Election News

The Road to 270: Montana

May 11, 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.

According to the Almanac of American Politics, Montana’s first white settlers were prospectors looking to mine the mountainous western part of the state for gold, silver, and copper. Later arrivals to the state were ranchers and wheat farmers, who made their homes in the flatter eastern part of the state. Politically, miners favored Democrats -- and would eventually organize into unions -- while farmers in the east voted Republican, like their counterparts in other Great Plains states. From the onset, this geographic tug-of-war produced a state with a vibrant political scene. 

While these previous divisions have given way to a more modern urban/rural polarization, there are traces of history in the state’s political landscape. Montana is just one of three states west of the Mississippi River that supported Donald Trump in 2016 but lack right to work laws, a reflection of its pro-labor history (the other two are Alaska and Missouri).
At the presidential level, Big Sky Country is thoroughly Republican territory -- the last Democrat to carry its 3 Electoral College votes, Bill Clinton in 1992, did so with just 38% of the vote.

In the final weeks of the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama made an aggressive push for The Big Sky State. The McCain campaign never considered Montana a battleground state but the Democrats made a serious push for it. Montana was an unusual target for Democrats, with the state having voted Republican in the past several presidential elections but the presence of Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) on the ballot made it a target. The arch libertarian conservative Paul was on the ballot as the Constitution party's nominee, despite not actually campaigning for the nomination. Montana was an unlikely battleground in 2008. The state is heavily white, rural, and gun friendly but Obama's message powered him to a remarkable 47% of the vote. Looking down the ballot, though, Montana has been more open to supporting Democratic candidates than its neighboring states. As a result, this red state should feature several competitive contests this year.

Down ballot: a flattop hero and prairie populism

Throughout the last century, Montanans have made clear distinctions between their presidential and senatorial preferences. Since the 17th Amendment established the direct election of senators -- beginning with the 1914 congressional elections -- Montana has only elected three Republicans to the Senate. In the 26 presidential elections that have taken place since then, it favored Republican nominees in 18 contests.

Of the state’s current roster of elected leaders, perhaps the career of Sen. Jon Tester (D) best exemplifies the moods and character of state politics. Literally level-headed (thanks to his trademark flattop haircut), Tester grew up on his family farm and lost three fingers in a meat-grinding accident. He was elected to the State Senate in 1998 and by 2005, had risen to become its President. Though President Bush carried the state twice by easy margins, his popularity had slipped by the 2006 midterms.

With his time in the state senate, Tester was well-positioned to challenge then-Sen. Conrad Burns (R), who was seeking a fourth term. Despite some liabilities, Burns was no pushover -- in fact, as of this writing, he is the only GOP senator Montanans have ever popularly reelected. In an expensive race, Tester emphasized his rural background and accused the septuagenarian Burns of losing touch with the state. Tester won that race by fewer than 3,600 votes out of the over 406,000 cast -- it was the closest raw-vote margin of any senatorial race that year, and ultimately helped flip control of the chamber to Democrats.

If Tester was running against an unpopular president in 2006, Republicans were hoping to flip that dynamic in 2012. That year, the GOP was optimistic about beating him and landed a top recruit in Rep. Denny Rehberg, who had represented the state in the House since 2001. Rehberg emphasized the unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act, and most polls gave him the lead. On Election Day, Tester’s down-to-home image seemed to endure: as Mitt Romney carried the state 55%-42%, he was reelected by four percentage points.

In 2018, Tester was running as a senator from the party out of power, but another close race seemed in the cards. His voting record was more liberal than other red state Democrats up that year. After making multiple visits to Big Sky Country that cycle, it was clear Trump was on something of a personal mission to beat Tester. In this small state where local connections are paramount, what may have saved Tester is that he was still able to ‘out-Montana’ his opposition. He faced state Auditor Matt Rosendale (R), who had moved to Montana in 2002 from Maryland; questions about his residency played prominently into Democratic attacks. In the end, Tester was reelected with 50.3% -- the first of his three races that he earned a majority of the vote in.

Tester's success over the years exemplifies how Montana sometimes behaves more like a purple state than a solidly red one. Representing a state with the third highest proportion of veterans in the nation, Jon Tester has made veterans issues a key priority during his time in Congress. Two of Tester's committee assignments -- Indian and Veterans' Affairs, reflect the needs of his state well. A living embodiment of Prairie Populism, Jon Tester should serve as a model to other red state Democrats.

Geography

As with Montana’s early days, the east/west divide is dominant. Though the state today has a sole at-Large congressional district (MT-AL), it had two from 1913 to 1993: one covering the western half of the state and the other the eastern half. Some projections have it regaining its second seat after the 2020 Census. If Montana secures its second seat, the familiar east-west split seems likely to emerge.

  • Western Montana. Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, western Montana is home to three of the five largest cities in the state (Missoula, Bozeman, and Butte) as well as the state capital of Helena. The bulk of the growth in the state has been in the western half, particularly Gallatin County (Bozeman), the sole Romney -> Clinton county in the state. Missoula County, which houses the University of Montana, often gives Democratic candidates their largest raw vote margin of any county. Lake County -- just north of Missoula -- is one of the state’s prime political bellwethers.
  • Eastern Montana. Though mostly rural, this region is home to the state’s largest city, Billings, as well as the bulk of the state's Native American population. Still, as with the Great Plains states, eastern Montana is dominated by sparsely-populated but strongly Republican counties -- the reddest county in the state, Garfield, gave Trump 91% in 2016, but cast just 718 votes. In fact, if the state’s old eastern-based Second District were in place, it would have given Trump a 63%-30% vote. 

