Election News

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.


Primary Tuesday: Senators in Alabama, Maine and Texas Draw Opponents; House Primaries and Runoffs

July 14, 2020

This week, there are congressional primaries in Maine and primary runoff elections in Alabama and Texas.  The largest share of attention is expected to fall on the U.S. Senate races; we've grouped those together in their own section below. In each case, the winner will challenge an incumbent in November. All three races - to varying degrees - are on the competitive radar in November.

Most of the polls across the three states close at 8:00 PM ET; check back for live results after that time.

Polls Close (Eastern Time)

Your individual polling place may have different hours. Do not rely on this schedule to determine when to vote. 

8:00 PM Alabama*, Maine, Texas (CT)
9:00 PM Texas (MT)

* A very small portion of the state along the Georgia border observes Eastern Time. Those polls close at 7:00 ET.


U.S. Senate Maine U.S. House Runoffs (AL & TX)


U.S. Senate

Alabama (Runoff): One of Donald Trump's earliest supporters, Former Sen. Jeff Sessions would like his old job back. Unfortunately for Sessions, the president is no longer a fan. As Attorney General, he recused himself from Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, earning the president's enmity. Sessions would be forced out in late 2018. 

Trump is actively supporting former Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville.  The runoff was necessitated when no candidate received 50% of the vote in the March 3 primary. Tuberville finished first with 33%, Sessions was about two points behind.

Tuberville has led most runoff polling since the primary, although there's been only one recent survey released. He was up by 16 points in that one. The winner will meet Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in November, in what represents the best GOP pick-up opportunity on this year's Senate map.  Jones has trailed both men in polling for the general election, which has a consensus rating of Leans Republican. 

Maine:  This is expected to be the least competitive of Tuesday's Senate primaries, but will lead into one of this fall's most fiercely contested general election races. Sara Gideon, Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, is expected to win the nomination.  Gideon has had a small lead in limited polling against incumbent Republican Susan Collins, who will be seeking her 5th term. Collins, a moderate in the party, has seen her approval ratings drop significantly. The November election is seen as a Toss-up.

Texas (Runoff):   Twelve Democrats competed in the March primary to challenge incumbent GOP Sen. John Cornyn. The party's voters did not coalesce behind anyone - five candidates received over 10% of the vote, and only one received 20%. Retired Air Force pilot MJ Hegar finished first with 22%, while state Sen. Royce West came in second with just under 15%. A poll released Sunday gave Hegar a 35-22 lead in the runoff. That leaves a lot of undecided voters still deciding between the two candidates.

Cornyn will start as the favorite to win a 4th term; the consensus rating is Likely Republican. Cornyn has led in all general election polls. Neither of the Democratic candidates has strong statewide recognition (which might explain the 43% undecided in the aforementioned poll).  In addition, no Democrat has won a statewide office here since 1994. Countering that is polling that shows a highly competitive race at the top of the ticket, and an increasingly high correlation between the results of presidential and Senate elections.

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House:  Democrat Jared Golden ousted incumbent Republican Bruce Poliquin in 2018, winning by one point. Golden became the first person to win a congressional seat in a ranked-choice voting runoff.   Three Republicans are vying for the nomination.  In a recent poll, former state Rep. Dale Crafts led with 37%. Adrienne Bennett, press secretary for former Gov. Paul LePage had 25% and former State Sen. Eric Brakey had 19%. Brakey was the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate in 2018, losing to incumbent independent Angus King. 

Notably, none of those numbers is over 50%. If that ends up being the case in the actual vote, ranked-choice voting will be used to decide the party's nominee.   The second choice of voters for the third place candidate will be allocated to the candidates that finished 1-2. That will push one of them over 50%, making him or her the nominee.

Looking ahead to November, the GOP will be making an effort to retake this district; whether that happens may ultimately depend on how Donald Trump does here. Trump won this district by over 10% in 2016, becoming the first Republican to win an electoral vote in Maine since 1988. 

All Maine Results >>

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Other U.S. House Runoffs (Alabama and Texas)

Alabama: Incumbent Republicans Bradley Byrne (AL-1) and Martha Roby (AL-2) did not seek reelection. Byrne ran for U.S. Senate, but finished third, missing that runoff. There are GOP runoffs in both of these districts. The winners will be heavily favored in November. There's also a Democratic runoff in District 1.

Texas:  15 U.S. House runoffs were necessitated when no candidate received 50% during the March 3 primaries.1 1 A 16th runoff was avoided when Elisa Cardnell dropped out of the Democratic primary in District 2, endorsing Sima Ladjevardian, who had finished first with almost 48% of the vote.

Some of the more interesting contests are discussed below.

District 10:  This district stretches west-northwest from suburban Houston to the Austin area. Eight-term incumbent Republican Michael McCaul faced his tightest reelection in 2018, winning by about 4.5% over Democrat Mike Siegel, an attorney. Siegel is back for another try, but first must win the runoff with physician Pritesh Gandhi. Most forecasters see this as a Leans Republican race in November.

