Election News

The Road to 270: Maine

August 3, 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.

Known for its fierce independence, vibrant fishing industry, and its proximity to French Canada, Maine has developed unique politics distinct from that of lower New England. With its rural nature, Maine voters expect to see their politicians and retail politics is essential in this state. Despite its small size, Maine enjoys outsized clout in federal politics thanks to Mainers often rewarding their politicians for longevity of service.

Congressional Politics

Maine voters will experience something unusual this year: a competitive U.S. Senate race. Longtime Senator Susan Collins (R) is facing the race of her life from Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon (D). First elected in 1996, Collins has cultivated a moderate image during her career in the Senate. In recent years when Republicans have had a slim Senate majority, Collins has played a crucial role in the chamber. In 2017, when the GOP-controlled House passed a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, much attention was placed on the few Senate Republicans who could plausibly sink it when the bill came up in the upper chamber. Collins, along with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and the late John McCain (R-AZ), sided with all 48 Democrats and voted down the repeal effort. This did wonders for Collins' popularity among Democrats, but that wouldn’t last.

The following summer, Justice Anthony Kennedy announced he was retiring. One by one, senators announced their support or opposition for the President's nominee -- Judge Brett Kavanaugh. For Collins, the Kavanaugh nomination was contentious for several reasons. As a Supreme Court Justice, Anthony Kennedy was the lone Republican-appointed Justice who would uphold the right to have an abortion. With Kennedy’s retirement, the Court would inevitably shift to the right and, therefore, Roe v. Wade would have a much greater chance at being overturned. By late summer came allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh, which increased the liberal pressure on Collins. After a lengthy speech on the Senate floor, Collins announced she would vote to confirm Kavanaugh. This immediately drew the ire among liberal groups and the search quickly began for a Democratic challenger.

In an increasingly polarized era, Collins is very much a throwback to a different time. In 2008, she won a third term by turning back a serious challenger in then-Rep. Tom Allen (D, ME-1). As Obama carried Maine by 17%, Collins was reelected by 23% -- so voters were clearly making a distinction. In 2014, national Democrats were largely on the defensive, so they didn’t target her; and she won with almost 70%. Gideon’s fundraising has far outpaced what Collins’ previous challengers have raised, and in the last fundraising quarter, she outraised Collins by $5 million. Major race prognosticators see  this race as a ‘Tossup’ and Collins is in for the toughest reelection fight of her career.

Maine’s two Congressional Districts represent the two 'halves' of the state well. In southern Maine is the state’s 1st Congressional District, which is represented by Democrat Chellie Pingree. A former State Senator, Pingree actually ran against Collins in 2002; she lost by 16% but rebounded by getting elected to the House in 2008, to replace Allen. The 1st District is reliably Democratic and encompasses the southern coastal part of the state, including the Portland area. Per the Census, this district is narrowly divided between urban and rural population, which makes it one of the most rural congressional districts held by a Democrat. It is widely assumed that when Pingree retires, she will be succeeded by her daughter Hannah, who served as Speaker of the Maine House from 2008-2010.

The remainder of the state is covered by the  2nd Congressional District. The district covers nearly nine times more land area than the 1st, and is the largest in the Eastern Time Zone. This rural and overwhelmingly white district shifted strongly from Obama to Trump in 2016, so it is not necessarily a place you would expect Democrats to still find success. Still, Marine veteran and former Collins staffer Jared Golden (D) defeated Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R) in 2018. It was the first congressional election ever decided by ranked choice voting. Poliquin’s loss was also the first time a sitting Representative from Maine had been defeated for reelection in 100 years.

Although Golden should be a top Republican target this year, the Republican nominee, former State Rep. Dale Crafts, has fundraised poorly -- he reported just $32,000 on hand at the end of the second quarter. In contrast, Golden reported $2.2 million on hand. A recent Colby College poll of Maine had Golden 45-33% over Crafts. Though analysts such as the Crystal Ball and the Cook Political Report rate this race as a ‘Tossup’ at the moment, do not be surprised if the race gets shifted to Golden’s favor as election day draws closer.

The Pine Tree State’s senior Senator is the independent Angus King. King served two terms as Governor, from 1995-2003. King began his political career as a Democrat, working as a legislative assistant for Sen. Bill Hathaway (D). When he ran for Governor in 1994, King decided to abandon the party label and run as an independent. The two party candidates were former Governor Joe Brennan (D) and Regional Coordinator for the Small Business Administration Susan Collins (R), who he’d later join in the Senate. King won the election with 35% of the vote and four years later took a commanding majority with 59% of the vote.