Congressional politics

In a state that’s produced more than its fair share of consequential lawmakers, it’s worth pointing out that Tester holds the seat of the most prominent senator in state history: Democrat Mike Mansfield. Mansfield was the longest-serving Majority Leader ever, leading the chamber from 1961 to 1977. As Majority Leader, he was charged with passing Lyndon Johnson’s civil rights and Great Society bills through Congress. On foreign policy, though, Mansfield would emerge as a critic of LBJ’s efforts in the Vietnam War. His pacifist tendencies seemed reminiscent of another prominent Montanan: Jeannette Rankin. The first woman elected to Congress, Rankin was the only member of Congress to have voted against U.S. entry into both World Wars. Another popular figure in Montana politics in recent years was the longtime Senator Max Baucus (D). Baucus, a conservative Democrat was known as a champion of Montana's industries. Baucus was ideologically to the right of his caucus on guns and environmental issues but he proved to be a solid fit for his state. 

In 2014, Sen. Steve Daines became the first Republican ever to be popularly-elected to the state’s other seat. A conservative Republican, Daines served one term as the representative for Montana's At-Large Congressional District (MT-AL) before he was elected to the Senate. Like Alaska's Dan Sullivan, Daines lacks the distinct political identity of his state's senior Senator. As a Congressman and now Senator, Daines has a been a reliable vote for the Republican majority and closely tied himself to the President. Although he easily won the open seat in 2014, Daines won't be sailing smoothly this time. He faces a competitive race from Governor Steve Bullock (D). Although polling suggests the race is a tossup, the partisan lean of Montana in a Presidential year warrants caution. No doubt Bullock will run ahead of the Democratic presidential nominee (almost certainly Joe Biden) and is a strong candidate in his own right, but he’d still need a significant chunk of Trump voters to defect. In this increasingly polarized era, voters aren't splitting their tickets as much as they used to -- this is why Sabato’s Crystal Ball is keeping the race at Leans Republican.

First elected to the House in a 2017 special election is the controversial businessman Greg Gianforte. Most known for his assault on The Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, Gianforte has kept a low profile during his time in the House. In 2016, Gianforte was the Republican nominee for Governor against Steve Bullock and is running for Governor again this year. The founder of a customer relationship software company, Gianforte was heavily targeted by Democrats in the 2018 midterms. The Bozeman native was ultimately successful in his reelection bid despite the millions in spending by outside groups. Despite the success Democrats have found at the Senate level, the state's sole US House seat has proven elusive since Rep. Pat Williams (D) retired in 1997. 

Even if Democrats lose the House race this year, they may have hope in 2022. As discussed earlier, Montana seems posted to regain its 2nd Congressional District following the 2020 Census. The redistricting process is controlled by a five-member independent commission, consisting of two members from each party and a Chair elected by the four members. Redistricting is likely to result in another east/west split -- Republicans will undoubtedly keep the eastern seat, while the western district will likely be only light red, giving Democrats an opening.

State level politics

At the state level, the GOP controls both chambers of the legislature and most statewide offices. 2016 proved to be something of a breakout year for statewide Republicans. Going into that cycle, Republicans only had one row office, the Attorney General; currently they have everything but the governor and lieutenant governor’s offices. Democrats have actually won the last four gubernatorial elections, with Brian Schweitzer (2005-2013) and Steve Bullock (2013-present).

Montana is a relatively insular state, making authenticity a key factor in state races. To that end, Democratic success at the gubernatorial level has relied on genuine candidates. A modern prairie populist (and at times controversial), Schweitzer is a lively character with a penchant for sporting bolo ties. The more low-key cowboy-esque Bullock is a former state Attorney General who first ran for Governor in 2012, promising a continuation of Schweitzer's policies. The GOP nominated a capable candidate in former Rep. Rick Hill that year, but Bullock narrowly prevailed. Bullock’s reelection in 2016 was especially impressive, considering Trump’s 56%-35% margin in the state. This year, the Montana gubernatorial contest is looking like a true toss-up, with competitive primaries on both sides.  

Presidential outlook

Montana's three electoral votes seem safe for President Trump, but don't be surprised if the margin of victory is narrower than in 2016. As political science professor Jacob Smith has documented, Montana consistently swings against the incumbent President. The Big Sky state is home to one of the nation's most reliable bellwether counties: Blaine County. Home to the Fort Belknap reservation, the county is split evenly between Native Americans and whites. Blaine County has voted for the winner of presidential elections all but twice in its entire history (its only misses being 1912 and 1988). In 2018, Sen. Tester improved on Gov. Bullock’s 2016 showing there, illustrating the importance of Native Americans to the Democratic coalition in the state. Likely Democratic nominee Joe Biden is unlikely to make a major push for this ruby red state but it will see a great deal of spending downballot. With competitive US Senate, US House, Gubernatorial, and state legislative races there's a lot to look at in the Big Sky Country this year. 

Next Week: Delaware

Reports in this series:

Gubernatorial Rating Changes from Sabato's Crystal Ball

May 7, 2020

Sabato's Crystal ball has made three changes to its gubernatorial ratings, all favoring the incumbent. These moves leave Montana as the only highly-competitive race among the eleven governorships up for election in 2020.

In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper is favored to win a second term; that rating moves from Leans to Likely Democratic.  Meanwhile, incumbents Chris Sununu in New Hampshire and Phil Scott in neighboring Vermont each look likely to win a third term - those go from Leans to Likely Republican. Those two New England states are the only ones where terms are two years instead of four.

In Montana, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is termed out; his entry into the U.S. Senate race against incumbent Republican Steve Daines has made that race much competitive. The gubernatorial race is still taking shape; both parties have competitive primaries on June 2 and the general election is seen as a toss-up.  It is a little surprising that these statewide races are so competitive in a year where President Trump is expected to easily win the state's three electoral votes.  Drew Savicki will discuss Montana politics in the next Road to 270 installment on Monday.

Click the image below for an interactive version of the forecast.

 

The Road to 270: Alaska

May 4, 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.

In the closing days of the 1960 presidential election, Democrat John F. Kennedy and Republican Richard Nixon were racing towards the finish line. In what turned out to be one of the closest elections in American history, the decisive state may well have been one of the newest: Alaska.