District 13: This safe Republican district became open when 13-term incumbent Mac Thornberry opted to retire.  The GOP runoff is notable because it includes an endorsement by the president of Ronny Jackson, former White House physician. Trump nominated him to be Secretary of the Veterans Administration in February, 2018. He withdrew in April of that year. Jackson finished second - in a field of 15 - to lobbyist John Winegarner in the March primary. Winegarner had 39% of the vote, Jackson 20%.  Trump continues to support Jackson, including holding a virtual town hall meeting with him on the eve of the runoff. 

District 17: The seat is open with the retirement of Republican Bill Flores. The runoff includes former Rep. Pete Sessions, who served 11 terms in the House, most of which was in the Dallas-area 32nd district. Sessions was defeated by Democrat Colin Allred in 2018. He will try to return to Congress in this central Texas district that is much safer GOP territory.  Sessions received about 32% of the vote in the March primary; businesswoman Renee Swann finished second with 19%.

District 22:  Although Republican Pete Olson won a 6th term in 2018, it was a narrow win in this rapidly diversifying Houston-area district. Olson subsequently decided not to run for reelection. The Democratic nominee in 2018, Sri Preston Kulkami is back for another try.

15 competed for the Republican nomination in March. Fort Bend County sheriff Troy Nehls finished first with about 40% of the vote. Technology consultant Kathaleen Wall was second with about 19%. She edged out Pierce Bush, grandson of President George H.W. Bush, who finished third with 15%. 

Absent an incumbent, many analysts see a closely-contested general election.

District 23:  In 2018, incumbent Republican Will Hurd narrowly (0.5%) defeated Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones to win a 3rd term representing this large district in the southwestern part of the state. Ortiz Jones won renomination and Hurd is retiring. The GOP primary runoff features Navy veteran Tony Gonzales and Air Force veteran Paul Reyes.  Gonzales came in first in the March primary with 28%, and has the support of President Trump. Reyes, with 23% in the primary, was recently endorsed by Sen. Ted Cruz. The dueling endorsements have added some drama to this runoff. 

The general election consensus is that the district has a better than even chance to flip, with an overall Leans Democratic rating.

District 24: Eight-term Republican Kenny Marchant is retiring from this suburban district between Dallas and Forth Worth. Marchant's margin of victory in 2018 fell to 3% from 17% in 2016 and 33% in 2014. Absent an incumbent, the general election is seen as a Toss-up.  The Republican nominee is Beth Van Duyne, former mayor of Irving.

Tuesday's Democratic runoff features retired Air Force colonel Kim Olson and Candace Valenzuela, a local school board member. In the March primary, Olson finished first with 41% followed by Valenzuela with 30%.

District 31:  In 2018, Republican John Carter won a ninth term in this Austin area district. He defeated MJ Hegar, who is in Tuesday's Democratic U.S. Senate runoff.  Hegar held Carter to a three point win. That may have been a bit of a shock to the incumbent: it was the first time Carter had won an election with a margin under 20 points. 

The Democratic primary runoff is between Christine Eady Mann, a physician and Donna Imam, an engineer.  While Hegar made things close last time, that may not translate into further improvement for Democrats here in 2020. Most analysts see the well-funded Carter as the favorite in November.

All Alabama & Texas Runoff Results >>

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Sabato's Crystal Ball Moves Seven States from Safe to Likely Republican

July 14, 2020

In its latest analysis of the electoral map, Sabato's Crystal Ball has moved seven states out of the 'safe' column for Donald Trump. Alaska, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina and Utah are all now rated Likely Republican.

Trump remains the favorite in all of them, but Sabato says the "ratings represent something of a hedge between a Trump comeback and Biden maintaining or expanding his large national lead."

Their current electoral map is below; click or tap for an interactive version.

The Road to 270: New Mexico

July 13, 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.

New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, is one of the most demographically unique states in the nation. At 49% Hispanic, 37% white, and 11% Native American, there is truly no other place in the country like New Mexico.

Valencia County: The Great Bellwether

Located in central New Mexico is one of the nation’s most reliable bellwether counties – Valencia County. With an unbroken streak going back to 1952, Valencia County has consistently chosen the winner of the presidential election. This is currently the longest such streak in the country. At 61% Hispanic, Valencia is not the kind of place you’d expect to be a bellwether. At the state level, Valencia’s track record is more mixed.