When longtime Senator Olympia Snowe (R) announced her retirement in 2012, speculation immediately fell on the two House Democrats from the state but King was also seen as a strong candidate. Ultimately no major Democrats ran and King waltzed to the Senate with 53% of the vote, 22% ahead of his nearest opponent. In the Senate, King has drifted a bit leftward from his time as governor but remains one of the chamber’s most moderate Senators. He has boasted high approval ratings, winning reelection with 54% of the vote in 2018. During the 2018 campaign, King said it would likely be his last race.

The 2018 Senate race is interesting to look at because it is a rare major contest with a serious third-party candidate. King clearly benefits from not having the party label. Unlike Bernie Sanders in close-by Vermont, King doesn’t run in the Democratic primary (Sanders does, but declines the nomination). In both of King’s senatorial elections, there were Democratic candidates on the ballot. Looking at King’s performance vs the two most presidential elections in Maine, King outran both Obama and Clinton but to varying degrees. King’s rural support was much better than Clinton’s, and in some places was stronger than what Obama received, but it also shows there was a lot of slippage in six years. Despite a stronger statewide margin, King only marginally improved upon Obama in some rural areas.

State level politics

Maine, along with Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Tennessee elects no statewide executive offices besides governor. Much like Alaska, Maine is incredibly friendly to third parties. 2018 was the first gubernatorial election since 1998 in which a winning candidate claimed a majority of the vote.

Despite its reputation for electing moderate Republicans to the Senate, recent Republican candidates for governor have been increasingly conservative (reflecting the shift across the GOP as a whole). Elected amidst the Republican wave of 2010 was the bombastic Paul LePage (R), who fashioned himself as a Tea Party-style conservative. Though he was term-limited in 2018, LePage is reportedly eyeing a comeback.

Speaking of term limits, the Maine State Legislature is an oddity among New England states: it’s the only legislature in the region that has them. The Maine Legislature restricts members to serving no more than eight years consecutively between the chambers, but members are eligible to serve again after a two year period. In the lower chamber, the House specifically allocates three non-voting representatives to the Passamaquoddy Tribe, the Penobscot Nation, and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians. Following a dispute with the state in 2015, the Passamaquoddy Tribe and Penobscot Nation have withdrawn their representatives. The Houlton Band continues to seat their one member, though. Interestingly enough, Maine has a very low Native American population.

Democrats control both chambers of the Maine Legislature and are expected to hold those majorities -- but there are some rural Democrats at risk of losing their seats this year. Democrats have continued to thrive at the local level in rural Maine but some electoral trends may be catching up to them. Senate President Troy Jackson, a logger by trade, represents a rural seat in far-northern Aroostook County, and has proven quite popular. Needless to say, if Republicans hope to make any gains in the legislature, their path to victory runs through seats like Jackson’s.

Like Connecticut, Maine requires a 2/3 supermajority in both chambers to pass redistricting plans. Democrats currently fall short of that in both chambers, but they’ll be hoping to cement control of state government this year to shore up Rep. Jared Golden in ME-2, should he win reelection. That said, it’s possible the state’s two districts may not change much, though given the shifts in population, ME-2 will likely need to pick up residents, while ME-1 should contract, geographically. 

In 2016, Mainers approved the use of ranked choice voting (also known as instant runoff voting). Ranked choice allows voters to rank the candidates in order of preference. If no candidate reaches a majority, then the one who finished last is eliminated and their votes are redistributed. After legal challenges in 2017, another referendum was held in 2018 and RCV was approved for use that year. With Maine's habit of deciding elections by plurality, this ensures no one will again be elected without a majority of the vote.

Presidential politics and 2020 outlook

Like most of New England, Maine was reliably Republican at the presidential level for many years -- along with Vermont, it was one of two states that never supported Franklin Roosevelt. Before Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory, the Pine Tree state voted Democratic for President just three times (1912, 1964, and 1968) in the twentieth century. Maine has stayed in the blue column since, though there have been some close calls. With third parties taking 7% of the vote there in 2000, Al Gore ended up with a 49%-44% margin. Obama’s two big wins obscured how competitive the state is. Hillary Clinton only won the state by three points in 2016, with a huge collapse among the state’s many rural working class voters. Perhaps fitting a liberal stereotype, all the counties Clinton carried touched the coast. The shift from the 2000 to 2016 elections in Maine was an identical reflection of the 2016 county map. Every county that swung towards Clinton voted her and every county that swung towards Trump voted for him.

At the presidential level, Maine and Nebraska, are unique in that they allocate their electoral votes by Congressional District. 2016 was actually the first time since Maine adopted the method, for 1972, that a split occurred. Since Clinton won the statewide vote, thanks to her margin in ME-1, she received three of its four electoral votes, but Trump, who carried ME-2, nabbed its electoral vote. ME-1 almost always casts more raw votes than ME-2, which benefits Democrats at the state level.