As Alaska and Hawaii were both admitted to the Union in 1959, the presidential election of 1960 became the first to feature all 50 states. In an anecdote that political analyst Kyle Kondik recalls in his 2016 book, Nixon pledged to visit every state. After putting it off, the Republican finally made the trek up to Alaska on November 6th, 1960, two days before the election. Nixon’s visit likely helped him secure the state’s three electoral votes, as he carried the state 51%-49%.

Still, what if Nixon had, instead, spent that time making his final pitch to voters in states with more electoral votes, like Illinois, Missouri, or New Jersey? Kennedy’s final victory hinged on his razor-thin margins in those states.

While Alaska is more safely Republican in presidential races these days, its politics is a fascinating mix of elastic coalitions, large personalities, and occasional family feuds.

A Right (Write?) of Center State

Since Nixon’s narrow 1960 win there, the Last Frontier has voted for Republican presidential nominees in all but one election -- Lyndon Johnson took it, in his 1964 landslide. The 2008 campaign put Alaska into the spotlight: its governor at the time, Sarah Palin, was tapped to be the GOP’s vice presidential nominee that year. The state's economic position on industries like oil has made it an odd fit for the Democratic Party, which has gradually embraced environmentalism from the mid-20th century onward. Owing to its history, Alaska's brand of Republican politics can be described as libertarian conservatism.

To understand the quirky nature of Alaska politics, look no further than its 2010 Senate election. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) faced the challenge of a lifetime in her primary, from Tea Party-backed attorney Joe Miller. Miller had the support of notable figures like Palin (by then out of office) and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), two darlings of the nascent Tea Party movement. In the months and weeks leading up to the GOP primary, Miller began to close the gap with Murkowski in private polling. In what Palin called a ‘miracle on ice,’ Miller won that primary 51%-49%.

Following her primary loss, Murkowski carefully evaluated her options and made the decision to stage a write-in campaign for the general election. Framing herself as the pragmatic candidate, she cited the ‘extremism’ of Miller and the ‘inexperience’ of the Democratic nominee, Scott McAdams (then mayor of the small city of Sitka). As the Republican nominee, Miller received full support from both the Alaska Republican Party and the Senate Republican conference. Murkowski's write-in campaign led to an iconic ad which featured a young girl spelling out her name at a spelling bee.

Murkowski’s ad paid off: 39% of voters wrote her name in on their ballots, placing her ahead of Miller, who took 35%. As she pointed out frequently, that was the first successful write-in campaign for a Senate seat since the late Sen. Strom Thurmond’s 1954 effort in South Carolina.

As wacky as that election was, it was typical in one sense: Alaska voters have a history of doing their own thing.

Geography

Lacking counties, Alaska’s geography is more complex than that of other states. Alaska is divided up into five geographic regions and 20 boroughs (19 organized and one unorganized). The five regions of Alaska are: 

  • Southwest. With the bulk of Alaska's ports, the southwest region is home to commercial fishing and Native fishing villages that dot the landscape. The largest population center in this region is Kodiak.
  • Far North. The home of the Inuit people, this is one of the more remote regions of Alaska. The annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race runs from Anchorage to Nome, covering the vast Alaska wilderness. Also of note in the Far North is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an area the state's congressional delegation has long pushed to open up to drilling for oil.
  • Interior. Interior Alaska features much of the state's road network, which connects Fairbanks and its surrounding suburbs to Anchorage. As Alaska's second largest city, Fairbanks is home to the main campus of the University of Alaska and a number of military installations. The Interior region is one of Alaska's most educated.
  • Southcentral. 65% of Alaska's population calls this region home. Anchorage is Alaska's largest city and one of the most politically divided areas in the state, with the city sending nine Republicans and seven Democrats to the Alaska House of Representatives.
  • Southeast. This heavily-forested region houses the state capital of Juneau, along with indigenous communities and a once robust mining presence. 

Congressional Politics

With just three Electoral College votes, Alaska has one of the smallest congressional delegations in the nation, but two of its members carry outsized importance in Congress. Representing all of Alaska in the House of Representatives since 1973 is the oft-cantankerous Rep. Don Young (R). Young is a colorful character known for his off-the-cuff comments and larger-than-life personality. Now Dean of the House -- due to his status as the longest-serving member of the body -- Young is a passionate supporter of Alaska's industries. He came to Congress in a 1973 special election, held in the aftermath of the death of Rep. Nick Begich (D). Young, then a state senator, ran for the seat in 1972, but Begich won reelection, despite disappearing during a plane trip weeks before (he was later presumed dead).

Young has been attentive to local concerns over the years, which has earned him the support of many Alaska Natives. Ideologically, Young is a moderate Republican with a history of bucking his party. Although he remains a highly influential figure in Congress, his status has declined in recent years. House Republican term limits means he no longer occupies the top spot on the Natural Resources Committee and the abolition of earmarks substantially reduced his clout. Unlike many of his GOP colleagues, Young is no stranger to the House minority -- he worked under Democratic rule for his first 22 years in the chamber.

In 2012, Young made waves with a rare bipartisan endorsement video of now-Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI). At the time, Hirono served with him in the House and was in a competitive Senate primary in Hawaii. The ad is a reminder that the delegations from the country’s two non-contiguous states often have reason to work together on Capitol Hill.

Young has faced a few close races over the years. Although he is a perennial prospect on national Democrats’ retirement watch list, the Dean of the House, at age 86, shows no signs of slowing down. Young is likely to remain in office as long as voters want him to.

In the Senate, after surviving that turbulent 2010 election, Lisa Murkowski is the state’s senior Senator. Her father, Frank Murkowski, served in the Senate from 1981 until his 2002 election as governor. Upon taking office as Governor, Murkowski appointed his daughter -- then-State Representative Lisa Murkowski -- to the Senate seat he was vacating. Her appointment was controversial and it resulted in voters later stripping their governors of the ability to fill vacancies in the Senate via appointment. Perceived nepotism may have been a factor in the elder Murkowski’s defeat -- in his 2006 primary, he placed third in a field led by then-Wasilla mayor Sarah Palin (the families have a rocky relationship).

