Election News

The Road to 270: New Hampshire

August 24, 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.

Editor's Note:  There are only ten weeks until the presidential election on November 3. At the bottom of this article, we list the current schedule for the remaining ten states in the Road to 270 series. 


The most conservative of the New England states, New Hampshire is known for its strong libertarian streak. Home to the nation's first presidential primary every four years, New Hampshire voters enjoy a front row view to American politics.

Geography

New Hampshire’s two congressional districts split the state east-west, and reflect the cultural, geographic, and political divides in the state well.

  • NH-1: The 1st District includes the Manchester area and the seacoast. This is traditionally the more Republican leaning of the two districts, partly due to its large presence of Massachusetts expats, many of whom fled the Bay State’s high taxes. The seacoast is home to wealthy towns and villages, with its largest city being Portsmouth. Saint Anselm College, which houses the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, is here -- it's hosted presidential debates, and is a must-visit venue for serious candidates during the primary season.
  • NH-2: Home to the state capital of Concord and the tech hub of Nashua, this scenic district covers western New Hampshire. Small, Trump-friendly working-class towns dot the landscape up north while its southern towns, along the Massachusetts border, usually preferred Republicans like Mitt Romney. Located in far northern New Hampshire is Dixville Notch, where every four years, residents cast their primary votes at midnight.

Congressional Politics

New Hampshire is no stranger to competitive congressional races. For election junkies, there is perhaps no greater saga than the four consecutive contests between former Reps. Carol Shea-Porter (D) and Frank Guinta (R). Shea-Porter was elected to the 1st District in 2006, and held it in 2008. Still, Shea-Porter’s single-digit margins made her a Republican target in the 2010 midterms. Republicans snagged a top recruit in former Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta. Although President Obama had carried the district by 6% two years earlier, Guinta won the election by 12 points. With Obama back on the ballot in 2012, Shea-Porter mounted a comeback and defeated Guinta. In the more anti-Obama 2014 midterm, the national environment favored Guinta, who won the second rematch. Bogged down in a campaign finance scandal, Guinta lost reelection to Shea-Porter in 2016.

An era ended in October 2017, when Shea-Porter announced she was retiring from Congress. Her retirement opened up a crowded field of candidates, including her former Chief of Staff, Naomi Andrews, Levi Sanders (the son of next-door Sen. Bernie Sanders), Marine veteran and Obama admin official Maura Sullivan, and Manchester Executive Councillor Chris Pappas. With support from both the state’s senators and Rep. Anne Kuster (D), Pappas won the primary with 42% of the vote, setting up a historic election. Pappas, an openly gay politician defeated Republican Eddie Edwards, a retired Black police Chief from South Hampton.

Given the historical competitiveness of the district, Pappas' 8.5% win is rather remarkable, and was slightly better than Barack Obama's win in the district in 2008. Pappas was able to appeal to traditionally Republican suburbanites and likely won back some blue-collar Trump voters. The Cook Political Report recently changed its rating for this district, from 'Leans Democratic' to 'Likely Democratic', citing Pappas' strong fundraising, mediocre opposition, and private polls that show him well-positioned to win reelection.

In western New Hampshire, Democrat Anne Kuster, a former attorney from Concord, has locked down the state’s 2nd District. Though Hillary Clinton only carried this district by 3% in 2016, Republicans largely threw in the towel against Kuster in 2018. Kuster has proven to be highly popular here and although the Crystal Ball rates the district as ‘Likely Democratic,’ other outlets like Cook and Inside Elections rate the race as ‘Solid Democratic’.

Compared to Obama, Kuster has seen clear weakening among blue-collar voters -- not too surprising, considering the inroads that Trump made with that group in 2016. Still, she made some gains along the Massachusetts border, where Trump’s support was comparatively soft.

The state currently has two Democrats in the Senate. This is unusual -- the last time both its senators were Democrats, Jimmy Carter was president. New Hampshire is ancestrally Republican but, unlike the other New England states, its GOP senators don’t have a tradition of moderation. Its previous senators, like Bob Smith, Judd Gregg, Gordon Humphrey, and, most recently, Kelly Ayotte, were all fairly conservative.

New Hampshire and Virginia are the only states where both senators are former governors. New Hampshire’s senior Senator, Jeanne Shaheen (D), served as governor of the state from 1997-2003. A mainstream Democrat, Shaheen has long been in state Democratic politics. She was the New Hampshire Chair of Colorado Sen. Gary Hart’s 1988 campaign for president and her husband served in that role for Vice President Al Gore’s campaign in 2000. Shaheen was actually on Gore’s shortlist for Vice President that year.

As a popular governor, Shaheen was recruited by national Democrats to run for an open Senate seat in 2002. Republicans nominated then-Rep. John E. Sununu, of the 1st District -- his father is former governor and White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu. President Bush’s approvals were high in 2002 -- the weekend before that election, the president made a stop in New Hampshire, which likely helped Sununu to a 51%-46% win. In a totally different political climate, Shaheen tried for a rematch in 2008, and beat Sununu by 6%. With that, she became the first Democratic senator elected from the state since John Durkin, in 1974.

In 2014, Shaheen faced former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R). Though he represented the Bay State from 2010 to 2013, Brown spent portions of his childhood in Portsmouth, where his parents were from. National Republicans lined up behind Brown, but his loose ties to the state seemed hard to overcome. Public polling showed a tight race and, in the end, Shaheen pulled off a three-point win. Though her overall margin was reduced from 2008, Shaheen actually improved in much of the north -- that area of the state is, geographically, farthest away from Massachusetts, so Brown’s carpetbagging may have been especially suspect to those voters. In addition, northern New Hampshire is outside the Boston media market so voters in that area would not have been terribly familiar with Brown.

Shaheen is up for reelection this year but Republicans are not making a major play for the seat. After Gov. Chris Sununu (R) opted to run for reelection in 2020, Republican interest in this race quickly disappeared. Although the Crystal Ball is maintaining its rating of ‘Likely Democratic’ for now, Cook has rated it ‘Solid Democratic’ the whole cycle. In contrast to its presidential primary, New Hampshire has among the latest congressional primaries -- it'll be on September 8 this year. Both leading Republican candidates have military backgrounds, though Trump endorsed attorney Corky Messner. Regardless, Shaheen shouldn’t have much trouble in the fall. Given her strength as an incumbent and her fondly remembered tenure as Governor, she has proven to be an enduring figure in the Granite State's politics.

New Hampshire’s junior Senator is Maggie Hassan. A longtime state Senator, Hassan was elected governor in 2012, when Gov. John Lynch (D) retired after serving an unprecedented four-term tenure. After two terms as governor, Hassan ran for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Ayotte. Like the presidential race that year, New Hampshire’s Senate race was extremely close: Hassan won by 1,017 votes, out of almost 740,000 cast. Following the release of the Access Hollywood tape, Ayotte was one of many Republicans who withdrew her endorsement of Trump, which may have cost her support on the right. Hassan credits her son, who has cerebral palsy, for her interest in public service -- in office, she is highly attentive to issues that impact the disabled.