The state’s demographics don’t particularly benefit Democrats anymore -- it’s older and whiter than the national average. It’s considerably more rural as well. Still, with the president’s approval rating sitting about 40%, Maine looks out of reach. The 2nd Congressional District is where all the action will be. Although it went for Trump by over 10 points in 2016, polling indicates Biden has a chance to flip it back. To put it simply, if Trump is struggling in places like ME-2 than he’s in a bad spot for reelection. Non-college educated whites swung sharply towards him in 2016 and if he can’t hold on to these voters, his path to reelection disappears. Sabato’s Crystal Ball rates Biden as a favorite to carry three of Maine’s electoral votes but rates ME-2 as Leans Republican for Trump. Other outlets, like The Cook Political Report, recently moved their electoral college rating for ME-2 from ‘Leans Republican’ to ‘Tossup.’ Supporting that shift, the aforementioned Colby College poll showed Biden with a 45%-42% lead in the district.


Next Week:  Minnesota

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

Reports in this series:

 

Simulator Enhancements: Bellwether and Tipping Point Frequencies Added

August 1, 2020

We've added bellwether and tipping point frequencies to the 2020 presidential election simulator.  This information has also been added to the simulator daily trends page, where we show the results by state for the most recent day's run of 25,000 simulations (scroll toward bottom of the page).

Bellwether:  Percentage of simulations where the nominee winning a state also wins the election.

Tipping Point: This is the state that gives the election winner 270 electoral votes, when ordering the states won from largest to smallest margin of victory.

The top 5 states in each category for July 31 are below. 

 

The Road to 270: Colorado

July 27, 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.

Admitted to the Union in 1876, Colorado’s vast deposits of natural resources attracted a diverse settlement from all corners of the country. Today, Colorado retains that industry-based economy, while the booming Denver metro area is home to the largest city in the Interior West.

Politically, its partisan registration numbers suggest a state that’s split cleanly three ways: 40% of its active voters are unaffiliated, while Democrats and Republicans split the balance about evenly. Though this large independent swath produced some volatile elections earlier this century, Colorado is looking more loyally blue today.

Congressional Politics

At the House level, Colorado has been fairly boring in recent years. During the Obama era, former Rep. Mike Coffman (R) was a perpetual Democratic target -- in his suburban Denver-area 6th District, he survived a string of three competitive races from 2012 to 2016. But Coffman’s luck ran out in the Trump era, at least at the congressional level (he’s now mayor of Aurora). In 2018, Jason Crow (D) defeated Coffman by 11%, becoming the first Democrat to represent CO-6 since its creation (Colorado was awarded a sixth seat in Congress after the 1980 census). There's no reason to think this Obama/Clinton district will revert to red.

If Coffman’s suburban CO-6 eluded Democrats earlier this decade, CO-3 -- which encompasses the Western Slope, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains -- has eluded them into the Trump era. But in June, the congressional scene in that district took an unexpected twist. Rep. Scott Tipton (R), a generic backbencher, lost renomination to conservative firebrand Lauren Boebert. Tipton had the endorsement of President Trump but did not take his primary seriously -- he didn't even air any television ads. Seemingly asleep at the wheel, Tipton was ripe for a primary defeat. Boebert’s anti-establishment profile simply resonated with GOP primary voters. A gun-toting restaurant owner, Boebert is a lightning rod for controversy, especially considering that she expressed some support for the far-right ‘QAnon’ conspiracy theory. Democrats have long eyed 3rd District after losing it in 2010. It's a fascinating mixture of working class Hispanic voters in places like Pueblo County, conservative rural whites, and ultra-liberal ski towns.

On primary night, Boebert’s win prompted Sabato’s Crystal Ball to move its rating for the race from ‘Likely Republican’ to the more competitive ‘Leans Republican.’ Democrats nominated former State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, who held Tipton to an eight point win in 2018. Over the past decades, the 3rd District has been open to supporting moderate Democrats. From 1987 to 1993, it had Ben Nighthorse Campbell -- a judo champion, he was a member of the North Cheyenne tribe, and was known for wearing scarves, instead of ties, on the House floor. Independent-minded, he would criticize the Denver liberals in his party. Campbell was elected to the Senate in 1992 as a Democrat but joined the GOP in 1995, though his overall record remained relatively centrist. From 2005 to 2011, Democrat John Salazar, who was a supporter of gun rights, held the seat.

The 3rd District has proven elusive for Democrats, even when they're winning the state by a decent margin. The high point for a recent statewide Democrat was 2008 when Barack Obama received 48% of the vote in this district. Getting those last extra few points has proven difficult for Democrats and Diane Mitsch Busch has her work cut out for her, open seat or not.

Up the ticket, Colorado has a Senate race, featuring its junior Senator, Cory Gardner. Originally from the state’s High Plains, along the Kansas border, he was elected to Congress in 2010 to represent the 4th District. Gardner earned a promotion to the Senate in 2014, when he defeated Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, a former Congressman himself. Udall ran a campaign that, at times, seemed entirely focused on abortion rights -- with the pervading anti-Obama tone of the year, that just wasn’t enough. Gardner, by contrast, ran an upbeat campaign and simply outpaced Udall as a retail politician.