Since then, Lisa Murkowski has had better electoral fortunes than her father, though her races have been competitive. She faced voters for the first time, at the statewide level, in 2004. She began by successfully turning back a primary challenge from then-State Senate President Mike Miller. Though President Bush carried the state 61%-36%, Murkowski faced a strong general election challenge from the state's previous governor, Democrat Tony Knowles. Still, she was elected in her own right, 49%-46%.

As one of the most moderate Republicans in the Senate, Murkowski is often a pivotal vote for the majority. In the summer of 2017, she was one three Republicans -- along with the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) -- who voted against repeal of the Affordable Care Act. In fact, Collins and Murkowski are the only two pro-choice Republicans currently serving in the chamber. When it comes to guns and environmental issues, Murkowski's views reflect her libertarian state well.

In 2016, running with the Republican nomination, Murkowski faced a rematch, of sorts. Her 2010 GOP opponent, Joe Miller, ran as a Libertarian. She was reelected with 44% to Miller’s 29%. As a result, Murkowski is the only senator to win three terms with less than 50% of the vote each time.

Alaska's junior Senator is Republican Dan Sullivan. Elected in the red wave of 2014, Sullivan defeated Democratic incumbent Mark Begich that year -- Begich is the son of the man Rep. Young replaced in Congress. Unlike Young and Murkowski, Sullivan is a reliable party line vote. During his 2014 campaign, Sullivan espoused a number of differences between himself and Murkowski. The previous year, Murkowski came out in favor of same sex marriage. Sullivan also ran on his opposition to abortion rights, another difference between himself and his state's senior Senator.

Sullivan's background in the Marine Corps is an asset in this military-heavy state. A lawyer, Sullivan clerked for several judges in the state before joining the Bush administration in 2002. He was appointed state Attorney General under Gov. Palin and then continued in that position until 2010. Palin’s successor, Gov. Sean Parnell, appointed Sullivan to Alaska's Department of Natural Resources, which he led until he launched his Senate campaign in 2013. 

Senator Sullivan is up for reelection this year and could potentially face a competitive race. His likely opponent is neurosurgeon Al Gross, who is running as an independent with the support of the Democratic Party. He has fundraised well, outraising Dan Sullivan in the most recent quarter and Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball recently shifted the race from 'Safe Republican to 'Likely Republican'. Sullivan is still the clear favorite but the race merits watching.

Analyst Eric Cunningham last year wrote an article on the increasing trend of the parties running independents rather than a candidate with a party label. In the 2012 US Senate election in Maine, former Governor Angus King ran with no party affiliation just as he did in his two gubernatorial bids and did not receive support from either party committee. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) spent in Maine but did not endorse King or the Democratic nominee that year. In the Senate, King caucuses with Democrats but remains an independent.

State Level Politics

Alaska, at the state level, is quite unique. It is one of the few states in the nation that elects no statewide officeholders, besides the Governor. With one exception, Republicans have held the Governorship from December 2002 (in Alaska and Hawaii, governors take their oaths of office in December) to present.

From 2014 to 2018, the Governor was an independent, Bill Walker. Walker, a former Republican Mayor of Valdez, ran on a unity ticket with Democrat Byron Mallott. Owing to his unpopularity, Gov. Walker suspended his bid for reelection in 2018 and endorsed the Democratic nominee, former Sen. Mark Begich. The Governor’s Mansion fell back into GOP hands, as Begich lost 51%-44% to then-State Sen. Mike Dunleavy (who is currently the subject of a recall campaign).

In the legislature, Republicans hold a supermajority in the state Senate while the state House is controlled by a coalition of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Whether the coalition remains depends on if its Republican members are successful in their primaries this year.

The Native Vote

Native Americans account for 15% of the population in Alaska, the largest in the nation. Alaska Natives have increasingly voted Democratic in the past few presidential races, but certain Republicans are able to win them over. In 2016, Sen. Murkowski was stronger in the Native-heavy western half of the state than in the whiter eastern parts. In the 2018 U.S. House race, Don Young was able to win some crossover support from this group while Begich easily won them in his unsuccessful gubernatorial bid.

Presidential Outlook

There is little doubt that Alaska will vote for President Trump in the fall. One thing to watch, though, is the state’s affinity for third parties. In 2016, Trump carried the state 51%-37%, with the remaining 12% going to third parties. Only Utah, Idaho, and Vermont gave third parties a higher aggregate share. In 2000, Green Party nominee Ralph Nader -- who is often accused of spoiling the election in favor of Bush -- took 10% in Alaska, his best showing of any state.

Next Week: Montana

Reports in this series:

Rep. Justin Amash Becomes First Libertarian Member of Congress

May 4, 2020

Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan has become the first Libertarian member of Congress.  The move comes just days after the Republican-turned-independent announced his intention to run for president.  Libertarians will select a nominee at the party's convention, which begins May 22.

To focus on his presidential bid, Amash also announced last week that he would not stand for reelection to his current seat. This may have reflected a political reality - his prospects for winning a 6th term had grown dimmer. In addition, Michigan law precludes someone from running simultaneously for both offices.

U.S. House

With the move by Amash, the U.S. House now has 232 Democrats, 196 Republicans and one Libertarian. There are six vacancies. One of these, in Maryland's 7th district, will be filled by Democrat Kweisi Mfume, who won a special election there last week.  Special elections to fill two other seats are upcoming next Tuesday, May 12. These are in California's 25th district and Wisconsin's 7th district. 

 

Kansas Democratic Primary Results

May 3, 2020

Joe Biden won the Kansas Democratic primary, with about 77% of the vote. Unlike many states, the event was not moved due to the coronavirus. However, it transitioned to a contest conducted entirely by mail - with ballots due back no later than the scheduled May 2 date.

Biden won 29 of the state's 39 pledged delegates. He now has 1,435 of the 1,991 needed to clinch the party's nomination, per NPR and the Associated Press.  Note that this delegate count has been revised slightly to reflect a recent agreement between the Biden and Sanders campaign that allows the Vermont Senator to retain statewide delegates, which would normally not be the case per Democratic party rules. 