Looking at where Hassan did better than Clinton is quite interesting and shows that Ayotte struggled with a lot of Trump voters. She showed clear weakness in 'Trumpier' blue collar towns while running ahead of Trump in the state's urban and suburban areas. It wasn't enough for her to win though.

With the New Hampshire primary enjoying so much attention every four years, the state's congressional delegation is highly sought after for endorsements but only Rep. Kuster made one this year. Kuster endorsed former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg - who ultimately finished a respectable second place in the state.

State level politics

New Hampshire is one of just a few states in the country that elects no statewide executive offices, besides its governor. Occupants of its other row offices, like the Attorney General and Secretary of State positions, are elected by the legislature. Institutionally, its governor is considered one of the nation's weaker executives. The governor's power is partially shared with a separate executive body, called the Executive Council of New Hampshire. Five members are elected via districts (as of August 2020, Democrats hold a 3-2 majority). The governor retains the power to veto legislation, but the power to make certain executive or judicial appointments is shared with that of the Council. Depending on the party control of the governorship and the Council, they can work in tandem or hamstring one another. New Hampshire, along with neighboring Vermont, are the only states with two-year gubernatorial terms.

The legislature -- known as the General Court -- is among the nation’s most curious. The state Senate is comprised of 24 members, who serve two year terms. The state House is the largest legislative chamber in the nation, with an astonishing 400 members. Due to the General Court's enormous size, legislators receive just $200 per term as compensation -- so New Hampshire has what is often called a ‘citizen’ or ‘volunteer’ legislature. Members have outside jobs that they hold even while they are in session. Such legislatures are most common in New England and the western U.S.

The New Hampshire legislature is frequently one of the most competitive legislatures in the country -- the state House has flipped four times over the past dozen years -- and this year will be no exception. Democrats are currently considered slight favorites to hold the Senate while their majority in the House looks firmer.

Secretary of State Bill Gardner (D) is an institution in the state’s politics and is a fierce defender of his state’s presidential primary. Serving since 1976, he has remained in office even when the General Court has been in GOP hands. In December 2018, with a newly-elected Democratic majority in the legislature, Gardner faced a real race from 2016 gubernatorial nominee Colin Van Ostern. Gardner was criticized for taking part in President Trump’s (now-defunct) Commission on Election Integrity -- to many Democrats, he was legitimizing the president’s politically-motivated commission. Gardner ultimately kept his job, though the vote was close.

Gov. Chris Sununu was elected in 2016 and reelected in 2018. He is in a historically rare situation: for the first time since the 1870s, the state has a GOP governor and Democratic-controlled legislature. Still, his approval ratings are high, and he’s favored for reelection. His political future is uncertain, but he is often mentioned as a possible challenger to Sen. Hassan in 2022.

Presidential politics and 2020 outlook

New Hampshire Polls >>

It is impossible to discuss New Hampshire’s role in presidential elections without discussing the New Hampshire primary. Every four years, the state holds its ‘first in the nation’ presidential primary (although the Iowa Caucus is the first contest where delegates are awarded). According to New Hampshire state law, “The presidential primary election shall be held on the second Tuesday in March or on a date selected by the secretary of state which is 7 days or more immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election.” In other words, the state is legally obligated to maintain its status as the first presidential primary.       

New Hampshire has held a presidential primary since 1916, but the contest gained its modern-day significance in 1952. That year, voters began to vote directly for candidates. After a poor showing in the primary that year - he lost the state to Tennessee Sen. Estes Kefauver, President Truman dropped out of the race. On the Republican side, it was Dwight Eisenhower’s first foray into politics -- his Granite State win showed he was a viable candidate for the nomination. 

In an increasingly diverse Democratic Party, New Hampshire’s relevance in the Democratic nominating process has been questioned. Its heavily white and liberal electorate simply does not match the Party’s base. This was shown when Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders carried the state in both his unsuccessful presidential runs. Joe Biden -- who won the nomination in large part from his strength with Black voters in later contests -- placed fifth in the Granite State primary.

On the Republican side, New Hampshire is a much better fit for the party’s base. In the past three cycles, the winner of the New Hampshire primary has won the GOP nomination. In 1992, incumbent president George H. W. Bush’s weakness in the primary -- he beat conservative challenger Pat Buchanan by only 53%-38% -- foreshadowed his general election loss.

The Granite State emerged as a swing state in 1992, when Bill Clinton narrowly carried it over Bush. In fact, aside from Clinton’s Arkansas home, New Hampshire saw the biggest blue shift from 1988 to 1992: Bush's share plunged from 62% to 38% between the elections. That drop was surely exaggerated by the presence of Reform Party nominee Ross Perot on the ballot. Perot earned nearly a quarter of the vote, polling relatively well in the blue-collar north. For 1996, it basically matched the national vote, going to Clinton 49%-39%. In 2000, George W. Bush won the state with a 48% plurality, thanks to Green Party candidate Ralph Nader receiving 4%.

2000 remains the last time the state voted Republican but, by raw vote margin, it was the closest state in the country in 2016. This cycle, polling of the state has been scarce, and the two campaigns seem more interested in larger electoral prizes. With much of the state located in the expensive Boston media market, the state isn't a terribly efficient one in which to air ads. 

As of 2018, 36.5% of Granite State adults hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, making it one of the nation’s most educated states. New Hampshire is one of those states where Democrats trading blue collar voters for college educated whites isn't likely to hurt them. The Trump campaign will be holding a rally in Manchester this week but with it playing defense in states like Iowa and Ohio, and given the strength Democrats have shown with college graduates in the Trump era, it seems Biden is favored to carry the state. 


Next Week:  Michigan

Tentative Schedule:  Pennsylvania (9/7), Wisconsin (9/14), Florida (9/21), Texas (9/28), Arizona (10/5), North Carolina (10/12), Ohio (10/19), Georgia (10/26), Iowa (11/2). Dates subject to change. 

We 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:

 

A Look at the Remaining Primaries

August 19, 2020

The 2020 primary calendar will soon wrap up. Four East Coast states remain; all will have their contests in the first half of September. There is also a GOP runoff in Oklahoma next Tuesday. In terms of a highly competitive general election, that runoff is the only relevant race remaining.

There are three contests of interest in Massachusetts on September 1. All are safely Democratic seats, so winning the primary is the hard part. 