Colorado has steadily trended leftward since Gardner took office and, as Mike Coffman can attest, suburban voters there seem less willing to make distinctions between politicians of the same party these days. In the Senate, Gardner has had a largely conservative record and has tied himself closely to the President. The problem for Gardner is Joe Biden is very likely to carry the state -- perhaps by double-digits, if his current national lead endures -- and there aren’t many split ticket voters left in Colorado these days. For example, in 2016, Colorado reelected its other senator, Michael Bennet (D), by 5.6% -- two years later, now-Gov. Jared Polis (D) nearly doubled Bennet’s margin but carried the exact same number of State House districts.

The Democratic nominee is former Gov. John Hickenlooper. He initially mounted a quixotic 2020 bid for President, but dropped out. Several Democrats were eyeing the Senate contest earlier this cycle, but when Hickenlooper pivoted to the race, he largely cleared the field. Some Republicans maintain that Hickenlooper has come to see the Senate seat as a consolation prize -- in fact, that was the theme of a Gardner ad. But there’s no guarantee voters will agree with that reasoning. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio initially sought the GOP nomination for President in 2016 -- after he dropped out, he repeatedly denied that he was considering running for reelection the Senate, but reversed course anyway. That didn’t hurt him with voters, and he was reelected easily.

Gardner is in for the race of his life and it’s not clear there’s any way for him to turn things around, given how college educated whites are shifting -- and Hickenlooper perhaps not a great candidate, but a still sufficient one. Unless Trump can pull up his numbers nationally and in Colorado, Gardner is in trouble. Currently, forecasters like Sabato’s Crystal Ball and Inside Elections have Democrats as modest favorites to flip the seat but it seems possible those ratings will get pushed further towards Democrats by election day.

Colorado’s senior Senator is Michael Bennet. A former Superintendent of Denver Public Schools, Bennet was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 2009 by then-Gov. Bill Ritter. Senator Ken Salazar (D) resigned to join the cabinet of President Obama as his first Secretary of the Interior. Bennet narrowly won a full term in 2010 against Tea Party Republican Ken Buck. Then District Attorney for Weld County, Buck was considered a poor candidate given the national environment that was extremely favorable to Republicans -- Buck now represents CO-4 in Congress and chairs the state party. At the time, Colorado was still distinctly a purple state, so Bennet was a top target for the GOP.

Bennet’s 2016 reelection showed that Colorado voters were beginning to split their tickets less often. Despite sporting clear leads in public polls, Bennet only narrowly outpaced Clinton statewide, though with a somewhat different coalition. While Hillary Clinton dominated in the Denver metro area, Bennet was much stronger in outstate Colorado. Bennet was reelected by about 6% vs Clinton’s 5% win statewide. Though that 6% margin for Bennet seemed underwhelming, it’s not a great sign for Gardner, either: Colorado has only gotten bluer since then though and Gardner’s fate is hitched to Trump’s.

In the Senate, Bennet has cast himself as one of the more moderate Democrats, occasionally raising the ire of progressive groups over his many votes for President Trump’s judicial nominees. Along with Hickenlooper, Bennet also ran for President in 2020, though with little success. Bennet struggled to rise above a crowded field of candidates and rarely registered in polls, though he did get the endorsement of Democratic strategist James Carville, who engineered Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign.

As Colorado is increasingly moving off the competitive list for Republicans, Bennet’s real threat in 2022 may come from a primary challenge to his left. As electability may become a less pressing concern in primaries for Democratic partisans, Bennet’s moderation may cost him some support among base voters. Given his background as Denver’s Superintendent, Bennet has received some speculation as a potential Education Secretary under a President Biden but the former VP has pledged to choose a public school teacher, should he be elected. If Hickenlooper is elected to the Senate, Colorado will have an unusual Senate delegation, in that its senior Senator would have once served as his junior colleague’s subordinate. Before he was elected Governor, Hickenlooper served as Mayor of Denver and for the first two years of his term, Bennet served as Chief of Staff.

State politics

In 2018, Colorado really made the transition from purple to blue. Democrats picked up three statewide offices and cemented their control of the legislature. Perhaps the biggest indicator of the state’s changing partisanship was that Secretary of State Wayne Williams (R) lost reelection, and by 8 percentage points. A noncontroversial moderate Republican with bipartisan appeal, Williams’s loss to former Obama admin official Jenna Griswold (D) was a shock. Looking to the 2020 cycle, Griswold briefly formed an exploratory committee to run for the U.S. Senate against Gardner but ended her exploratory phase soon before Hickenlooper got in the race. Still in her mid-30s, Griswold seems likely to have a bright future in state politics. Colorado has never sent a woman to the U.S. Senate and, given her documented interest in the Senate, one can’t rule out the possibility that she runs sometime in the future.