 

Updated Senate Consensus Map with Shifts in South Carolina, Alaska

April 30, 2020

Forecasters at the Cook Political Report and Sabato's Crystal Ball have moved the South Carolina Senate race from Safe to Likely Republican. The Crystal Ball has also made that same ratings change in Alaska.  These seats remain longshot pickup opportunities for Democrats - particularly given the history of Senate races in presidential election years - but conditions on the ground indicate they have at least some possibility of becoming competitive.

Our consensus Senate map reflects these changes. This map only considers a race safe if all the forecasters1 1Currently Sabato, Cook and Inside Elections. More will be added by this summer. agree on that categorization. By doing it this way, we are showing the broadest possible group of races that could be competitive. Use the map to create and share your own 2020 Senate forecast.

Live Results: Ohio Primaries, Maryland Special Election

April 28, 2020

On Tuesday, we'll have results from the Ohio primary and a special election in Maryland's 7th congressional district.  Ohio results are expected after 7:30 PM Eastern Time, while those in Maryland should arrive after 8:00 PM.

Ohio

Ballots had to be postmarked by yesterday, but can still be dropped off today in drop boxes. Any ballots with a timely postmark received by May 8 will be counted, so it is possible that close races may not be called tonight.

President: The state postponed its primary on the eve of the scheduled March 17 date, ultimately turning it into an all-mail election, with few exceptions.  While Joe Biden is expected to win most of the state's 136 pledged delegates, Bernie Sanders - and many other withdrawn candidates - remain on the ballot. Heading into today, Biden has 1,305 of the 1,991 delegates needed to win the nomination.  On the GOP side, Donald Trump is unopposed. He has already clinched renomination.

Congress: This is not a state with many closely-contested U.S. House races. In 2018, all but two of the seats had margins of 10 points or more.  Only the GOP-held Cincinnati-area 1st District is expected to be highly competitive in November.  We'll be watching to see who will emerge as the Democratic nominee in that district. In the safely Democratic 3rd district, Rep. Joyce Beatty is being challenged from the left by activist Morgan Harper.

More Ohio Results >>

Maryland 

The state's 7th congressional district has been vacant since the death of long-time Rep. Elijah Cummings last October.  A largely mail-in election will decide who will complete his term. Limited in-person polling places are available; these close at 8:00 PM. Kweisi Mfume emerged as the nominee from a crowded Democratic primary field and is expected to prevail in this deep blue district.

Note that today was originally to be the primary for all of Maryland; that has been postponed until June 2.  Voters in the 7th district will be asked to weigh in again on the congressional seat that day, choosing nominees for the regular two-year term that will be contested on Election Day, November 3.

The Road to 270: Connecticut

April 27, 2020

Editor's Note: We're pleased to welcome Drew Savicki, who is taking over The Road to 270 beginning this week. Drew kicks things off with Connecticut, his state of birth.  Special thanks to Seth Moskowitz for his work bringing this series to life; we wish him well as he moves on to a new career opportunity.  

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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.

Connecticut

One of the 13 original colonies, Connecticut ratified the Constitution in January, 1788.  It is one of seven states1 1The others are Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. that has participated in all 58 presidential elections. Few states have influenced the United States’ electoral process more than Connecticut.

At the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, a hotly-debated topic was the composition of the nation’s legislative branch. The Framers hailing from larger states, like Virginia, preferred a legislature with seats apportioned based on population, while members from smaller states favored equal representation across the board. Connecticut’s delegates to the convention, Roger Sherman and Oliver Marshall, offered the Great Compromise -- in a bicameral legislature, each state would have equal representation in the upper house while seats in the lower house would be distributed based on population. Today, each state’s clout in the Electoral College is based on that congressional apportionment. 

From mills to mavericks

A century ago, Connecticut was known for its Yankee brand of Republicanism. It favored Republicans for much of the early twentieth century, though the split in the national GOP allowed Democrat Woodrow Wilson to squeak out a 39% plurality in the state during the 1912 election. Even in the watershed 1932 election, it stuck with the unpopular Republican Herbert Hoover over Democratic challenger Franklin Roosevelt, although by just one percentage point.

Once in office, Roosevelt’s New Deal programs brought new voters, who were often first- or second-generation Americans, into the political process. In a Connecticut context, white ethnics -- such as Irish, Italians, and Poles -- who migrated to work in the state’s mill towns, began voting, and for Democratic candidates. These groups were predominantly Catholic or Jewish, and changed the state’s Protestant Republican image. This set the stage for another defining election: 1960.

John F. Kennedy's 54%-46% win in the Nutmeg State was significant in that it gave Democrats a foothold there. Still, the realignment that produced the Connecticut that we know today has its roots in the 1980s. 1988 was an especially pivotal election; then-Vice President George Bush carried the state by five percentage points. This was a concerning result for Republicans on several levels. First, given that Bush won nationally in a 426 Electoral Vote landslide, his 52%-47% edge there seemed underwhelming. Further, he had deep personal connections to the state -- his father, Prescott Bush, represented the state in the Senate from 1952 to 1963.

Perhaps a third sign of weakness for Bush in Connecticut was that the 1988 Senate result there fed into the narrative that his presidential victory was a ‘lonely landslide.’ Of the 33 states that held Senate elections that year, some 14 voted for Bush but elected Democratic Senate candidates -- Connecticut was one of them. The 1988 Senate election was among the most fascinating in the state’s history; it featured two of its most consequential politicians, both of whom would been billed a ‘mavericks’ throughout the careers. Ultimately, then-state Attorney General Joe Lieberman (D) narrowly ousted Sen. Lowell Weicker (R-CT).

First elected in 1970, Weicker was long known for his independence: Serving on the Watergate Committee, he challenged his own party’s president and later became known for his quarrels with fellow Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), a darling of social conservatives. A rare Republican with appeal to labor, the state’s AFL-CIO endorsed him in 1988, while he ran with the slogan “Nobody’s man but yours.” In 1990, Weicker dropped his GOP affiliation and rebounded to win the gubernatorial race under the ‘A Connecticut Party’ label -- a third party that was strategically named so that it would appear first on the alphabetically-oriented ballot.

