formal hearings Wednesday morning.

Heck is the only person to have ever represented Washington's 10th district, created after the 2010 Census gave the state an additional representative in Congress. The district sits in western Washington, encompassing the capital, Olympia and the southern portion of the Seattle Metropolitan Area.

Heck won his 4th term in 2018 by about 23 points, while Hillary Clinton won the district by about 11.5% over Donald Trump in 2016. Democrats are likely to hold the district in 2020 despite the loss of incumbency.


Sen. Kamala Harris Exits Presidential Race

December 3, 2019

California Sen. Kamala Harris ended her bid for the presidency Tuesday, telling supporters that the campaign "simply doesn't have the financial resources we need to continue."  After a breakout performance in the first Democratic debate, her polling numbers had been moving in the wrong direction. There has also been turmoil in the campaign organization. A top aide recently resigned, saying she had never seen an organization "treat its staff so poorly."

Harris' recent national polling average was 3.8%, a sharp drop from the mid-teens support she was receiving in July after the first debate. This placed her fifth in the field, in a group with businessman Andrew Yang and former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, who just joined the race last month.  Her polling was also in the 3-4% range in the four early states, limiting her opportunity for an early breakthrough* in those critical contests. 

Despite those troubles, she was one of just seven qualifiers thus far for the final Democratic debate of the year. That debate is December 19th in Los Angeles. The six others include Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren. It is possible that Tulsi Gabbard and/or Andrew Yang may still make the stage; they have until December 12 to qualify.

*Contrast this, for example, to Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is fourth nationally at 11%, but is leading the field with 22% in Iowa 

The Road to 270: West Virginia

December 2, 2019

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.

West Virginia

West Virginia’s Political U-Turn

West Virginia has undergone an astounding political reversal in the last two decades. The state began reliably voting Democratic in 1932, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt picked it up as a part of his New Deal Coalition. Between 1932 and 2000, the state only voted Republican in the landslide elections of 1956, 1972, and 1984. George W. Bush’s victory in West Virginia in 2000 marked a turning point for the state. In each election since 2000, the Republican nominee has expanded on his predecessor’s margin of victory. This progression culminated in 2016 with Donald Trump’s 68% to 26% blowout over Hillary Clinton.

The reversal has been even more acute in non-presidential politics. After the 2012 elections, Democrats held both chambers of the state legislature, five of six state executive offices (including the governorship), both U.S. Senate seats, and one U.S. House seat. Fast forward seven years and Democrats have just one U.S. Senate seat and one state executive office. 

West Virginia’s Origin

To understand West Virginia’s politics, it’s important to know the state’s history. West Virginia and Virginia were once just one state called Virginia. While the cultural and geographic divide between the two regions had been simmering for decades, Virginia’s secession from the Union in 1861 exacerbated resentment in the western portion of the state. Two-thirds of delegates from the western portion of the state voted against secession. After the state decided to leave the Union, western Virginians, fed up with being dominated by their eastern counterparts, began to form their own state. They were officially accepted into the Union two years later. 

West Virginians initially voted with Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party in 1864. The state then flipped between parties several times over the next 70 years. It eventually settled in as reliably Democratic during FDR’s presidency. It would remain safely blue, except in landslide elections, for the next 70 years. 

Coal, Coal, Coal

Coal and coal mining are central to life in West Virginia. The state flag and seal features a miner with a pickaxe, anvil, and sledgehammer. Even the state’s pledge of allegiance references “rich veins of coal”.

During and after World War II, the high demand for coal and coal production was a boon to West Virginia workers. In the early 1950s, mining accounted for about 23% of jobs in West Virginia. Mining jobs paid well and the population of the state expanded, peaking at 2 million in the 1950s. The number of mining jobs plummeted in the late 1950s and 1960s, primarily due to automation. In 1950, West Virginia had over 127,000 mine workers and in 1960 there were just 59,000. By 1999, the state had just 20,000 miners.

West Virginia’s population has tracked with the demand for coal and the number of mining jobs available. It dropped from 2 million to 1.75 between 1950 and 1970, rose again to nearly 2 million by 1980, then fell again to about 1.8 million by 1990. Until recently, the population remained relatively constant, peaking again at 1.86 million in 2012.

In just six years, though, from 2012 to 2018, West Virginia’s population fell about 50,000. This is, as before, partly due to the number of mining jobs. In 2011 the state had 23,000 coal mining jobs, but by 2018 there were just 14,000. Decrease in coal purchases from China, substitution by cleaner alternatives like natural gas, and more coal production in other areas of the country, has reduced the demand for coal, and the associated jobs, in West Virginia.

Unions and New Deal Democrats

The Great Depression and violent, failed mining strikes in the 1920's had decimated union membership in Appalachia. Before Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) had fewer than 1,000 members in West Virginia. Roosevelt’s New Deal Coalition, in particular his pro-union stance, helped him, and the Democratic Party, win back the state. The last Democrat to win West Virginia had been Woodrow Wilson in 1912. In 1928, Republican Herbert Hoover beat Democrat Al Smith 58% to 41% on his way to winning the presidency. Four years later, Roosevelt dominated the incumbent by 54% to 44%.  

Roosevelt’s New Deal allowed the Union to begin organizing and rebuilding its strength. The National Industrial Recovery Act, passed in 1933, allowed collective bargaining, outlawed so-called “yellow-dog contracts” and made other pro-union reforms. Between 1933 and 1945, national union membership nearly quintupled from 3 million to 14 million. By 1969, 90% of West Virginia miners were members of the UMWA. This union power, along with the popularity of Roosevelt’s other New Deal social programs (in particular Social Security) helped Democrats win the state for most of the next half century. 