In the 2018 gubernatorial race, then-Rep. Jared Polis (D) defeated State Treasurer Walker Stapleton (R) by 11%, easily holding the governorship for Democrats. In the House, Polis was known as a libertarian Democrat -- notably, he was the only Democratic member of the House Liberty Caucus. Polis’ election came with some milestones: he’s the first openly gay governor (of any state) and is also Colorado’s first Jewish chief executive.

Succeeding Polis in the House was Democrat Joe Neguse -- their district, CO-2, includes Boulder, plus some Denver suburbs. In 2008, Polis himself succeeded then-Rep. Mark Udall, who successfully ran for the U.S. Senate that year. As both Udall and Polis used the 2nd District as a statewide launching pad, it seems that Neguse may have similar potential down the line. Until then, as a 36 year-old Black congressman from a white-majority district, Neguse has an uncommon perspective in the House.

Given how Denver-centric Colorado politics is, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock seems likely to have a future in state politics, whether it be a bid for Congress or Governor down the line.

In 2018, Colorado voters approved an independent redistricting commission to redraw Congressional and legislative districts after the next Census. With the state projected to gain another seat, it will be worth watching where that seat falls exactly.

Presidential politics

Colorado's emergence as a swing state really started with the 2004 cycle. Aside from Bill Clinton's narrow win in the state in 1992, Colorado largely voted Republican throughout the 20th Century. Both campaigns made numerous appearances throughout the state -- it received special attention from Kerry’s campaign because it was the state of his birth. Despite the national swing towards Bush, Kerry lost the state by about 4%, a big improvement over Gore's nine point loss four years earlier -- to be fair, Gore’s showing was undoubtedly hampered by Ralph Nader’s 5% share there in 2000. Colorado split its ticket that year though, electing Democratic state Attorney General Ken Salazar to the Senate.

In 2008, Barack Obama carried the state by a comfortable 54%-45%, and it has stayed in the blue column since. In their post-election book How Obama Won, Chuck Todd and Sheldon Gawiser pointed out an ominous sign for the Colorado GOP: while Bush carried white college graduates there by almost 30% in 2004, Obama won that group 56%-42%. Obama’s coattails boosted down-ballot Democrats: they netted a House seat, by handily defeating the controversial Rep. Marilyn Musgrave in the 4th District, and flipped an open Senate seat, with Udall.

In 2012, Obama held the Centennial State -- though he took its nine electoral votes by a reduced margin that year, he actually flipped a county that McCain carried, Chaffee. For 2016, Hillary Clinton won the state 48%-43%. Clinton saw considerable slippage in the rural and more working class parts of the state while making some gains in the suburbs. Given the electorate’s relatively high educational attainment, Joe Biden seems likely to improve upon Clinton’s margin by quite a bit. All the statewide Democrats in 2018 outpaced Clinton’s five point win, suggesting there’s room for Biden to grow. With Trump struggling to lock down states that he carried in 2016 -- such as Michigan and Arizona -- it seems unlikely he can afford to prioritize flipping Clinton states.


Next Week:  Maine

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

Reports in this series:

 

Cook Political Moves Florida to Leans Democratic in Latest Electoral Map Outlook

July 24, 2020

The Cook Political Report has updated its electoral college outlook, making for changes. The most significant of these has Florida moving from Toss-up to Leans Democratic. 

Read Amy Walter's analysis of Florida >>

In addition, Indiana, Kansas and Missouri were reclassified from Safe to Likely Republican. 

The updated map is below; click or tap for an interactive version.

 

 

 

Updated Cook Political Senate Ratings

July 23, 2020

The Cook Political Report has made five changes to its 2020 Senate forecast.  Read the full analysis here.

  • Arizona moves from Toss-up to Leans Democratic
  • Georgia (regular) and Iowa move from Leans Republican to Toss-up
  • Minnesota and New Mexico move from Likely to Safe Democratic

The updated map is below; click or tap for an interactive version.

 

The Coronavirus Election - an Analysis by Doug Sosnik

July 23, 2020

Axios reports that "Doug Sosnik, who was the White House political director during President Clinton's successful re-election race, is out with one of his famous political decks, six weeks out from the start of early voting for president."

Presentation: The Coronavirus Election 

In the accompanying narrative, Sosnik says, in part,

"Trump changed our politics, but the coronavirus changed our country. Both of these accelerated a new era in American politics. 2020 is not 2016.

In an effort to explain away his abysmal poll numbers, Trump makes the case that today he is in the same position that he was in at this time in 2016, and he still won. The problem with that argument is that it’s a complete misreading of the 2020 election. In 2016, voters faced a choice between two candidates. In a re-election campaign, voters will see it as a referendum on Trump’s presidency – one that will long be remembered as the coronavirus election. At some level Trump grasps that the election is about him, but he mistakenly concludes that he’s an asset, not a liability.