By the same token, in the 1988 race, Lieberman found support with typically-Republican constituencies. William Buckley, editor of the conservative National Review magazine, endorsed him. A tradition-minded Democrat favoring a hawkish foreign policy, Lieberman famously lost his 2006 Senate primary over his support for the Iraq War. Ironically, in a move reminiscent of Weicker, Lieberman ran as a third party candidate in the general election that year (the state is one of the few that lacks a sore loser law) -- he was reelected in large part because his 70% share of the Republican vote. Speaking to Lieberman’s political versatility, though he served as former Vice President’s Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, he was rumored to have been the late Sen. John McCain’s ideal VP choice for the 2008 Republican ticket.

Congressional politics

Since Lieberman’s 50%-49% victory in 1988, Democrats have largely continued their winning record in Connecticut Senate races -- while Lieberman was technically reelected as an independent in 2006, he continued to caucus with his old party. The state’s other seat was held by Chris Dodd (D-CT), a household name in the state from a political family, from 1981 until 2011. Dodd looked vulnerable going into the 2010 elections but ended up retiring. Democrats had a ready stand-in candidate that cycle with popular state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

Lieberman himself retired in 2012, and was replaced by Rep. Chris Murphy (D, CT-5). In their initial elections, in 2010 and 2012, respectively, both Blumenthal and Murphy faced the same GOP opponent: Linda McMahon, the wife of WWE wrestling magnate Vince McMahon. Both Democrats beat McMahon by the same 55%-43% margin.

In the House, Democrats have held all five of the state’s districts since 2009 -- its delegation weathered the red waves of 2010 and 2014 fairly comfortably. In past decades, its congressional elections were more susceptible to national tides. In 1956, as the state gave President Eisenhower a hefty 64%-36% vote in his reelection effort, it also sent an all-GOP delegation to the House. Two years later, a combination of foreign policy travails and domestic setbacks sent Ike’s approval on a downward trajectory -- when Connecticut voters went to polls in 1958, they elected only Democrats to the House.

As it stands today, Connecticut is a reliably blue, but polarized, state. A hub for the financial and health insurance industries, Democrats in the Nutmeg State are best served by keeping an ear to the business community.

A bit of geography

Before looking at the state’s recent electoral history, a bit of geography will be useful. Connecticut can be divided into five regions.

1) Hartford County - Central Connecticut. Anchored by the state capitol of Hartford and its surrounding suburbs, this area is racially diverse and home to a mixture of both upscale and blue collar whites.

2) Fairfield County - Southwestern Connecticut. This suburban county is the only one in the state that's growing and is also the most educated. In the Trump era, Democrats have made major gains here.

3) Tolland and Windham Counties - Northeastern Connecticut. These counties span from the Hartford suburbs to the more rural parts of the east.

4) New Haven County - Southern Connecticut. The city of New Haven anchors the county but some adjacent towns saw double-digit swings to Trump in 2016. Likely a problematic area for Democrats in the long term.

5) Middlesex and New London Counties - Southeastern Connecticut. These are liberal coastal communities but the more inland parts of the counties lean Republican.

State level politics

Like much of New England, Connecticut voters will consider supporting local Republicans. Republicans controlled the governorship from 1995 to 2011 and the three most recent gubernatorial elections have all been within five percentage points. Still, Democrats have maintained control of all row offices since 1999 and the legislature has consistently remained in Democratic hands. Unlike their counterparts in neighboring states, though, Connecticut Democrats lack supermajorities in either chamber -- some vestiges of the old Yankee GOP coalition can still be seen at the local level.

Gov. Ned Lamont (D-CT), was elected in 2018 despite the low approval ratings his predecessor, fellow Democrat Dan Malloy, sported for much of his tenure. In 2010, Lamont lost the Democratic primary to Malloy 57%-43%. Four years earlier, he upset Lieberman in that 2006 Senate primary, only to lose the general election 50%-40% to an independent Lieberman.

In his third attempt at statewide office in 2018, Lamont may have caught a break when President Trump weighed into the race with an endorsement of the GOP nominee, Bob Stefanowski. Trump’s support likely helped nationalize the race in way that, ironically, hurt Republicans.

What's good for Trump

Though one of the nation’s most well-educated states, 39% of Connecticut's residents lack a college degree. These working class voters can be found in former industrial towns that dot the landscape in northwestern and east. Trump ran particularly well in eastern towns near the Rhode Island border. Mitt Romney, a wealthy businessman, proved a poor fit for these voters but Trump's cultural conservatism seemed to catch on. In addition, a handful of Democratic legislators hold districts that Trump carried -- his presence atop the ballot again will be welcomed by some local Republican candidates. Redistricting in Connecticut requires 2/3 supermajorities in both chambers, which Democrats currently lack.

Recent elections

Since 1992, every Democratic presidential nominee has carried Connecticut. Bill Clinton’s 1992 and 1996 victories relied on the state's urban centers and he was perhaps aided by Ross Perot’s relatively strong showing in parts of the east; Perot carried four towns there in 1992, all of which favored Bush in 1988.

In 2000, Vice President Al Gore was not able to maintain Clinton's working support but traded it for increased support in Fairfield County. This exchange came despite the presence of Sen. Lieberman on the Democratic ticket that year. Lieberman was also up for reelection to the Senate that year -- though he didn’t win the Vice Presidency, he was reelected to the Senate with 63% and carried 40 towns that also went for George W. Bush further up the ballot.

Four years later Connecticut would shift to the right again, as Bush enjoyed higher approval ratings in the northeast, due to 9/11. By 2006, though, opposition to the Bush Administration fueled the defeats of Reps. Nancy Johnson (R, CT-5) and Rob Simmons (R, CT-2). State Senator Chris Murphy (D) hammered Johnson over her support for Medicare Part D and tied her to the unpopular national GOP. In one of the cycle’s closest races, Simmons lost his seat by an 83-vote margin.