Date State Notable Races (General Election Consensus)
Aug. 25 Oklahoma
  • OK-5 GOP runoff. Winner will meet freshman Democrat Kendra Horn (Toss-up)
Sep. 1 Massachusetts
Sep. 8 New Hampshire
  • GOP primary to take on Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (Likely/Safe D) 
  • Democratic primary to challenge Gov. Chris Sununu (Likely R)
Sep. 8 Rhode Island

 

Sep. 15 Delaware
  • GOP primary to take on Sen. Chris Coons (Safe D)
  • GOP primary to take on Gov. John Carney (Safe D)

Florida Republican Ross Spano Loses Primary; 8th House Incumbent to Fall this Year

August 18, 2020

Freshman Republican Ross Spano was defeated in his bid for renomination Tuesday. Spano, who has been under investigation for campaign finance violations, lost to Lakeland Commissioner Scott Franklin.

In the general election, Franklin will face off against former investigative journalist Alan Cohn, who won the Democratic nomination. The consensus rating for this district, which sits between Tampa and Orlando is 'Leans Republican'. Spano won his seat by six points in 2018.

Spano is the eighth House member to lose in a primary this year. The last non-redistricting year with that many incumbents losing was 1974.

Overview and Live Results: Florida, Alaska and Wyoming Primaries

August 18, 2020

Three states hold primaries Tuesday. Overview and live results for some of the more interesting races is below, along with a link to all contested congressional primaries in each state.


Polls Close (Eastern Time)

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

7:00 PM Florida (ET)
8:00 PM Florida (CT)
9:00 PM Wyoming
12:00 AM Alaska (AT)
1:00 AM Alaska (HT)

In Florida, all but congressional districts 1 and 2 in the state's Panhandle are in the Eastern Time Zone. (AT) is Alaska Time, (HT) is Hawaii-Aleutian Time.


Results by State

Alaska Florida Wyoming

 

Alaska

Senate: Incumbent Republican Dan Sullivan is seeking a 2nd term; he has no primary opposition.  The likely Democratic nominee is actually an independent, orthopedic surgeon Al Gross.  In Alaska, non-Democrats are allowed to compete for the party's nomination.  

Sullivan is favored in the general election - most forecasters have the race as 'likely Republican'. However, Gross has been competitive in fundraising and trailed Sullivan by only five points in an early July poll

House: At-large Rep. Don Young (R) is the longest-serving member in the U.S. House. First elected in a 1973 special election, he is seeking a 25th term. 2018 brought one of Young's tightest reelection contests. He prevailed by 6.5% over Alyse Galvin, an independent who ran as a Democrat. Galvin is back for a rematch with Young, although both must first win their respective primaries, which they are expected to do.

All Alaska Results >>

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Florida

House: The Sunshine State's 27 districts are closely divided - 14 Republicans and 13 Democrats.  In terms of the general election, only a handful of races look to be somewhat competitive in November.  However, there are a number of interesting primaries to watch.

District 3:  A large field of hopefuls is looking to succeed retiring Rep. Ted Yoho in this fairly safe Republican district in the north-central part of the state. Yoho's former Deputy Chief of Staff, Kat Cammack is among the frontrunners; she led with 25% support in a recent poll.  Several other candidates polled between 10-15%, including Judson Sapp (15%), James St. George (13%) and Gavin Rollins (11%). However the survey was only of 290 people, 20% of whom said they were undecided.

District 13: Democrat Charlie Crist is seeking a third term in this Tampa Bay area district. While it's not clear how much of a threat he'll face in November - most forecasters see the race as 'Likely Democratic' - there is a spirited factional primary for the Republican nomination.  Amanda Makki is being supported by top House Republicans, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Opposing her is Anna Paulina Luna, the favorite of Trump-aligned Republicans such as Rep. Matt Gaetz (FL-01). Also competitive in the race is George Buck, who was the party nominee here in 2018. He lost to Crist by 15 points in the general election. 

District 15: Freshman Republican Ross Spano seems to be the most endangered incumbent in Tuesday's primaries. Spano, who is under investigation for campaign finance violations, is being challenged by Lakeland Commissioner Scott Franklin.  A recent poll had the race statistically tied. There is a three-way primary on the Democratic side. 

Looking ahead to November, the election in this district, which sits between Tampa and Orlando, may be among the more competitive. Spano won by 6 points in 2018.  Most forecasters rate it 'Leans Republican'.

District 19: Republican Francis Rooney is retiring after two terms. This southwestern coastal district includes Ft. Myers and Naples. It is a conservative area - Rooney won here by 25 points in 2018 - so Tuesday's GOP primary winner will likely be the next representative.  A recent poll showed four candidates closely-grouped at the top of this nine-person field: Casey Askar, Byron Donalds, Dane Eagle and William Figlesthaler.

District 21:  Despite being the home of Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club, this Palm Beach-area district is safely Democratic.  Lois Frankel was unopposed for a fourth term in 2018.

The GOP primary has attracted some attention with a colorful group of prospective nominees.  From the Washington Post:  "The six people competing in the Aug. 18 primary include a former burlesque dancer and wild animal exhibitor who did business in the same circles as “Tiger King” Joe Exotic; a Palm Beach neighbor of Mar-a-Lago who is supported by QAnon believers; and Laura Loomer, a far-right commentator and anti-Islam activist who calls herself “the most banned woman on the Internet” and who once handcuffed herself to the front door of Twitter’s office in New York. There’s also an ex-cop, a nuclear engineer-turned college professor and a retired investigator for the IRS."

District 26: Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell flipped this district - the southernmost in the continental United States - in 2018, winning by 2 points over incumbent Republican Carlos Curbelo. Most forecasters see a competitive general election again this year; it is the only district with a consensus rating of toss-up. Mucarsel-Powell has no primary opponent. On the GOP side, the frontrunner is Carlos Gimenez, who is the mayor of Miami-Dade county.

All Florida Results >>

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Wyoming

Senate: Mike Enzi (R) is retiring after four terms in the Senate.  A field of 10 is competing in Tuesday's Republican primary to take his place. In this deep-red state, the winner will almost certainly be the state's next Senator.  The frontrunner is Cynthia Lummis, who served four terms as the state's at-large U.S. Representative before retiring in 2016. She was succeeded in the House by Liz Cheney who notably decided not to pursue the open Senate seat.

While unlikely to find much success in November, six are competing for the Democratic nomination.

House: Rep. Liz Cheney (R) should have little trouble in her primary and is expected to easily win a 3rd term in November.

All Wyoming Results >>

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The Road to 270: Nevada

August 17, 2020

The Road to 270 is a weekly column leading up to the presidential election. Each installment is dedicated to understanding one state’s political landscape and how that might influence which party will win its electoral votes in 2020. We’ll do these roughly in order of expected competitiveness, moving toward the most intensely contested battlegrounds as election day nears. 

