Presidential Changes – By Eric Cunningham
If polling is to be believed, President Donald Trump has entered the roughest part of his presidency to date. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has surged to a nearly double-digit lead (both RCP and FiveThirtyEight have him with a nine-point lead), and with that we have seen several shifts at the state level. Our ratings are changing accordingly:
- Iowa – Lean R > Tossup
- Ohio – Lean R > Tossup
- Texas – Likely R > Lean R
After resounding victories in Iowa and Ohio in 2016 and lukewarm results at best for Democrats in both states in 2018, it was widely assumed that Iowa and Ohio would remain in the Republican column. However, recent polling suggests otherwise. A recent poll from Selzer and Co. (an A+ pollster on FiveThirtyEight) gave Trump a narrow one-point lead while Ohio has been within the margin of error in recent polls from Fox and Quinnipiac. While Trump may still have an advantge in these crucial Rust Belt states, it’s clear they are closer to tossup status than previously anticipated.
Texas is a similar story. This longtime Republican bastion saw a shift towards Democrats in the 2016 election, and Democrats nearly broke through statewide in 2018. Most public polls current show a very tight race. Winning Texas is not an easy feat for any Democrat, and skepticism is warranted given their prior failures at the state level. However, it’s clear this race is closer than Republicans would like to admit.
Senate Changes – By Kraz Greinetz and Adam Trencher
Our July Senate update reflects a national environment that is increasingly worrisome for Republicans. Since 2018, the assumption has been that the national environment in 2020 would be similar to 2016. This needs to be reassessed. Joe Biden’s polling looks increasingly similar to Democrats in 2018, not Hillary Clinton in 2016. Donald Trump’s approval is reaching new lows while his disapproval is reaching new highs. Given that incumbent presidents’ approval rating tends to track fairly closely to their eventual vote share, we feel fairly confident in saying that if the election were held today, the national environment would almost certainly be unfavorable to the GOP.
Granted, there is still time for all this to change, but the president’s polling numbers have been awful, by any metric, for almost two months. Additionally, his approval even absent Coronavirus and the chaos of the protests has rarely exceeded 45%. Given that there will likely be far fewer third party votes in 2020 than there were in 2016, Donald Trump would need to outperform his “normal” approval by a healthy margin in order to win. Again, not impossible that things change as the election nears, but our Senate ratings reflect what we feel has become a political reality for the GOP with four months to go.
- Alabama – Likely R > Safe R
- Georgia Special- Lean R > Likely R
- Arizona – Lean D > Likely D
- Michigan – Lean D > Likely D
- New Hampshire – Likely D > Safe D
New Hampshire: Likely D → Safe D
On paper, New Hampshire could have a competitive Senate race. Both Hillary Clinton and Maggie Hassan barely won it in 2016, and its electorate is heavily white. But the GOP has essentially been absent from the race. The candidates running in the primary have gained essentially zero traction, and given the national environment, the battleground appears to have moved elsewhere. Furthermore, because of the low-profile of the Republican contenders, Donald Trump would likely have to be carrying the state by a somewhat healthy margin to pull any of them over the finish line. The current polling makes this appear highly improbable, so we are moving the race to Safe D.
Georgia (Special Election): Lean R → Likely R
On the surface, this seems like an odd change given the polling coming out of Georgia. But we are moving the race to likely R for two reasons. The first is the strength of the Democratic candidates. Reverend Raphael Warnock, national Democrats preferred candidate, has been virtually invisible. As analyst and Elections Daily contributor Niles Francis has pointed out, Warnock has been absent from the protest movement sweeping the nation. As the Reverend of Ebenezer Baptist Church (where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached), this absence is a huge strategic misstep and points to a weak campaign. This is especially damning as other Democratic Senate candidates have seen their polling and fundraising improve over the past few months. If Warnock is not capitalizing on this moment, his prospects for the fall look dim.
The second viable Democratic candidate, Matt Lieberman (son of Joe) does not provide an attractive alternative for the party should Warnock falter. Running as a moderate white Democrat, he is without a natural base of support in a jungle primary scenario. Liebarman has not gained any momentum with establishment backers or grassroots donors. He will likely only be able to draw support from some of the white areas of North Georgia, as well as the wealthy and leftward trending areas around Atlanta. This reality also presents problems in a potential runoff, where black turnout would be essential to Democrats competing.