Barack Obama carried the Nutmeg state by an impressive 22% in 2008, while sweeping its eight counties. Long a hub for the financial industry, Connecticut was particularly hurt by the onset of the Great Recession. Obama's coattails were enough to lift businessman Jim Himes (D) to victory over longtime Rep. Chris Shays (R, CT-4) in the Fairfield County-based district. Shays was likely in a tough position regardless, but seemed to downplay the country’s growing economic woes -- surely a factor in his defeat. With Himes’ victory, Democrats had clinched all the state’s congressional seats for the first time since the Lyndon Johnson presidency.

In 2012, Obama carried the state by a reduced margin, but it was still a wide 58%-41% vote. GOP nominee Mitt Romney flipped a county -- Litchfield, in the rural northwestern part of the state -- but overall, 2012 was a year of stability.

2016, though, was a realigning election in Connecticut. Hillary Clinton carried the state 55%-41% but bled rural support. In a sign of the increasing urban/rural rift, Trump was the first Republican nominee since George H. W. Bush, in 1988, to carry a majority of the state’s towns – Trump won in 88 of its 169. Still, in Fairfield County, Clinton flipped the wealthy towns of Darien and New Canaan, becoming the first Democratic nominee since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 to do so.

The changes seen in 2016 carried over to the 2018 elections. Of the four U.S. House members that ran for reelection, only Rep. Himes saw his margin increase from 2016. Though they each cleared 60% of the vote, veteran Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D, CT-3) and Joe Courtney (D, CT-2) saw their working class support drop -- for the first time since 2010, Courtney lost a town (Sterling, on the Rhode Island border).

All things considered, Connecticut’s seven electoral votes are safely in Joe Biden’s corner this November. With no competitive congressional districts to speak of either, Connecticut is unlikely to get much attention in the fall campaign.

Next Week: Alaska

Reports in this series:

The Road to 270: Illinois

April 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 Seth Moskowitz, a 270toWin elections and politics contributor. Contact Seth at s.k.moskowitz@gmail.com or on Twitter @skmoskowitz.

Illinois

 

Illinois was once America’s political bellwether. From 1896 to 1996 the state regularly swung between the parties and voted for the winning presidential candidate in every election except for two. But since 1992, it has voted Democratic in every presidential election. Why is the state that is most demographically similar to the nation overall no longer a swing state? In short, Democrats traded voters in shrinking rural Illinois for voters in Chicago and the suburbs. The longer story starts before Illinois was a state.

Statehood, Growth, and Abraham Lincoln

The territory we now know as Illinois was first discovered by French explorers in 1673 and settled about 50 years later, in 1720. It was passed into British hands in 1763 when France lost the French and Indian War. Finally in 1778, amid the Revolutionary War, the United States took over the region. Current-day Illinois was first claimed as a part of Virginia, then as a part of the Northwest Territory until 1809, when the Territory of Illinois was created.

Through all this, the Illinois Territory wasn’t attracting many settlers. Inhabited mostly by Native Americans, European fur trappers, and some migrants from the southern United States, it had a population of just 60,000. Even with this abnormally small populace, Congress agreed to admit Illinois as the 21st state in 1818, expanding the territory to include the ports of Chicago as it did so.

Chicago was founded in 1833, an act that would change the character of the state. On the southwest corner of Lake Michigan, Chicago was destined to become a transport hub, connecting the northeast and midwest through the Erie Canal, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and the Mississippi River basin. Canals and railroads came quickly and by the mid 1850s Chicago dominated Illinois commerce.  

Even though 3,000 Mormons left the Illinois town of Nauvoo after leader Joseph Smith Jr. was murdered, Illinois grew at a rapid clip. In 1848, the same year of the Mormon exodus, the population had reached nearly a million and the state was celebrating the opening of the Illinois and Michigan Canals.

By that time, the state’s most celebrated politician, Abraham Lincoln, had already been seated as a U.S. Representative. Over the next ten years, Lincoln’s political presence would only grow as he proposed abolishing slavery in Washington, DC, ran and lost an election for U.S. Senate, was considered for the Republican Vice Presidential nomination, and fought against the Kansas-Nebraska Act and Dred Scott Supreme Court Decision. In 1858, Lincoln again makes a run for the Senate against incumbent Stephen Douglas, the two of whom battled it out in the historic Lincoln-Douglas debates. Again, Lincoln loses. The loss launches Lincoln into the national spotlight as a leading voice against slavery and three years later, in 1861, he is inaugurated as the president of the United States.

Lincoln’s home state, though, wasn’t entirely supportive of his presidency nor the Union cause in the Civil War. In the 1860 election, Lincoln only beat Douglas, a fellow Illinoisan, 51% to 47%. Much of southern Illinois supported the Confederacy even as 250,000 Illinois soldiers fought in the Union Army. During and after the war, the rebellious southern parts of the state would be overrun by anti-slavery, pro-union, Republican dominated northern communities.  

Growth and Wars

During the Civil War, Illinois had been a primary supplier of grain, meat, and weapons to the Union army. These industries only continued to grow after the war and needed workers. In 1871, a fire killed 300, left 100,000 homeless, and destroyed over 15,000 buildings in Chicago. The city bounced back to become the preeminent midwestern city for commerce and culture. Transplants — including many newly freed slaves — came to Illinois and Chicago to work in the stockyards, on the railroads, in manufacturing, in mines, and to produce grain. Just nine years after the Chicago fire, Illinois was the fourth most populous state. Chicago would continue to grow and diversify as western Europeans, Jews, Poles, Italians, Czechs, and black southerners all continued to build communities in Illinois.

The two World Wars, the Great Depression, and their aftermath brought change to Illinois. In both wars, thousands of Illinois men were sent to fight in Europe. The state’s manufacturing, mining, and farming industries pumped out goods to provide for the war efforts. While growth stagnated during the 1930s and the Great Depression Era, the economic growth spurred by both wars led to population increases of around one million in each decade of the 1920s, 1940s, and 1950s.