The Road to 270 will be published every Monday. The column is written by Drew Savicki, a 270toWin elections and politics contributor. Contact Drew via email or on Twitter @SenhorRaposa.

Editor's Note: If you have an ongoing interest in what's happening in Nevada, we highly recommend The Nevada Independent. It is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news and opinion site founded three years ago by Jon Ralston, who has covered Nevada politics for more than 30 years. 

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From its early days as a mining-heavy state to the Golden Age of Las Vegas in the 1950s and 1960s, Nevada has quite a history for such a relatively young state. With shifting demographics and a population boom, Nevada emerged as a swing state in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Geography

To start off, Nevada’s congressional districts offer a solid breakdown of the state’s geography. Until 1982, the Silver State had just a single, at-Large district -- after decades of rapid growth, it claims four districts today. Notably, three of its districts contain part of Clark County, home to Las Vegas. In the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, 68% of the state’s votes came from Clark County.

  • NV-1: City of Las Vegas and the Vegas Strip. This inner Vegas seat is the most Democratic in the state.
  • NV-2: Covering virtually all of northern Nevada, this district is rather difficult to classify. It includes Reno and Carson City but also includes a significant number of rural counties, known as the ‘cow counties.’ This ancestrally GOP seat has never sent a Democrat to Congress, and is currently the sole Republican-held seat.
  • NV-3: Southern Clark County. Includes southern suburbs of Las Vegas such as Paradise, Henderson, and Spring Valley.
  • NV-4: Northern Clark County and central Nevada. Northern portion of the Vegas area and handful of rural counties. Home to the Nellis Air Force Base and, famously, Area 51.

Congressional Politics

It’s hard to talk about Nevada’s contemporary politics without mentioning Harry Reid. A political titan who built up the state Democratic Party, Reid’s early days an amateur boxer set the tone for a volatile electoral career. Though he retired from the U.S. Senate in 2017, he remains influential in the state Democratic Party.

Even before he arrived in Congress, Reid held a bevy of state offices. His political career began in 1966 when, at age 27, he was elected City Attorney of the then-small Vegas suburb of Henderson. After two years, he was elected to the legislature, then became lieutenant governor in 1970. Reid served one term before running for the U.S. Senate in 1974. He was defeated that year by ex-Gov. Paul Laxalt (R) -- close Senate races would become a hallmark of Reid’s career, and he lost that one by just 624 votes. Laxalt was an influential senator in his own right, as President Reagan’s closest ally in the Senate. By 1978, Reid was serving as chairman of the state's powerful Gaming Commission.

In 1982, after the state gained a second district, Reid was elected to the Las Vegas-centric NV-1. In 1986, he won an open Senate seat against his immediate predecessor in the House, Democrat-turned-Republican James Santini. Reid won 50%-45%. Once in the Senate, he eventually became part of  the Democratic leadership team, though navigating that trajectory was challenging for him at times. A Mormon, Reid opposed abortion rights but by the time he became the chamber’s leading Democrat, in 2005, the party had broadly moved leftward on the issue and Reid put aside his own views. Still, his ascent was nearly halted in 1998, when his successor in the House, then-Rep. John Ensign (R) challenged him.

As the congressman from the booming Las Vegas area, Ensign was the ideal candidate to go against Reid. Polling initially gave Reid a double-digit lead, but that lead dwindled by election day. Reid's challenges were compounded by a number of demographic changes to the state. Older, more conservative retirees were moving to the state in droves -- and they were registering as Republicans. In a reversal of his 624-vote loss in 1974, Reid turned back Ensign by a narrow 428 vote margin. In 2004, when he was next up, something of a rarity occurred for Reid: he had an easy election. For the only time in his career, he cleared 60% of the vote, even as the state narrowly supported George W. Bush that year. Ensign was elected to the state’s other Senate seat in 2000 and developed a bipartisan working relationship with Reid there.

For 2010, Reid was back in a familiar position: on the GOP’s target list. Though President Obama carried Nevada by a comfortable margin two years earlier, his approvals were slumping as the midterms approached. In 2004, Republicans ousted Reid’s predecessor as Democratic Leader, South Dakota’s Sen. Tom Daschle, and hoped for an encore in 2010. One reason Republicans were able to beat Daschle six years earlier was because they ran a quality candidate, now-Sen. John Thune (R). As it turned out, this would not be the case in Nevada.

In June 2010, GOP primary voters nominated former state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle. A Tea Party conservative, she brought a bombastic style to the campaign and made racially insensitive comments. Reid’s standing improved after Angle’s nomination but most pre-election polls had Angle slightly ahead. Still, veteran state reporter Jon Ralston predicted a Reid win and, sure enough, the old boxer won 50%-45%. Ralston credited the Democrats’ superior campaign operation for the win -- several cycles later, the ‘Reid machine’ is still a potent force.

Reid retired in 2016 -- during his last years in office, he was known for his floor speeches criticizing the billionaire Koch brothers, two conservative megadonors -- and was succeeded by former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D). Cortez Masto defeated then-Rep. Joe Heck, of the 3rd District. Heck initially disavowed Donald Trump following the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape but walked back his criticism after facing blowback on his right flank. The result was eerily in line with the presidential contest: Hillary Clinton and Cortez Masto won by the exact same 2.4% percentage spread. Cortez Masto currently leads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and was considered a leading VP prospect for Joe Biden (though in late May she ruled herself out).

Until 2019, Nevada’s other senator was Republican Dean Heller. Appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) following the resignation of Sen. Ensign in 2011, Heller was a longtime figure in Nevada politics. An affable conservative, Heller won a full term in 2012. As the only Republican representing a state that Clinton carried in 2016, Heller was a major Democratic target in the 2018 elections.

From retirement, Reid recruited freshman Rep. Jacky Rosen (D) to run against Heller. Heller largely hewed to the party line in the Senate and, for most of the campaign, embraced Trump. The president rallied for him several times, but Heller ultimately lost by about 5%. Rosen, a former synagogue president, made some history: she became the the first congresswoman elected to the Senate after just one term in the House.

On paper, Nevada has two competitive congressional districts, but both seem to have fallen off the radar for 2020. NV-3, just south of Las Vegas, elected Democrat Susie Lee in 2018, after its previous two occupants, Heck and Rosen, used this suburban district to launch statewide runs. Though Trump carried it in 2016, Lee easily won the seat in 2018 against perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian (R). In her Senate race, Rosen carried her old congressional district by 4%, an improvement from Obama’s one point win there in 2012 and Clinton’s one point loss in 2016:

In its brief history -- it was created for the 2012 cycle -- incumbent turnover has defined the 4th District. Its current member, Rep. Steven Horsford (D) is on his second non-consecutive term -- he was elected in 2012, but in a red 2014 wave, lost to GOP state Rep. Cresent Hardy. In 2016, state Sen. Ruben Kihuen (D) defeated Hardy. Following sexual misconduct allegations, Kihuen decided not to seek reelection in 2018. The open 2018 race was rematch between Horsford and Hardy -- the Democrat won 52%-44%. At 47, Horsford is sometimes mentioned as future statewide candidate. Earlier this year, he admitted to having an extramarital affair, though it remains to be seen if such an admission will have any impact on his career.