Valencia County split its ticket in 2018, opting for Republicans in three statewide races (Governor, Treasurer, and Land Commissioner) despite Democrats winning all those offices. There are a large number of swing voters in this county, with the Democratic win margin as high as 21% and a Republican win almost at 10 points. The map above demonstrates how swingy the county can be, with the Republican share of the vote ranging from 37% all the way up to 52%,

Congressional politics

New Mexico's small, three-member House delegation has undergone quite a few changes in recent years. Its three U.S. House seats have all been open at least once over the past decade or so. In an extreme case, 2008, all its congressional districts saw open-seat contests. With the retirement of the late Sen. Pete Domenici, a Republican who had dominated state politics since the 1970s, sitting GOP Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce gave up their seats to run for Senate. Pearce narrowly won the primary but was clobbered in the general contest by then-Rep. Tom Udall.

A bit more recently, in 2012, Rep. Martin Heinrich (D), from the Albuquerque-based 1st District, retired to run for the open U.S. Senate seat in 2012 and was succeeded by former state Health Secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham, who in turn ran for Governor in 2018. Once dominated by Republicans, the 1st District has moved off the competitive list over the years as the GOP brand in urban America has declined. When Lujan Grisham retired to run for Governor, she was succeeded by former state Democratic Party Chair Deb Haaland. Haaland is the first Native American to represent New Mexico in Congress and one of just four Native Americans in the body overall.

Looking at Deb Haaland vs Michelle Lujan Grisham, a few things stand out. Haaland was generally stronger in the areas containing or bordering Indian Reservations. With both candidates being from Albuquerque, there was no clear overperformance for one candidate in the city. Lujan Grisham seemed to do better in the more traditionally Republican eastern portion of the city.

Encompassing the state's southern half is the sprawling 2nd Congressional District.1 1It is the fifth largest district in the country, with a land area larger than the total area of 33 other states. It is also the largest district in a state with more than one at-large district.Although it has long been the most Republican district in the state, the 2nd District has shown an occasional friendliness towards Democrats. Representing NM-2 since 2019 is Democrat Xochitl Torres Small. A Hispanic water rights attorney from Las Cruces, Torres Small struck a moderate tone in her 2018 race and she was endorsed by the centrist Blue Dog Coalition. Her opponent was State Rep. Yvette Herrell, from mostly rural Otero County. In contrast to Torres Small’s moderate image, Herrell is a steadfast conservative and is once again the GOP nominee for the seat this year, after winning a heated three-way primary earlier this year. Torres Small is an excellent fundraiser and fits the district well for a Democrat -- but Trump is likely to carry this district again, so Sabato’s Crystal Ball is maintaining the ‘Toss-up’ rating for now. Regardless of the outcome, New Mexico's three Representatives in the House next year will all be women of color.

Steve Pearce served two non-consecutive tenures representing NM-2, from 2003-2009 and then again from 2011-2019. A founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, Pearce was one of the most conservative members of Congress during his tenure but proved highly popular in this district. The two times this district has flipped in recent years, it’s been when Pearce sought statewide office. As mentioned earlier, when he vacated NM-2 in 2008 to run for Senate, the district flipped blue, though Pearce himself reclaimed it in 2010. Ten years later, in 2018, he unsuccessfully sought the open governorship against fellow Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Pearce’s political instincts have proven to be somewhat questionable, as his recent bids for statewide office were in Democratic wave years -- he also ran for Senate in 2000, but lost the primary.

Representing the 3rd District in the northern half of the state is Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D). This heavily Hispanic district is home to Santa Fe, Los Alamos, and the bulk of the state’s Native American population. Once staunchly Republican, Los Alamos County, home to the famed laboratory of the same name, has strongly trended leftward in recent years thanks to its high education level. Although Luján has risen up through the ranks of House Democratic Leadership, he has chosen to follow the same path of now Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who was in House Leadership but ran for Senate in 2016. Early last year, Sen. Tom Udall announced he was retiring rather than seeking a third term in the Senate. Frustrated with the logjam at the highest levels of Democratic leadership, Van Hollen and Luján have figured they have better shots at advancing in the Senate than in the House. The Crystal Ball rates the open 3rd District as ‘Safe Democratic.’

Sen. Udall has had a long career in New Mexico politics. In the 1990s, Udall served two terms as New Mexico’s Attorney General before running for Congress in 1998. With the resignation of Rep. Bill Richardson (D) to become President Clinton’s Ambassador to the United Nations, the 3rd District flipped to Republican Bill Redmond. Redmond’s tenure would prove to be ephemeral, as Udall easily dispatched him, and Democrats have held the seat ever since.

Tom Udall is part of the famous Udall political family, which has been active in western politics since the late 19th century. Two of Udall’s cousins served alongside him in Congress: Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO). In 2008, both Tom and Mark Udall were elevated to the Senate, but Smith, a Republican, lost in that wave year. Although not technically a Udall, Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah is a second cousin of Tom’s. Additionally, though not related, one of Mitt Romney’s ancestors was connected to the Udalls.