The pandemic’s unprecedented health and economic crises have played out during the most decisive period in the presidential campaign. If history is our guide, the most critical phase of the campaign has already passed. A look back at past presidential campaigns clearly demonstrate that the sitting President’s job approval ratings and the related trendlines at the end of the election year’s second quarter are the best predictors of the election outcome. (See slide 8) By that point voters have begun to lock in on their views on the state of the economy and the direction of the country under the leadership of the sitting President."

Complicating the president's efforts to rebound will be a virus-driven acceleration of the trend toward early and remote voting. Most states, including many battlegrounds, will be voting a month or more out from the election. Sosnik notes that "by the time the final debate is held on October 22nd, over half of the country will likely have already voted." 

 

The Road to 270: Virginia

July 20, 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.

One of America’s oldest states, the Commonwealth of Virginia has produced eight presidents, more than any other state. Virginia -- home to sites like the historic Jamestown settlement, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and the Appomattox Court House, where Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union -- has seen American history play out within its borders.

In presidential contests, the Old Dominion occupies a unique niche. In 1976, Democrat Jimmy Carter carried every state in the Old Confederacy, except for Virginia -- those eleven formerly Confederate states haven’t voted uniformly Democratic since Franklin Roosevelt, in 1944. But by 2016, Virginia was the sole state in the Old Confederacy that found itself in the blue column, supporting Hillary Clinton. In fact, it was the only state that her husband lost twice, in the 1990s, that she carried. While other southern states could well join it on the Democratic side this year, Virginia looks poised to stay blue.

A changing Commonwealth

The 21st century has been a period of great change for Virginia -- in two decades, it’s seen nearly a complete political realignment. Across the Potomac from Washington D.C, Northern Virginia (or NOVA) has seen a significant increase in population, and a remarkable turn to the Democrats, in recent years. While it may be tempting to say the suburban shift started with Trump, it has actually been moving in that direction for a while. Let’s look at the shift from 2000 to present. Using a more restrictive definition of Northern Virginia, you can see how much it has changed in the past 20 years.

While the blue trend in NOVA seems to get the most attention, other suburbs throughout the state have followed suit -- while rural parts of the state have drifted rightward. Let’s consider some of the recent congressional races.

Congressional Politics

Today, Democrats dominate the congressional delegation in Virginia. In 2018, Democrats picked up three congressional districts: districts 2, 7, and 10. At the beginning of the decade (after the 2010 elections), Republicans had an 8-3 advantage in the state’s 11-member House delegation. With the help of a mid-decade remap, and a favorable 2018 midterm, Democrats today have a 7-4 edge.

Covering the Hampton Roads and Virginia Beach area is the military-heavy 2nd Congressional District. In 2018, this district saw a contest between two Navy veterans: Democrat Elaine Luria defeated then-Rep. Scott Taylor (R). VA-2 has long had a slight, but persistent, Republican lean. Taylor, after winning the nomination last month, is set for a rematch against Luria -- though originally he began the cycle by running a quixotic bid for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Mark Warner (D). After failing to gain traction in the Senate race, Taylor dropped back down to his old House seat. Although Trump carried this district by three points in 2016, it seems like a plausible Trump/Biden district, so the Virginia-based Sabato’s Crystal Ball rates the race as ‘Leans Democratic.’

VA-7 is anchored in the Richmond suburbs and flipped to Democrat Abigail Spanberger in 2018. This was historically prime GOP territory -- in fact, in 1996, the version of VA-7 that was in place at the time was Bill Clinton’s worst Virginia district. A former intelligence officer for the CIA, Spanberger ran on her national security credentials against staunch conservative Rep. Dave Brat. Brat, a Tea Party Republican, famously came to Congress in 2014 after defeating then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the Republican Primary. Cantor's duties as Majority Leader seemed to limit his time in the district and with his internal polls showing him up 34%, he didn't take the race seriously. But Brat, who made immigration a central campaign theme, trounced Cantor by 11%.

After a convention this past weekend, Republicans have nominated state Delegate Nick Freitas, a libertarian-leaning candidate. In 2019, Freitas failed to make the ballot in his reelection campaign but won as a write-in candidate. Spanberger’s fundraising has been excellent and she is generally considered the favorite for reelection. Sabato’s Crystal Ball rates the race as ‘Leans Democratic,’ so Spanberger is the favorite but not prohibitively so.

In NOVA, Republican Frank Wolf held the 10th District from his election in 1980 until his 2014 retirement. Wolf had a mainstream conservative voting record but tended closely to the local needs of his district -- such as working to fund and expand the Metro rail system. He was succeeded by then-state Delegate Barbara Comstock, a Republican who cast herself in a similar mold. Comstock won easily in 2014, 56%-40%, but was a Democratic target in 2016. Trump, with his ‘drain the swamp’ rhetoric, proved to be a poor fit for this area, which is home to many federal employees, and Hillary Clinton carried VA-10 by 10%.