State level politics

Nevada underwent a significant political shift between the 2014 and 2018 midterms. After the 2014 elections, Republicans controlled all six statewide offices -- following the 2018 elections, the party was down to just holding the Secretary of State’s office. The current governor, Steve Sisolak, is the first Democrat elected to that job this century. Democrats won the legislature in 2016, and for 2018, expanded their majorities in both chambers.

Preceding Sisolak, Gov. Brian Sandoval was hugely popular in the state. A Hispanic pro-choice Republican, Sandoval found broad crossover support and was reelected in 2014 against only trivial opposition from Democrat Bob Goodman. On their ballots, Nevada voters have a ‘None of these Candidates’ option, which got the most votes in the Democratic primary that year (though Goodman, as the highest-polling actual candidate, was nominated). In 2018, it was noteworthy that Sandoval sat out the gubernatorial race, making no endorsement. While serving as governor, he butted heads with the GOP nominee, then-state Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt.

Pre-Trump, Sandoval was often mentioned as possible presidential candidate, in part for his years of experience in a purple state. Before his time as Nevada’s top executive, he served as state attorney general, then was a federal judge. As governor, he was briefly mentioned as a possible Obama Supreme Court pick. While national Republicans may welcome his candidacy in a future Senate race, the party’s base voters have gotten ‘Trumpier’ and may be less enthused. 

With Democratic control of the legislature cemented, the party will control the redistricting process next year. With the growth in and blue shift of Clark County, their first objective will to be shore up the two potentially vulnerable incumbents. Democrats may go after the state’s lone Republican, Mark Amodei in NV-2, though they could risk spreading their voters too thin.

Presidential politics and 2020 Outlook

Nevada Polls >>

Every four years, Nevada enjoys an outsized role in the presidential nominating contests. With its caucus, Nevada is the first western state where voters weigh in. For Democrats, it has a markedly different electorate from other early states. In contrast to Iowa and New Hampshire, with their almost monolithically-white populations, candidates must appeal to Hispanics in Nevada. Candidates must also court organized labor. Despite its large geographic size, Nevada lends itself well to retail politics because much of the population is located in Clark County.

The Nevada caucus technically began in the 1980s but it wasn’t until 2008 that it became prominent in the calendar. For Democrats in 2020, the early primary lineup was Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and then South Carolina. Unfortunately for Nevada, its caucus hasn’t been especially predictive, at least on the Democratic side: since 2008, its winner lost the nomination twice while South Carolina chose the eventual nominee each time. With mounting frustration over caucuses -- after this year’s contest, Reid called for a transition to primaries -- the future of the Nevada caucuses seems murky.

Without looking at its racial demographics, Nevada’s presence in the Democratic column would seem baffling. With the Democratic coalition increasingly centered on educated voters, Nevada sticks out. According to the Census, just 24% of its residents aged over 25 have at least a bachelor’s degree -- perhaps not surprising, considering Nevada’s economy is largely based on the service industry. The workforce heavily skews blue collar but, unlike in the midwestern states, Nevada’s blue collar workers aren’t predominately white. Its workforce is also highly unionized: the powerful Culinary Union represents thousands of workers who power Nevada’s casinos, hotels, restaurants, and other services. Nevada’s tourism-based economy has been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic: while down from its peak, the state unemployment rate was 15% in July.

Like many western states, some of Nevada’s libertarian tendencies have made it friendly to third party candidates. It was Ross Perot’s sixth-best state in the nation in 1992 -- he took 26% and actually carried a county, Storey. In the 2016 presidential race, the two major parties accounted for just 93% of the statewide vote.

Though Biden has shown some relative weakness with Hispanics, most forecasters agree that he is favored to carry Nevada’s six electoral votes this year. Perhaps because pollsters are sometimes burned there -- as Democrats typically outperform their numbers -- Silver State polling has been scarce in 2020. Jon Ralston notes that, in terms of voter registration, Republicans have gained during the pandemic but still trail Democrats statewide. Overall, Nevada is still relatively purple but for Trump to carry the state, his national standing will likely need to improve in the 11 weeks that remain before the November 3 election.


Next Week:  New Hampshire

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:

 

Electoral Map Based on FiveThirtyEight Model

August 15, 2020

We've added an electoral map that is derived from the FiveThirtyEight 2020 Election Forecast that was released earlier this week.  The map will update every two hours, reflecting the then-current probabilities for each state.  The current map is below; click or tap for an interactive version.

 
The color breakpoints are always somewhat arbitrary with a statistical model, but we've selected ranges that seem to fit best when comparing to other forecasts.  The toss-up color is used where neither candidate has a 65% chance of winning. The lightest red/blue gradient is 65%+, medium 80%+ and darkest 95%+. 
 
This FiveThirtyEight article discusses the methodology behind their model.
 
 

New Interactive: U.S. House State View

August 13, 2020

Update (August 19):  Since most saved maps have a limited number of toss-ups, we've expanded the State View to allow for the adjustment of districts that have been set to Leans Democratic or Republican. This will provide more flexibility for what-if scenarios across the range of the more competitive districts.

The text below has been adjusted to reflect this change.

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We've added a 'State View' feature to the 2020 Interactive House Map. For any saved map - either one of our forecast maps or a map you create - click or tap the 'State View' button to view the partisan breakdown by party in each state. The associated map is colored to reflect the majority delegation in each state, based on the forecast.

For example, here's the majority map based on the current Consensus Forecast:

To the right (below on a small screen) of the map is the 'Interactive Competitive Districts' table. This is a partial list of the most competitive districts, those set as toss-up or leaning Democratic/Republican in the associated forecast. This display is limited to those districts in states where, depending on how they resolved, the majority party could still change.

Use this area to game out different scenarios.

Districts set as 'Leans' start out associated with the party to which they lean. You can change those individually, or use the 'Set All As Toss-up' button to see the widest possible range based on these competitive districts.

The counter above the map shows the number of states where each party has the majority. The darker red/blue is where the majority has been decided (based on the forecast map and choices made in the table), while the lighter shades indicate those states where a party is ahead, but may not be after remaining toss-ups are resolved.  The numbers in parentheses reflect the range of possible outcomes.

Prior to the 2018 midterms, the GOP had the majority in 32 states, Democrats 17, with one tie.  The split was much closer, 26-22-2 in favor of Republicans, after that election. With Justin Amash's departure from the GOP in 2019, the current split is 26-23, with one tie. Click or tap the 'Current House' button to see that distribution; the state-by-state totals are in the table below the map. 