As with most of the nation, Illinois supported Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and voted Democratic from 1932 to 1948. As the Chicago suburbs grew following World War II and became Republican strongholds, Illinois became a swing state. This suburban growth was offset by minority populations — blacks from the south, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans — and the tight grip of Democratic machine politics in Chicago.

Notorious for corruption and patronage, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley consolidated Democratic support among the city’s urbanites. The machine united union workers, minorities, immigrants, and Jews to help Democrats dominate Chicago and keep the party competitive in state and federal elections. Daley served from 1955 through 1976, by which time Chicago was facing deindustrialization and closing factories and stockyards. The city’s population shrunk from 3.6 million in 1970 to 2.8 million in 1990 as jobs left the city, unemployment grew and crime rose.

During all this change, Illinois swung between the parties. It voted for the moderate Republican, Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956 over native Illinoisan Adlai Stevenson, Democrats John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson in 1960 and 1964, and Republican candidates from 1968 through 1988.

Along with this latter string of Republican presidential successes, Republicans would also dominant the Illinois governorship. Beginning in 1977 through 2003, Republican governors would lead the state. These Republicans, according to today’s standards for the party, were progressive. They advocated a more robust social safety net, increases in public pensions, pay-as-you-go pension funding, and infrastructure spending. This poor fiscal stewardship, along with continued corruption and struggles by successive governors, led to the fiscal crisis and near-“junk” credit rating Illinois now faces.

Even through these struggles, Chicago remains one of the nation's largest cities, propped up by financial, business, technology, and education sectors. The city’s successful transition to these new-era industries helped stanch the population bleeding of the 1970s and 1980s. Still, Illinois continues to grow more slowly than the rest of the country. This has significantly reduced the state's clout on the electoral map. In the 1920s and 1930s Illinois had 29 Electoral College votes. By 2012 that number was 20 and is likely to drop to 19 following the 2020 Census.

A Bit of Geography

Before looking at the state’s recent electoral history, a bit of geography will be useful. I divide the state into seven pieces.

1) Cook County and Chicago. Chicago is the third largest city in the United States and more diverse than the nation as a whole, with just 33% of residents identifying as non-Hispanic white.

2) Chicago’s suburban collar counties. These counties are highly educated and whiter than Cook County and Chicago.

3) Chicago’s exurban counties. As you move further outside of Chicago, the communities get less educated, less wealthy, and more white. The state’s rural character blends with commuter suburbs and industrial towns of the Fox River Valley.  

4) Sangamon County and Springfield. Located in the center of the state, Springfield is the state capital and biggest city outside of the Chicago area.

5) St. Louis Metro. Just across the Mississippi river from St. Louis, Missouri, is East St. Louis and the St. Louis suburbs.

6) Rural Northern and Central Illinois. This region is dominated by agriculture and manufacturing, far less dense and much whiter than the state overall. With Chicago nearby, this region also has industrial towns and some small cities.

7) Rural Southern Illinois. This region relies on agriculture and farming like up north but has more coal and petroleum extraction. Culturally, it has a evangelical conservatism reminiscent of the southern United States. This region is whiter and more religious than the state overall.

Recent Elections

Starting in 1992, Illinois, once a bellwether, would be reliably Democratic. Bill Clinton’s 1992 and 1996 victories were powered by the traditional Democratic voters in Chicago and southern Illinois and new Democratic voters in the state’s rural regions. Many of these agrarian and manufacturing counties had not voted Democratic since Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 landslide. Meanwhile, Republicans continued to sweep the Chicago suburbs.

In 2000, Clinton’s gains in the rural regions began to evaporate. That year, Al Gore still won Illinois, but lost many of the rural counties and votes that Clinton had carried. The outspoken liberalism and environmentalism of the emerging Democratic party didn’t play well in the state’s conservative south. Four years later, in 2004, we see the trend that would dominate Illinois through the 2016 election: urban and suburban counties shifting Democratic and rural ones becoming more Republican. Comparing one urban, one suburban, and one rural county’s 2000 to 2016 results clarify the point. In 2000, Democrat Al Gore carried Cook County (Chicago) by a 40% margin and Franklin, a rural southern county by 9%. Meanwhile, Republican George W. Bush won the biggest suburban county, DuPage, by 13%. Fast forward 16 years and Clinton expanded the margin in Cook County to 53% and flipped DuPage county, winning it by 14%. Meanwhile, Trump carried downstate Franklin County by 45%.

Democrats exchanged shrinking rural regions of the state in favor of growing urban and suburban ones. This trade has kept the state in Democratic hands from Bill Clinton’s victories in the 1990s through Hillary Clinton’s in 2016. It has also balanced Illinois voters, keeping the state remarkably consistent in overall margin from 1992 to 2016. Outside of Barack Obama’s particularly strong showing in 2008, Illinois has voted for Democrats by 10% to 18% in the past seven elections. Over the past two decades, the state’s voters may have reshuffled, but its overall lean has only tilted a few points in Democrats favor.

Given that the state’s urban and suburban regions are growing while its rural ones shrink, Illinois will not become a battleground anytime soon. Illinois is likely to vote Democratic by an even larger margin than it did in 2016, perhaps pushing 20%. While it may once have been a bellwether, Illinois is safely Democratic this November.    

Next Week: Connecticut

Reports in this series:

Wyoming Democratic Presidential Caucus Results

April 18, 2020

Updated April 19 with results.

Joe Biden won Wyoming's Democratic caucuses with 72.2% of the vote; Bernie Sanders received 27.8%.

The state's presidential nominating contest was originally to be in-person caucuses on April 4. Due to the coronavirus, the party transitioned to running the event entirely by mail.  Ballots needed to be received by Friday, April 17.

Biden will win 12 pledged delegates, Sanders 2.  The 14 pledged delegates is tied with North Dakota as the smallest allocation across the 50 states.