Perhaps with the assumption that Clinton was going to win, VA-10 voters split their tickets for Comstock, who ran as a check on the seemingly inevitable Clinton presidency. Indeed, Comstock carried over 60 Clinton precincts and won by 6% overall in 2016, but as Trump actually won the presidency, her crossover appeal dried up. In 2018, Democrats ran then-state Senator Jennifer Wexton (D). Though a skilled campaigner, Comstock found herself unable to run away from Trump -- she lost by 12%. Now the incumbent, Wexton is the strong favorite to win reelection and the Crystal Ball rates the race as ‘Safe Democratic’.

Another congressional district that is worth watching is the 5th District. VA-5 includes the highly liberal city of Charlottesville, but stretches down into rural Southside Virginia -- as its name implies, this region, home to rural Blacks and working class whites, is the most ‘Deep South’ part of the state. Freshman Rep. Denver Riggleman (R) lost renomination at a party convention to former Campbell County Supervisor Bob Good. Good, a staunch social conservative campaigned against Riggleman’s officiating of a same sex wedding. The Democratic nominee is Cameron Webb, a medical doctor from Charlottesville. Webb, who is Black, has an impressive resume for a first-time candidate, and going into the late June primary, his campaign perhaps got a boost from the national Black Lives Matter movement.

The Crystal Ball rates VA-5 as ‘Leans Republican’ but Webb is an intriguing candidate, as his profile seems well-suited to current political climate. Southside Virginia has trended Republican in recent years, as the Black population has declined, but this is potentially a sleeper race. Ironically, a Webb victory could throw a wrench into Democrats’ plans for redistricting after the Census. There has been talk that Democrats would shore up Spanberger by drawing Charlottesville into her district -- but Webb’s residence in Charlottesville would complicate that.

West of VA-5, two of the other Republican-held districts are in Appalachia. With the decline of the party’s fortunes in suburbia, the Virginia GOP has essentially been relegated to rural areas of the state. This culturally conservative region was once much friendlier to Democrats, but now it’s solid GOP turf. Reps. Ben Cline (R) and Morgan Griffith (R) are in no danger of losing reelection. As Virginia grows bluer, the gap between blue and red Virginia will keep growing. Appalachia might as well be a different state all together -- in fact, West Virginia governor Jim Justice, seemingly in jest, said that he’d welcome any counties willing to secede from Virginia. Despite southwestern Virginia’s red lean at all higher levels of government, local Democrats are still competitive in some races.

Virginia is one of two states where both senators are former governors (the other being New Hampshire). Both regarded as mainstream Democrats, Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine each have long histories in the state’s politics.

An Alexandria lawyer, Mark Warner got his start by running against the popular Republican Sen. John Warner (no relation) in 1996. Mark Warner was unsuccessful but parlayed the run into a successful bid for Governor five years later. Warner was mentioned as a presidential contender in 2004, but declined to run, and after leaving office in 2005 with approvals around 70%, he was also seen a potentially part of a national ticket for the 2008 cycle. But instead, Warner ran for Senate. Between his personal popularity and the national blue wave, he easily stomped former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R), who got in the race after his quixotic presidential bid sputtered out.

In the low turnout and anti-Obama 2014 midterm, Warner faced an unexpectedly close result from former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie. On Election Day, Warner didn’t lead until later in the night, when Fairfax County reported. Something that may have helped Warner’s credibility that year was a cross-party endorsement from his old GOP rival, John Warner (Warner, a moderate Republican, would go on to endorse Hillary Clinton in 2016). Virginia Republicans have not come any closer to winning statewide since their 2014 effort, and Warner is not a serious target of national Republicans -- he should win a third term easily this fall.

Warner’s lieutenant governor, fellow Democrat Time Kaine, would succeed him as Governor in 2005. After leaving office in 2010, Kaine served as DNC Chairman, and then joined Warner in the Senate after the 2012 elections. With an affable, fatherly personality and fluency in Spanish, Kaine rose to national prominence in 2016 when Hillary Clinton tapped him to be her running mate. Though the Clinton/Kaine ticket lost in 2016, Clinton improved on Obama’s 2012 showing in Virginia. With Trump’s unpopularity in the state, and against a weak candidate in then-Prince William County Supervisor Corey Stewart, Kaine cruised to reelection by 16% in 2018.