At this point, despite a decent number of toss-ups - there are 24 in the Consensus Forecast - it doesn't look like there will be much change in the current partisan split after the upcoming election.  

One area where this is particularly relevant is in the event of an electoral college tie. In that case, the next president will be chosen by the U.S. House of Representatives.  It is the 117th Congress, seated in early January, 2021, that will cast those votes. Each state receives one vote, regardless of the number of districts it has. A majority - 26 votes - is needed to win.

 

Tuesday Primaries in Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont and Wisconsin; Georgia Runoffs

August 11, 2020

Four states hold primaries Tuesday. In addition, there are some primary runoffs in Georgia.  Overview and live results for some of the more interesting races are below, along with a link to all contested congressional and/or gubernatorial primaries in each state.


Polls Close (Eastern Time)

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

7:00 PM Georgia, Vermont
8:00 PM Connecticut
9:00 PM Minnesota, Wisconsin

 


Results by State

Connecticut Minnesota Vermont Wisconsin Georgia (runoff)

 

Connecticut

President: Just one week before the Democratic convention, the much-delayed presidential primary calendar concludes. Although both nominations have long been decided, there is a 'contested' primary in both parties.

House: Democrats control all five seats.  All incumbents are seeking another term and are unopposed for renomination. Most analysts see these seats as safely Democratic in November.

There are two primaries on the GOP side. Use the link below for full results.

All Connecticut Results >>

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Minnesota

Senate: Democratic Sen. Tina Smith is seeking her first full term. She joined the Senate in January, 2018, appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton after the resignation of Al Franken (D). Smith then won a special election that November to complete the final two years of Franken's term.  

Smith has drawn nominal primary opposition.

On the GOP side, the likely nominee is former Rep. Jason Lewis, who represented the state's 2nd congressional district for one term before being defeated by Democrat Angie Craig in 2018.

Smith is favored in the general election, although she's only averaging a six-point lead in limited polling thus far.

House: This is one of the most competitive states in the country. Half of the eight seats flipped in 2018, including the only two GOP gains in the nation (outside of a redistricted Pennsylvania seat). For more background, see this week's Road to 270 article by Drew Savicki. 

The most interesting primaries of note are in Districts 5 and 7.

District 5: Freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar has drawn a strong primary challenge from attorney Antone Melton-Meaux. Omar has received the endorsement of several high profile House colleagues, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the other three members of 'The Squad': Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib.  The Minneapolis Star Tribune has endorsed Melton-Meaux.  Both candidates have reported similar amounts of fundraising. 

This Minneapolis-area district is the most Democratic in the state - Omar won by a 56 point margin in 2018.  Whoever emerges as the nominee will be an overwhelming favorite in November.

District 7: This district occupies most of the western part of the state. Democratic incumbent Collin Peterson is seeking a 16th term.  Peterson has held on as this mostly rural district has become increasingly conservative. Peterson's margins since 2012:  26%, 9%, 5%, 4%. Donald Trump won here by 31% over Hillary Clinton in 2016, by far the largest margin of any of the 30 Trump-won districts (<- scroll to bottom of page) represented by a Democrat.

in 2016 and 2018, Republicans nominated Air Force veteran Dave Hughes. He's back for a third try, along with several others, but the favorite this time looks to be former Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach. She has the endorsement of both President Trump and the state GOP.

All Minnesota Results >>

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Vermont

Governor: Vermont and neighboring New Hampshire are the only two states where governors face the voters every two years instead of four. Republican Gov. Phil Scott is seeking a third term. He's favored to win in November despite the deep blue lean of the state. The consensus rating is Likely Republican.

Scott faces a nominal primary challenge. There are four candidates on the Democratic side. The two frontrunners appear to be the state's Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman and former Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe.

House: Rep. Peter Welch is seeking an 8th term in the state's at-large district. He's unopposed for renomination and heavily favored in November.

All Vermont Results >>

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Wisconsin

House: There are five Republicans and three Democrats in the delegation. All are seeking another term, except the most senior member, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-5), who is retiring after over forty years in the House. 

District 3: This district in the southwestern part of the state is the only one that is on the competitive radar in November.  Incumbent Ron Kind won his 12th term by 19% in 2018. However, it is a district that Donald Trump won by nearly 5%. The current rating is Likely Democratic.

Kind has drawn a primary challenge from a progressive political newcomer, physician Mark Neumann.  Kind has had far more fundraising success, and is expected to prevail. Two candidates are competing for the GOP nomination.

District 5:  With Sensenbrenner's retirement in this district Trump won by 20%, the winner of Tuesday's primary will be a heavy favorite in November. That is expected to be Scott Fitzgerald, the Majority Leader of the state Senate. 

All Wisconsin Results >>

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Georgia (runoff)

There are four U.S. House primaries where no candidate got a majority of the vote during the June 9 primary.  Of most interest are the GOP runoffs in Districts 9 and 14. These are both very (very) conservative districts in north Georgia, so the runoff winners here are almost certain to be the next members of Congress.

District 9: Rep. Doug Collins is not seeking a 5th term but instead running for U.S. Senate in the state's special election. The runoff features state Rep. Matt Gurtler and business owner Andrew Clyde. In the nine-candidate June primary, Gurtler finished with 21%, slightly more than Clyde's 18.5%.

District 14: Six-term incumbent Tom Graves is retiring. The June primary here also featured nine hopefuls, with businesswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene finishing first with 40% of the vote. Neurosurgeon John Cowan finished second with 21%.  Greene is a controversial candidate, disavowed by some House GOP leaders for racist Facebook postings and support of the QAnon conspiracy theory. 

 

There are also two Democratic runoffs, one in the aforementioned District 9. Coastal District 1 isn't quite as conservative as some other GOP strongholds in this state; Republican Buddy Carter won his 3rd term by 15% in 2018. However, at this point, most forecasters rate it as Safe Republican in November. 

 

 

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The Road to 270: Minnesota

August 10, 2020

The Road to 270 is a weekly column leading up to the presidential election. Each installment is dedicated to understanding one state’s political landscape and how that might influence which party will win its electoral votes in 2020. We’ll do these roughly in order of expected competitiveness, moving toward the most intensely contested battlegrounds as election day nears. 

The Road to 270 will be published every Monday. The column is written by Drew Savicki, a 270toWin elections and politics contributor. Contact Drew via email or on Twitter @SenhorRaposa.

Minnesota, with its dynamic politics and enterprising economy, is known for its high electoral engagement. Geographically, in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” -- a nickname that its license plates allude to -- a majority of the population can be found in the area around the Twin Cities of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. By contrast, Outstate Minnesota is sparsely populated and home to mid-sized cities and small towns. Once a state dominated by agriculture and mining, today Minnesota is a financial hub. Many of its residents claim Scandinavian and Eastern European heritage, giving it one of the most unique cultures in the country.