Secondly, we are factoring in the potential for a Dem lockout into our ratings. We want to stress that this scenario is unlikely to occur. It would require Republicans to receive more votes than Democrats by a fairly noticeable amount, Collins and Loeffler to split those votes almost evenly, and have the two major Democrats split votes almost evenly as well. However, the chances of this happening should still be factored in, and this possibility does help push our rating to likely R.
House Changes – By Harrison W. Lavelle
PA-1: Lean R -> Likely R
Brian Fitzpatrick is a strong incumbent who is no stranger to competitive re-election bids in Democratic environments. In 2018, he won re-election to his seat over Scott Wallace, a candidate who spent more money on his campaign than any other Democrat in 2018. Fitzpatrick’s moderate image, coupled with his moderately pro-labor stances, enabled him to hold his suburban Bucks County seat in 2018, even as fellow suburban moderates in the Republican caucus lost their seats. Fitzpatrick (PA-1) and Katko (NY-24) are the only Northeastern Republicans left in seats that voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Election.
In 2020, Fitzpatrick is facing Democrat Christina Finello, an Ivyland Borough Councilwoman. Fitzpatrick’s clearest advantage is in the fundraising category. He leads $2.3 million to $214,696 in fundraising over Finello. Besides his clear advantage in fundraising, he has a proven record of securing cross-over votes from Democrats during Democratic years. We believe a Likely Republican rating represents Fitzpatrick’s strength here, as well as his ability to hold the required amount of crossover votes to win in a district that will likely vote for Joe Biden in 2020.
CO-3: Safe R -> Lean R
The biggest primary surprise of the election cycle to date came in Colorado’s 3rd District. This seat takes up the western portion of Colorado, and is usually heavily Republican. The upset was long-time Congressman Scott Tipton’s loss to Lauren Boebert, a conservative restaurant-owner challenging Tipton from the right. Boebert defeated Tipton by a 54-46% margin, with her base largely coming from the counties on the Utah-Colorado border.
Boebert has been an object of controversy. She has been supportive of various QANON conspiracies, and was admonished for violating a COVID-19 state closure order by opening her gun-themed bar to the public before the Colorado stay-at-home order expired. Tipton had the support of President Trump, and “fell asleep at the wheel” believing he was not vulnerable to a primary challenge. Even after Tom Tancredo, a former Congresman and noted Colorado conservative, endorsed Boebert, few predicted her victory.
In 2018 Tipton had a closer-than-usual race, defeating Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush by a 52-44% margin. Bush won the Democratic nomination again, but will not face Tipton in November. Elections Daily initially viewed this race as Safe Republican, but Boebert’s primary victory has forced us to re-evaluate our rating to Leans Republican. Prior to his primary loss, Scott Tipton led Bush in fundraising. Boebert, however, badly trails Bush in fundraising receipts: $133,256 to $979,918 according to the latest FEC data. Cash on Hand is even more damaging; she has just $13,458 on hand. Her poor fundraising machine, coupled with her controversial political views, are a bad combination for a semi-competitive seat like this one.
We now view the race here as Leans Republican. This means Boebert is a slight favorite in November despite all her problems as a candidate. Much like Bob Good in Virginia-5, another traditionally Republican seat made competitive by a controversial nominee, she remains a slim frontrunner because of the sheer Republican nature of the seat – it voted for Trump by 12-points in 2016, and hasn’t elected a Democrat to Congress since John Salazar in 2008.
It is important to note, however, that Boebert is on thin-ice. Bush will definitely have the strong support of the DCCC, which will certainly move this seat up on their target list. (DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos has already called on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to censure Boebert should she win in November) Boebert’s controversial record will also be used against her by Bush in potentially dangerous advertisements. There is also a strong possibility that Boebert could add to her troubles by committing gaffes on the campaign trail. This will be a race to watch. Leans R for now, but things could change rapidly over the next four months.
AR-2: Likely R -> Lean R
In Arkansas-2 we are moving our rating to Leans Republican. This decision was largely motivated by analyst Noah Rudnick, who believes that French Hill’s competitive 6-point 2018 win showed underlying trends in the seat that are positive for Democrats. According to his analysis, strong Democratic turnout in 2020, which is likely considering the hefty generic ballot lead for the Democrats and Joe Biden’s strong polling advantages, will make this district more competitive than it usually is. Trump only won the seat by ten-points in 2016, so it’s reasonable to expect that he will win it by a much smaller margin if Biden overperforms Clinton uniformly.