The Republican Turn

The state’s political leanings would change quickly and intensely. Bill Clinton easily won the state in both of his presidential elections — carrying it by 13% in 1992 and 15% in 1996. Four years later, Republican George W. Bush beat Democrat Al Gore by 6% (52% to 46%).

Since then, each election has seen the Republican nominee expand upon their predecessor’s margin. In 2004, Bush beat John Kerry by 13% (56% to 43%). Then John McCain defeated Barack Obama by a slightly larger 13% (56% to 42%)*. Four years later, Mitt Romney more than doubled McCain’s margin to 27% (62% to 35%). Finally, in 2016, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 42% (68% to 26%).

Unsurprisingly, West Virginia’s recent political turn largely comes down to coal.

In 2000, George Bush positioned himself as the candidate for coal. He supported mountaintop mining, investing in clean coal technology, and favorable trade policies for coal. Al Gore, on the other hand, wanted to curb carbon dioxide output and was seen as an extremist by many in West Virginia. The economic interests of coal industry and its workers and the social conservatism of West Virginia, in particular on gun control, tipped the state to George Bush.

Democrats have not done much to help themselves in the socially conservative state that still relies on coal. Barack Obama restricted permits to allow mountaintop mining, using the authority of the Clean Water Act to do so. When Hillary Clinton, at a 2016 CNN Town Hall in Ohio said^, “we're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business”, she further cemented her doom in West Virginia. The UMWA, once resolutely supportive of Democrats, did not endorse presidential candidates in 2012 or 2016.   

Even if the UMWA had endorsed, it would have likely made little difference. Labor unions in West Virginia have lost the influence they once had. In 1969, 90% of miners were union members and as of 2017, this had declined by two-thirds. Automation, the decline in mining jobs, and West Virginia’s status as a “right to work” state have contributed to the decline.

Beyond Coal

Not everything, however, revolves around coal and mining. West Virginia’s expanding Republican margins mirror national trends. The state is rural and sparsely populated, with just 77 people per square mile. There are no major urban centers — the biggest city in the state is Charleston, with only 47,000 residents.

West Virginia is 94% non-Hispanic white, behind only Maine and Vermont. And the state has the highest proportion of non-college educated whites. These voters are the core of the Republican Party and make up 75% of West Virginia residents. The state’s population is also very religious and skews older, two hallmarks of the Republican coalition.

West Virginia also ranks first for opioid deaths and prescriptions per capita, fourth for poverty rate, fourth for number of food stamp recipients, and third for population loss. These unfortunate titles characterize a struggling population unsatisfied with the direction of the country.

Perhaps it is unsurprising that “Make America Great Again” resonated with these voters. Trump’s margin was the largest margin in the state’s 156-year history and 39 presidential elections. It was one of just two states, the other being Oklahoma, in which Trump won every county.

Down-ballot Republicans

West Virginia’s reversal on the presidential level was quick — it only happened 20 years ago.

The toppling of down-ballot Democratic power is even more recent. In 2014, the third and final West Virginia congressional seat fell to Republicans. That same year Republicans also flipped one of the U.S. Senate Seats. Then, in 2014 both state legislative chambers flipped to Republicans for the first time since the 1930's.

Democrats thought they got some relief when their candidate for governor, Jim Justice, won in 2016. But Justice flipped and became a Republican one year later.

The only federal power that Democrats have in the state lies with U.S. Senator Joe Manchin. However, in keeping with his constituency, he campaigns and votes as one of the most conservative Democrats in that chamber. In a 2010 campaign ad he literally shot a rifle through Obama’s cap and trade bill. More recently, he was the only Democratic Senator who voting to approve Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.


As late as 1960, West Virginia had six congressional districts and eight electoral votes. By 2012, this had fallen to three and five, respectively. As one of just three states to have lost population this decade, the state is likely to lose another district (and electoral vote) following the 2020 Census.

For the 2020 presidential election, West Virginia will have five electoral votes. And while the state was once a reliable member of the Democratic New Deal Coalition, it is now one of Republicans’ easiest wins. The reversal, at least on the presidential level, is complete. Even a year out from election day, it’s safe to etch West Virginia’s five Electoral College votes in the Republican column. 

*Rounding makes the margin appear to be 14%. The real margin was 13.09% (55.58% to 42.49%).

^ For the record, that often-quoted comment didn't capture the full context of what she actually said.

Next Week:  Oklahoma

Reports in this series:

Steve Bullock Ends Presidential Campaign

December 2, 2019

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Monday that he is ending his bid for the 2020 Democratic nomination. Bullock made the announcement on Facebook, linking to a longer statement on Medium. He said that "it has become clear that in this moment, I won’t be able to break through to the top tier of this still-crowded field of candidates."

Bullock is in his 2nd term as governor of Montana, a deep red state that voted for Donald Trump by a 58-33 margin over Hillary Clinton in 2016. It has voted only twice for a Democratic presidential nominee since 1950. Bullock frequently used the talking point that he was the only Democrat in the field that won a Trump state. However, it wasn't enough to help him break out in this historically large field.  His national polling average was well under 1% at the time of withdrawal.

The Democratic field is now at 16, still massive by historical standards. The last several weeks has seen three lagging candidates leave the race. In addition to Bullock, former Rep. Joe Sestak departed Sunday and Miramar, Florida mayor Wayne Messam suspended his campaign on November 20.  However, this winnowing has been largely offset by two new entrants: Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.