State level politics

Virginia -- along with Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, and New Jersey -- holds its gubernatorial elections in off years. Virginia is the only state in the nation where governors cannot serve consecutive terms, making the incumbent Ralph Northam (D) ineligible in 2021. State Sen. Jennifer McClellan and state Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy are already in the race, with former Gov. Terry McAuliffe also eyeing his old seat. With no state having elected a Black woman as Governor, there will be considerable pressure from many in the party for McAulliffe not to run, given that both McClellan and Carroll Foy are African-American. The past decade has been a rough stretch for Republicans: since their 2009 victories, they've lost every statewide election, some 11 in total, and watched both chambers of the legislature flip blue in 2019.

Embattled Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax has been silent on his intentions as of late, but it seems likely he is still mulling a bid for the top office. If he does run and is elected Governor, Fairfax would be the Commonwealth's second African-American Governor after Doug Wilder (D).

Going back in time a bit, another example of the pre-Trump suburban swing is the change between 2001 and 2005 gubernatorial races. This swing essentially created the current political map of Virginia. Tim Kaine -- who was the mayor of Richmond before his career in statewide politics -- improved upon Mark Warner in places such as Northern Virginia, the Richmond suburbs, Hampton Roads, and Charlottesville. Meanwhile southwestern Virginia, southside Virginia, and the tidewater regions got more Republican.

With a potential delay in states receiving their Census Data due to the COVID-19 outbreak, how redistricting will work next year is unclear at the moment. Along with Virginia, New Jersey holds its legislative elections in off years. The Garden State is seeking to delay its legislative redistricting until 2023 as a result. It seems possible Virginia could do the same, so next year's legislative elections would be held under the current maps, which were drawn using the population from the 2010 Census. This would not affect the congressional redistricting though, as neither state has early filing dates for those offices. There's just limited time to draw new legislative maps in time for the election that same year.

Presidential politics and 2020 outlook

Virginia Polls >>

For much of its history, Virginia was part of the solid south. It voted Democratic from statehood until the 1950s with only a few exceptions. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1952 victory in Virginia was a realigning election in the commonwealth. The state would vote Democratic just once over the next 56 years, until Barack Obama won the state in 2008.

In 2012, both campaigns targeted Virginia, polls showed a very tight race, and the Crystal Ball actually predicted Romney would win the state in their final projections for 2012. Ultimately though, President Obama carried the state by 4% but since he won the election, the forecast error didn’t get much attention. In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried Virginia by five points and, since then, the state has strongly moved towards Democrats. Polling of the commonwealth this cycle has been scarce and it has not received any attention from the Trump campaign. Trump last rallied in the state in 2016 and avoided holding any rallies for the 2017 or 2018 elections in the state. With the leftward shift of college educated whites, it seems quite unlikely the Trump campaign will be making any play for Virginia’s 13 electoral votes.

Next Week:  Colorado

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


Reports in this series:

Inside Elections Updates Presidential Outlook

July 17, 2020

Inside Elections has updated its electoral college outlook, making 19 adjustments (17 states + 2 districts), all of which are in the direction of Joe Biden.  The last refresh of these ratings was in April, and the large number of changes reflects the shift in polling and President Trump's job approval ratings during the last three months.

"For three-and-a-half years, Trump’s job rating was arguably the most stable part of his presidency. With a committed and loyal base of Republicans for the president and a slightly larger committed and loyal group of Democrats against him, the country was on a trajectory to experience a close and competitive Electoral College contest with both parties fighting over a half-dozen or so key states. 

That outlook has changed.

While the precise cause can be argued, Trump’s job rating has been on a precipitous decline over the last two months, not only putting a second term increasingly out of reach but potentially wreaking havoc on GOP candidates down the ballot."

Read the full report here.

Interactive Map:  The current Inside Elections electoral map, reflecting these changes, is below.  Click or tap for an interactive version.

Cook Political Moves 20 House Races Toward Democrats

July 17, 2020

The Cook Political Report updated its 2020 House outlook on Friday. It updated the ratings in 20 races, all in the direction of Democrats. 

"President Trump's abysmal polling since the pandemic began is seriously jeopardizing down-ballot GOP fortunes. We may be approaching the point at which dozens of House Republicans will need to decide whether to cut the president loose and run on a "check and balance" message, offering voters insurance against congressional Democrats moving too far left under a potential Biden administration.

Read David Wasserman's full report here, which includes a brief discussion of each of the 20 races being changed.

Interactive Map: The current Cook House map is below. Click or tap for an interactive version.

Calendar of Remaining 2020 Primaries

July 15, 2020

There are no primaries for the next two weeks; the calendar picks up again on August 4. Aside from Connecticut (August 11), presidential primaries are complete. Joe Biden will become the Democratic nominee the week of August 17; President Trump will be renominated the following week.

However, there are still a considerable number of states with downballot primaries. In terms of what we track, this includes congressional and gubernatorial contests, although there are often a wide variety of other races (e.g., judicial, state legislative) on the ballot. 14 states will have these in August, with another four during the first half of September. There are also primary runoffs in three states.