Another factor to take into consideration in 2020 is the importance of black turnout. The district is around 20% African-American, making black voters a significant portion of the electorate for Democrats. The Democratic nominee here in 2020 is Joyce Elliott, an African-American State Senator. Because Elliott is African-American, it is reasonable to assume she can help boost black turnout – a significant advantage that Clarke Tucker did not have in his 2018 bid.
To cap off our justification for the seat’s new Lean R rating, we included a quote from Noah Rudnick: “If the suburbs stay in line, Joyce Elliott may be uniquely positioned to increase the presidential turnout of African-Americans and check every box for an unlikely flip.” To be clear, we still consider French Hill a favorite for re-election, hence our Lean R rating. We are simply saying this race could end up being closer than expected. Noah Rudnick was also the only major analyst to predict Kendra Horn’s upset victory in Oklahoma-5 in 2018, so his analysis of Arkansas-2 should not be taken with a grain of salt.
NY-18: Likely D -> Safe D
New York’s 18th District has evolved over the last decade from a swing district to a reliably Democratic seat. Congressman Maloney is a strong incumbent and a capable fundraiser. Chele Farley has almost no chance of defeating Maloney in a seat that is continuing to trend away from the Republicans. Trump won it narrowly in 2016, but it is fair to expect Biden will expand Democratic margins here in 2020. Much like Stephanie Murphy and Charlie Crist in Florida, Maloney will outrun Biden to safely hold his seat against a weak challenger.
FL-16: Safe R -> Likely R
We are making a small change in our rating for Florida’s 16th District, which is held by long-time Republican Congressman Vern Buchanan. We believe that Likely Republican is the ideal rating for the seat. It is still a fairly Republican district, but it was modestly competitive in 2018 – Buchanan won by only 9.7%. It will be interesting to see if Biden can trim Trump’s 10.7% 2016 margin here down in 2020, and if he does it will likely assist the Democratic nominee, State Representative Margaret Good. Nonetheless, Congressman Buchanan is still a clear favorite due to his strong fundraising advantage and the Republican nature of the seat.
CA-25: Lean R -> Tossup
Following Mike Garcia’s surprisingly-large 10-point win against Assemblywoman Christy Smith in the CA-25 Special Election, we had the seat rated at Lean R. Garcia had heavily outperformed Steve Knight’s 2018 numbers (when he was unseated by now Former Congresswoman Katie Hill) and had caused the seat to swing overwhelmingly to the Republicans in both Los Angeles and Ventura County. He had run a main-street campaign, fundraised strongly, and distanced his message from the President just enough to form a winning coalition in this Clinton+7 district.
This November, Christy Smith is the nominee for the Democrats again. She’s learned her mistakes from her special election loss, and pressure from national Democrats will likely ensure that she runs her November campaign more effectively. (No more Zoom gaffes that can be used to accuse her of mocking Mike Garcia’s military service) At first glance one would assume that Smith has little chance in November following a hefty loss in a high-profile special election, but when you remember that this district voted strongly for Clinton in 2016 you can better understand why Congressman Garcia isn’t out of the woods yet.
Given Biden’s large leads over President Trump (larger than Clinton’s comparable leads at this time) it is surely going to be difficult for Congressman Garcia to hold the seat. In the special, he achieved the perfect balance by supporting Trump but simultaneously distancing his message from the President, but it is unclear if he can maintain that advantage in November. Given the fact that polarization has heavily decreased split-ticket Congressional voting during Presidential years, his victory is unsure. Smith also has a strong generic ballot advantage for the Democrats going for her, an advantage that was potentially as high as D+14 a few days ago.
Despite this, Garcia still has strengths. He is a hispanic Republican with an inspiring message running in a district with countless hispanic voters. It is also true that CA25 has split its ticket before. In 2016, incumbent Republican Steve Knight was re-elected stably even as the seat voted for Hillary Clinton. This race is a tossup in a Trump-era Presidential election year, and even if Garcia holds his seat it will certainly be closer than the special election was.