An early look at 2020: These are the surprising states that could be in play

An early look at 2020: These are the surprising states that could be in play
Beto O'Rourke and Stacey Abrams (images via Shutterstock)

As we ponder the 2020 general election map, a good place to start is the map of the Putin puppet’s approval ratings in all 50 states, courtesy of Civiqs.


50-state Trump approval map from Civiqs, May 28, 2019

Here are the states with the closest Trump approval-disapproval spread:

STATEAPPROVE-DISAPPROVE
ARIZONA

47-50 (-3)

GEORGIA47-50 (-3)
FLORIDA50-47 (+3)
IOWA49-48 (+1)
MICHIGAN45-52 (-7)
NORTH CAROLINA45-52 (-7)
PENNSYLVANIA45-51 (-6)
OHIO50-46 (+4)
SOUTH CAROLINA49-48 (+1)
TEXAS51-46 (+5)
WISCONSIN46-52 (-6)

Are we really going to be competing in Ohio, South Carolina, and Texas this cycle? There is lower-hanging fruit elsewhere (and competing in Texas would be expensive). But … it is tantalizingly close. Remember, every year in Texas, 200,000 Latinos turn 18, while a lot of white people pass away. In fact, according to the CDC, 126,655 non-Hispanic whites died in Texas in 2017, compared to about 70,000 Latinos, Asians, and blacks. Of course we don’t know how and if these individuals voted, but the net demographic shift is more than a quarter of a million voters per year in favor of core Democratic constituencies—in a state in which Beto O’Rourke lost a Senate race last year by 200,000 votes.

So is this the cycle in which Democrats finally compete in the Lone Star State for that treasure trove of electoral votes? Probably not, but … let’s not rule it out quite yet. The 2018 election results (it wasn’t just Beto!) portend good things ahead.

South Carolina is … not sure what it is. In the state’s crosstabs, white voters approve of Trump 69-28. While that seems abysmal (and it is!), it’s still better than what we see in other Southern states. In Mississippi whites approve of Trump 82-16, it’s 77-20 in Louisiana, and 81-17 in Alabama. South Carolina whites are starting to look more like those in Georgia (70-27) and North Carolina (60-36), two competitive Southern states on the strength of an increasingly energized black vote (with an assist from smaller but growing Asian and Latino populations).

Ohio Democrats make a case for being taken seriously as competitive. Liberal Sen. Sherrod Brown won an easy 7-point victory against a serious Republican, while Democrats came up narrowly short in the governor’s race, losing by less than four points against a well-known Republican, former Sen. Mike DeWine, who was also the sitting attorney general. However, with Trump at 50 percent approvals in the state, Ohio would be a stretch state under the best circumstances.

Trump’s 2016 victory was built around holding the traditional red states and picking off Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Those narrow wins, built on strong voter-suppression efforts in Detroit, urban Pennsylvania, and Milwaukee, gave Trump the Electoral College despite a 3 million vote deficit nationwide. It’s hard to see him winning reelection without holding those states.

Michigan is looking particularly tough for him, not just because he’s underwater seven points, but because it’s also a state where Democrats romped in 2018, winning … pretty much everything. Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow won reelection by almost seven points. Democrats picked up two seats in the U.S. House despite a severe Republican gerrymander. Democrats took the governorship from the GOP by almost 10 points, and also took the attorney general (the candidate was a lesbian who led the legal case overturning the state’s ban on marriage equality) and secretary of state offices for the first time in 20 years. They flipped five seats in both the state House and Senate, and picked up a state Supreme Court seat. (All statewide elected officials except for the lieutenant governor are now women, and that lieutenant governor is a black man. Imagine that: Democrats won BIG when their candidates looked like their base!)

Michigan voters legalized marijuana, easily. They banned gerrymandering, and enacted automatic voter registration and early voting, all by ballot initiative.

Trump’s victory math without Michigan is tough. But if he can’t get Pennsylvania? He’s six points underwater in yet another state in which Democrats romped last year. Sen. Bob Casey kept his Senate seat easily, by 13 points. Incumbent Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf won even more easily, by 17 points. Democrats took advantage of new nonpartisan maps to pick up three net House seats. A full and robust Democratic turnout effort (including voter protection in key urban precincts) will make Trump’s path in this state much tougher than in 2016, when he unfortunately caught Democrats by surprise in what was assumed to be a safe state. No longer.

Wisconsin was a 50-50 state in 2016, with Trump winning it by around 20,000 votes, equal to the margin of voter suppression in Milwaukee. 2018 was just as tight, with Democrats winning the governor’s office by around 30,000 votes. Democrats also swept the attorney general, secretary of state, and treasurer offices all by tight margins. This is as close to a 50-50 state as we have anywhere, and it will likely be the tightest state when the dust settles in November 2020. If Trump’s approvals are really down by six points in the state, that’s a great sign for us. The fact that all statewide offices are in Democratic hands will make it harder for Republicans to engage in their usual suppression efforts. But if recent history is any guide, we should expect Wisconsin to be a real dogfight.

Florida … I’ll tell you what—let’s build a path to victory that doesn’t include Florida. If we get it, it’s gravy. We have to fight for it. But every time we depend on it, Florida breaks our heart. Let’s look elsewhere.

You’d think that Trump’s trade war would be winning for us us big time in Iowa, as his trade policies don’t just decimate the state’s current crop, but have threatened (perhaps fatally) its long-term prospects. As China shifts its buying to other countries like Brazil for crops like soybeans, it has little incentive to return once trade relations are once again normalized. Yet Trump’s numbers are improving, perhaps thanks to his agricultural bailout.

Trump won Iowa by 10 in 2016. Democrats made some gains in 2018, particularly in U.S. House races, but lost most of the key statewide races narrowly (like governor and secretary of state). If we’re competing here next year, Trump is already getting walloped in other key battleground states.

So that leaves the two emerging battleground states for last, but definitely not least: Arizona and Georgia. I’ll save those states for a closer look in the coming days, but suffice it to say, those are clear 2018 targets and will be contested vigorously by any smart campaign.

The traditional battleground map, starting in 2000, was generally Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Virginia are off the map now and in the blue column (though we shouldn’t make the same 2016 mistakes—let’s keep a close eye on them!).

Iowa and Ohio are probably off the map, and now in the red column. (Still worth keeping an eye on them, however.)

Arizona and Georgia are definitely on the map now.

Texas and maybe South Carolina are threatening to get on the map.

And everyone, in all 50 states, will have a part to play next year.

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