In a political context, the state’s distinct traditions are readily apparent. Unlike almost every other state in the nation, the Democratic Party does not technically exist in Minnesota. In the 1920s, members of the national left-wing populist movement called the Nonpartisan League stood for election under a new banner, the Farmer Labor Party. In 1944, they merged with the Democrats to form the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), which endures to this day.

Congressional Politics

Over the last few cycles, Minnesota, with its eight congressional districts, emerged as a battleground for control of the U.S. House. 2018 saw half of the state's congressional districts change hands, with two suburban seats (Districts 2 and 3) flipping to the Democrats and two Outstate seats (Districts 1 and 8) flipping to Republicans.

In a great year for Democrats, why was there bipartisan turnover? Let’s take a closer look at the key districts.

The 1st District includes the southern tier of Minnesota, spanning the Iowa border. Resembling northern European farmland, this area was settled by Germans and Scandinavians after the Civil War. Small towns popped up along the railroads and along the banks of the Mississippi River -- that mighty river starts out as stream in Minnesota. Perhaps the most well-known city there is Rochester, home to the Mayo Clinic. Traditionally, Republican statewide candidates would fare well in southern Minnesota. A Midwesterner, Barack Obama carried this district twice, but Donald Trump’s message resonated with voters in this largely white working-class district. Clinton carried Rochester’s Olmstead County but Trump swept the district’s other 20 counties. MN-1’s congressman at the time, Democrat Tim Walz, held on, but by just 2,500 votes out of about 336,000 cast -- the closest reelection of his career. Despite his close call two years earlier, no race forecasters rated the 1st District as competitive in 2016.

For 2018, Walz gave up the seat to run, successfully, for governor, and his 2016 opponent, Republican Jim Hagedorn, narrowly flipped the district. This year, Hagedorn has a rematch with his 2018 Democratic opponent, Dan Feehan. Feehan is a veteran of the Army, and has an impressive profile, but the district may be too Republican-leaning.

Sitting atop the state is the Duluth-centric 8th District, which includes the Iron Range. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, its rich deposits of iron ore fostered a substantial mining industry that attracted European immigrants. From 1975 to 2011, this district was represented by Jim Oberstar, a pro-labor Democrat who prioritized work on transportation and infrastructure. In the Catholic tradition, Oberstar was against abortion -- so he was a great fit for an area that has a heavy presence of eastern European voters. In 2010, MN-8 was the site of one of the cycle’s biggest upsets: After a routine 68%-32% win in 2008, Oberstar lost by less than two percentage points to Republican Chip Cravaack.

For 2012, the district’s borders hardly changed, and Cravaack was a top Democratic target. Former Rep. Rick Nolan (D), who represented a neighboring seat in the Carter era, made a comeback, beating Cravaack by 9%. Nolan ran as a progressive populist and proved to be a resilient campaigner. Between 2014 and 2016, he won two close bouts against GOP businessman Stewart Mills -- in 2016, he held on while running considerably ahead of Clinton.

In 2018, Nolan announced his retirement and decided to run for lieutenant governor, on a ticket with then state Attorney General Lori Swanson. Ultimately, Swanson lost the primary and Democrats were unable to hold on to the 8th District. Retired hockey player and St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber flipped the seat by almost six points, defeating former State Rep. and Nolan aide Joe Radinovich. In the gubernatorial race, this district flipped from blue to red, going against the national environment.

In the sprawling rural western half of the state lies the state's intriguing 7th District. Democrat Collin Peterson is in his 15th term, having first been elected in 1990. A conservative Democrat, Peterson is an anomaly in an increasingly urban caucus. The Almanac of American Politics described Peterson’s politics as an ‘irritant’ to state DFL activists but a ‘smash hit’ with voters in his district -- as the area has gotten redder, Peterson’s mavericky brand has paid off.  He now chairs the House Agriculture Committee, a major boon to this rural district.

The 7th District won't determine control of the House this year but is a notable contest nonetheless. There's no other member -- from either party -- representing a district that went so strongly for the opposite party's presidential nominee in 2016. MN-7 voted for Trump 62%-31% in 2016 and Peterson was reelected by five percentage points that year.

Republicans landed a star recruit in MN-7 this cycle with former Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach. Peterson is considered the only Democrat who could feasibly hold this seat, and is hoping his status as Agriculture Chair can give him a lift back home. Most forecasters rate this race as a ‘Toss-up.’ Although the national environment favors Democrats -- like it did in 2018 -- Peterson will need to retain his crossover support. National Republicans often characterize Peterson as “cranky,” but his gruff demeanor seems to be part of his appeal. Peterson's enduring brand is rather remarkable. Although the President endorsed his opponent, Peterson won 52-48% in 2018. Although his margins continue to slip from cycle to cycle, Peterson still enjoys significant crossover appeal.

Minnesota is currently slated to lose a seat in the House after the next Census and the 7th District, which has seen slow population growth, is the most likely district to be eliminated. There are a lot of factors at play -- if Democrats take both chambers of the state legislature this year, they’d control the redistricting process -- but a likely scenario is that much of that district is combined with the 8th District. Should she win this year, Fischbach may find herself in a district with current National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Rep. Tom Emmer. As it is now, Fischbach’s home is just a few miles outside Emmer’s 6th District.

As rural Minnesota has trended rightward, Democrats increasingly find their success in the once-Republican suburbs -- both of the congressional districts that flipped from red to blue in 2018 are located there.

In the 2nd District, which includes suburban Dakota County and a handful of exurban counties, Angie Craig (D) defeated Rep. Jason Lewis (R). This was a rematch from 2016, when the congressional result closely mirrored the presidential margin. MN-2 is narrowly divided, as it went for Obama and Trump by about a point each.

Before his election to Congress, Jason Lewis (R) made a number of controversial remarks years earlier when he hosted a radio show. In the 2018 rematch, Craig won by five points. She outperformed Obama’s numbers in most of the suburban areas while falling behind in some of the rural towns. She broadly outran Clinton everywhere though, so she had an almost ‘best of both worlds’ performance. Republicans have touted their recruit, veteran Tyler Kistner, in his bid to take on Craig. Although his fundraising has been solid, his campaign released an internal poll showing him down 9%. Like Feehan in MN-1, Kistner is a good candidate, but the district fundamentals may lean too far in the other direction.

A similar story can be told in the 3rd District, in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Democratic businessman Dean Phillips swamped Rep. Erik Paulsen (R) in 2018 by double digits. Sabato’s Crystal Ball has rated the seat as ‘Safe Democratic’ since the beginning of the cycle. Republicans like their candidate but it’s too uphill a battle these days in these increasingly blue suburbs. In 2014, Sen. Al Franken (D) lost the district by a few votes, even as he was reelected 53%-43%. Four years later, Sen. Tina Smith (D) matched Franken’s overall showing, but carried MN-3 by 12% -- proof that the area is now a bread-and-butter part of Democrats’ coalition.

Minnesota’s senior Senator is Democrat Amy Klobuchar. Regularly ranking among the chamber’s most popular Senators, Klobuchar has won three landslide victories in a row. As she touted during her presidential bid, she carried all eight congressional districts each time she was on the senatorial ballot. Klobuchar’s bid for the presidency in 2020 was dogged by rumors of her alleged mistreatment of congressional staff. Although these stories had been circulating for years, voters back home still seem to view her as an effective senator. In the Senate, Klobuchar has generally been one of the more moderate Democratic senators.

When Klobuchar ran for president, her green campaign logo was reminiscent of the signs that the late Sen. Paul Wellstone used in his campaigns. Wellstone served two terms before tragically dying in a 2002 plane crash, and is something of a patron saint to Minnesota Democrats. A progressive who was respected for his honesty and grit, he was known for the maxim, “we all do better when we all do better.”

Following the resignation of Sen. Al Franken (D), then-Gov. Mark Dayton (D) appointed his lieutenant governor, Tina Smith, to the chamber. In the Senate, Smith has voted as an establishment liberal. Though she never ran as a candidate in her own right, Smith had no problems winning the 2018 special election to finish Franken’s term -- and it helped that she ran with Klobuchar, whose seat was up concurrently. Since Smith is something of a generic Democrat, here is how she did vs. Democratic candidates for Congress in 2018.

Smith held her own throughout the state and ran almost even with the House candidates in the suburbs. The decline in ticket splitting in the suburbs is evident. The two Democratic incumbents that sought reelection, Reps. Betty McCollum and Collin Peterson, outperformed her. That Peterson ran so far ahead of Smith shows that he won’t be a pushover this year. Smith is seeking a full term this year but the race is not expected to be competitive. Nonpartisan forecaster The Cook Political Report recently moved the race from ‘Likely Democratic’ to ‘Solid Democratic,’ though Sabato’s Crystal Ball still maintains a ‘Likely Democratic’ rating.

State level politics

In recent years, Minnesota has proven to be fool’s gold for Republicans -- particularly in statewide races. In 2010, former Sen. Mark Dayton (D) won the open gubernatorial race against longtime State Rep. and future congressman Tom Emmer (R). A former state Auditor, Dayton served one term in the Senate. Dayton declined to run for reelection in 2006, citing his dislike of fundraising. Though the GOP saw success at the state legislative level in 2010 and 2014, the governorship has proven elusive. In 2018, Dayton handed off the governor’s mansion to then-Rep. Tim Walz -- a transition that marked the first time Minnesota voters elected back-to-back DFL governors.

Minnesota’s most recent Republican governor, Tim Pawlenty, attempted to make a political comeback in 2018 but was defeated in the Republican primary by 2014 nominee Jeff Johnson. Pawlenty got some buzz in 2008 as a leading VP prospect, and briefly ran for president himself in 2011. Still, he was last on the gubernatorial ballot in 2006, and a great deal changed in those twelve years.

Minnesota’s friendliness towards third parties led to the election of former wrestler and Navy SEAL Jesse Ventura in 1998. Ventura ran under the Reform Party banner (the party founded by Ross Perot in 1992) and won a three-way race against two heavy-hitters: Republican Norm Coleman (who was later elected to the U.S. Senate) and DFL state Attorney General Skip Humphrey (the grandson of Vice President Hubert Humphrey). Ventura declined to run for a second term, but made one of the most interesting decisions of his tenure shortly before he left office. In November 2002, after the death of Sen. Wellstone, he appointed former Minnesota Reform Party Chair -- and his 1998 campaign manager -- Dean Barkley. In the Senate, Barkley declined to caucus with either party and served for just 60 days. More recently, Ventura weighed a Green Party presidential run in 2020.

The Minnesota legislature is likely to be heavily-contested this year. Democrats flipped the state House in 2018, picking up 18 seats in the chamber. The state Senate, which is only up in presidential years, is narrowly divided between the two parties and control is very much up for grabs. Democrats are seeking to gain a trifecta in the state and Republicans hold just a one seat majority in the upper chamber.

Presidential politics and 2020 outlook

Minnesota Polls >>

It is an oft-repeated statistic that Minnesota last voted Republican for president in 1972. While true, without the presence of native son Walter Mondale on the ballot in 1984, it would have almost certainly supported Reagan that year -- as it was, Mondale carried the state by just under 4,000 votes.

In between 1984 and 2000, Democratic nominees saw relatively easy victories there. Vice President Gore carried the state by a little over two points while Green Party nominee Ralph Nader took 5% of the vote. Minnesota was again contested in 2004. President Bush made seven visits to the Land of 10,000 Lakes but still came up 3.5% short. In a sense, Minnesota has become to Republicans what Florida is to Democrats: A state they’d very much like to win but always seem disadvantaged.

Barack Obama had little trouble carrying this state twice but Hillary Clinton came perilously close to losing it in 2016. Trump and Romney actually took the same 45% vote share, while Clinton’s share dropped 6% from Obama’s. Trump’s criticism of U.S. trade deals resonated across Outstate Minnesota -- he made double-digit gains over Romney’s margins in many counties. Clinton’s saving grace, though, was Trump’s toxicity in the populous Twin Cities, and their suburbs.

Given the close margin in 2016, at the beginning of this cycle it seemed like Minnesota was primed to a major battleground. However, as Trump’s approval ratings have slipped, so have his electoral prospects -- Minnesota seems out of reach for him now. In late May, George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis man, was killed by police, sparking national protests. While Republicans hope the local backlash will help Trump, recent polling suggests that Minnesota voters trust Biden more on race relations.


Next Week:  Nevada

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:

 

Hawaii Primary: Overview and Live Results

August 8, 2020

The vote by mail Hawaii primary is Saturday. Live results for the contested primaries in the state's two congressional districts will be available after 1:00 AM Eastern Time on Sunday.

There's not a lot of suspense here in terms of the general election. Both districts in this deep blue state were won by a margin of over 50% in 2018. They are both safely Democratic this November.

The one primary to watch is for the Democratic nomination in District 2. Incumbent Tulsi Gabbard did not pursue a 5th term in an unsuccessful effort to win the party's presidential nomination. 

Several candidates are vying to replace Gabbard. The frontrunner appears to be State Senator Kai Kahele, who announced his bid back in January, 2019, long before Gabbard decided not to run again. 

In District 1, freshman Democratic Rep. Ed Case is unopposed.