Although Republicans have made noise about competing in New Mexico at both the presidential and Senate levels, they lack a top tier recruit for the Senate race. The Republican nominee is former TV meteorologist Mark Ronchetti. If he were running for the House, Ronchetti would be considered a decent fundraiser but for a Senate candidate, his numbers are not terribly impressive. Democrats do not seem concerned about Luján’s candidacy, as representing 1/3 of the state in Congress has its perks. The Crystal Ball rates the Senate race as ‘Likely Democratic’ though other forecasters like Inside Elections rate the race as ‘Safe Democratic.’

Given the challenging national environment and the sheer number of Republican senators on defense, it seems quite unlikely Ronchetti will receive substantial outside help. With the party focused on defending Senate seats in Montana, North Carolina, Iowa, and other states, it doesn’t seem like New Mexico will get much attention. Perhaps if the President’s approval ratings were higher, things might be different but in the current environment little suggests this will be a competitive race.

New Mexico’s junior Senator is Martin Heinrich. First elected to the House in 2008 when Rep. Heather Wilson unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, Heinrich has maintained a low profile in Congress. After two terms in the House, Heinrich saw an opportunity for promotion when longtime Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman announced his retirement in 2011. Bingaman and Domenici served together from 1983 to 2009, giving the state stature in the chamber that it lacks now -- but with Heinrich and Luján each 48, amassing that type of longevity again may be possible.

State politics

New Mexico has produced a number of prominent governors in recent years, two of whom have run for President. In 1994, businessman Gary Johnson defeated Democratic Governor Bruce King who was seeking a fourth term. Johnson, a libertarian conservative, ran for President in 2008 as a Republican. By the early 2010s, Johnson felt increasingly out of step with a party that had abandoned its belief in fiscal conservatism, so he switched to the Libertarian Party. In fact, Johnson was the Libertarian nominee for President in 2012 and 2016, with New Mexico being his best state in both elections. In 2016, when third parties did well across the board, Johnson claimed 9% there. Johnson was also the Libertarian Party’s nominee for U.S. Senate in 2018, in which he received 15% of the vote statewide.

Succeeding Johnson as governor was Clinton-era Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. A former Congressman, Richardson governed as a sort of libertarian Democrat, signing bills legalizing medical cannabis and outlawing capital punishment in the state. In 2008, Richardson launched a largely ignored campaign for President. In a crowded field featuring candidates with much higher name recognition, Richardson failed to stand out from the crowd.

Although New Mexico has recently elected Republicans, 2018 seems to have been a realigning election in the state. Democrats flipped three statewide offices: Governor, Auditor, and Commissioner of Public Lands. Governor Susana Martinez (R) was increasingly unpopular by Election Day 2018 and Lujan Grisham won the office by a solid 14 point margin. In the race for State Auditor, former state Democratic Party Chair Brian Colón defeated Wayne Johnson (R). Johnson had been appointed by Governor Martinez, when Auditor Tim Keller (D) resigned to become Mayor of Albuquerque. 

New Mexico has an unusually strong Libertarian Party. In January 2018, Public Lands Commissioner Aubrey Dunn announced he was leaving the Republican Party and joining the Libertarians. A rancher, Dunn already had a reputation as a libertarian Republican, so his switch was not entirely surprising. His switch gave the party their only statewide office in the nation. At the time, Dunn had already announced he was running for the open U.S. House seat in New Mexico’s 2nd District but was thought to have been eyeing a run against Senator Martin Heinrich. Dunn did get in the Senate race but dropped out when it became clear that Johnson was interested in running. The Public Lands Commissioner was Democrats’ closest statewide race in 2018. State Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard (D) defeated Public Regulations Commissioner Patrick Lyons by an eight point margin and became the first woman to hold the office.

Democrats have made gains in the legislature in recent years and cemented control of the State Supreme Court, which will give them complete control over redistricting after the Census. In this year's primary, a number of conservative Democrats in the State Senate were ousted by progressive challengers. The list of incumbents defeated includes the Senate President. Unlike many states, New Mexico has a strictly volunteer legislature, which means they don't receive a salary and meet for only a very small portion of the year.

Presidential politics

New Mexico Polls >>

Throughout the 20th century, New Mexico generally voted Republican for President but changing demographics shifted it into the Democratic corner when Bill Clinton came along. By the early 2000s, New Mexico was one of the most closely-contested states in the nation. Despite all the post-attention election attention Florida received, New Mexico was actually the closest state, by raw votes, in the 2000 election. Gore won here by just 366 votes. With his message of compassionate conservatism, Bush very narrowly flipped it in 2004, but Republicans have struggled there since. 

The Trump campaign has insisted it can compete in New Mexico but it is hard to take such a claim seriously given his unpopularity nationwide. Polls show Joe Biden a bit weaker with Hispanics than Hillary Clinton in 2016 but it is quite unlikely New Mexico is in play this cycle.

Next Week:  Virginia

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: