In addition to our regular ratings for the Presidential, Senate, and House races, we are pleased to announce our inaugural ratings for the Gubernatorial races! Given the limited number of races, we will only be updating them on a monthly basis. Our Presidential, Senate, and House race ratings will continue to be updated biweekly.
Presidential Ratings Changes – Eric Cunningham
We made a large number of changes in the last update, and we remain confident in these ratings for the most part. However, that doesn’t mean we aren’t paying attention to changes behind the scene. We are closely examining the following states for future updates:
- New Hampshire
- South Carolina
To start with, Minnesota is a state that Democrats remain strongly favored in. Republicans haven’t won here since 1972, and there’s a small but stable Democratic lean. However, recent polling from the state indicates it might be a bit more competitive than our Likely Democratic rating suggests. Polling has been scarce here, but recent polls have shown anywhere from a three to a ten point lead for Democrats. This is a lead, but not necessarily an overwhelming one.
In New Hampshire, polls have shown a more stable Democratic advantage. The last two polls from the University of New Hampshire have given Joe Biden a 13-point advantage. New Hampshire tends to skew close to the national popular vote and is fairly elastic, so despite being the closest state in 2016 by raw votes, we’re reconsidering the Leans Democratic rating.
On the Republican side, Kansas and South Carolina are currently rated as Solid Republican. We’ve held off on moving these states due to their strong partisan leans, but we are paying attention to recent polling in both states that indicates a closer race than expected. Continued polling or a further decline in President Trump’s standing nationally might warrant a shift here.
Senate Ratings Changes – Adam Trencher and Kraz Greinetz
Regarding the Senate, we felt no need to change any ratings to better reflect the state of the various races. In Maine, various polls have shown Susan Collins trailing, and she has released multiple poor advertisements that are indicative of a flailing campaign. However, the preponderance of evidence is not yet strong enough to move Maine’s Senate election against Susan Collins from Tossup to Leans Democratic. Expect this blockbuster Senate race to remain close as Collins battles for survival against Democratic challenger Sara Gideon.
In North Carolina, while multiple polls have shown Cal Cunningham with a significant lead over Sen. Thom Tillis, considering the numerous dynamics at play in the state, we felt it would be prudent to keep this race at Tossup. However, stay tuned to this race as a move to Leans Democratic may be in the works if Cunningham’s polling lead persists.
There is little evidence that support a move in either direction for Arizona, Colorado, and Michigan, and all are likely to remain at Likely Democratic for the foreseeable future. With Kansas’s Senate primary imminent, we felt it sensible to keep the race at Likely Republican. However, a move may be in the works based on who wins the primary between Congressman Roger Marshall and former Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Marshall, as a generic Republican in a red state, is unlikely to face significant difficulties in defeating Democratic State Sen. Barbara Bollier, as long as he beats Kobach first. Kobach, on the other hand, remains controversial for his ties to the detested former Gov. Sam Brownback, and long history of controversial remarks and actions directed towards various minority groups. Thus, should he win, a leftward move may be around the corner.
Finally, there also exists scant proof to move either Georgia’s regular election or Iowa from Leans Republican, Montana from Tossup, and Georgia’s special from Likely Republican.
House Ratings Changes – Harrison Lavelle
A few weeks ago we moved 16 house races toward the Democratic column. The changes were impacted by our analysis of Democratic advantages pertaining to the national environment, candidate recruitment, and fundraising.
This week we have only one change. We have decided to move California’s 21st district from Tossup to Leans Democratic. The 21st is located in the San Joaquin Valley and includes cities like Fresno and Bakersfield.
While the region is historically Republican, the district has been trending toward the Democrats for over a decade. It voted for President Obama twice and gave Hillary Clinton a 15-point margin of victory in 2016.
These trends culminated in 2018 when Democrat TJ Cox unseated incumbent Republican David Valadao in an upset. During the 2018 campaign Valadao was considered a strong incumbent who would be able to survive a blue wave; he had survived in 2016 by 13 points even as Clinton carried the district by 15 points and had won his June 2018 primary over Cox by a 63-37% margin.
On election night, Valadao was leading by double digits, but as mail-in ballots were tabulated his lead shrunk rapidly. Once all the votes were counted Cox secured a narrow 0.8% victory over Valadao, proving all the major pundits wrong.
The driving factor behind Cox’s victory was Kern County, the second largest population base in the district after Fresno County. Kern includes the city of Bakersfield, which helped contribute to Cox’s large 61-39% victory in the county. Cox also came close to winning Fresno County, home of the district’s other major city. Though Valadao did run up a strong margin Kings County, it was not enough to save him once all the ballots were counted.
The 2020 Campaign
The 2020 election in the 21st is a rematch between Cox and Valadao. While we initially viewed the race as a tossup because of Valadao’s traditionally strong presence in the district, we now view the race as Leans Democratic. This rating aligns with other prominent forecasters, including our friends at Sabato’s Crystal Ball.
So why do we view Congressman Cox as a slight favorite to hold his seat?
- The National Environment – When Cox upset Valadao back in 2018 the Democrats rode an unusually favorable environment to victory in the House. According to 538, the Democrats led polls for the generic House ballot by a 50-42% margin. Currently, the Democrats lead by a comparable margin: 49-40%. While we are still months away from November, there is no denying that the generic ballot remains favorable for the Democrats. Despite this, we can’t know for sure how much the generic ballot will benefit Cox this November. That said, a favorable national environment for Democrats is unlikely to be a burden for him.
- A Presidential Year – The fact that this election is occurring in a Presidential year could help Cox. With Democratic nominee Joe Biden polling ahead of where 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton was at this same time last cycle, it is possible he could carry the district by a larger margin than Clinton did. If Biden is carrying the 21st by a large margin it could have negative implications for down-ballot Republicans like Valadao. It is important to note, however, that Valadao is no stranger to holding his seat in presidential years; he held his seat by wide margins in 2012 and 2016 even as Obama and Clinton carried the seat. Because we have no accurate measure of the voters’ likelihood to ticket split in 2020 we cannot tell for sure how the Presidential race will impact the competitive election in the 21st.
- Fundraising – Like many freshmen Democratic incumbents, Cox has proven to be a reliable fundraiser. He has out-raised Valadao $3.2 million to $2.4 million. Fundraising is very important to successfully conducting a Congressional campaign, and Cox’s advantage could give him a leg-up on Valadao over the course of the fall campaign.
Despite Congressman Cox’s failure to disclose certain business dealings during his 2018 campaign, we believe he is a narrow favorite for reelection. It is important to note, however, that our Leans Democratic rating does not mean a Valadao win is out of the question, but rather that a Cox win is currently more likely.
Gubernatorial Ratings Changes – Eric Cunningham
We’re pleased to present our inaugural gubernatorial ratings! While most gubernatorial elections occur in midterms, a handful of states elect their Governors during presidential years. Our ratings are:
- Indiana – Safe Republican
- New Hampshire – Safe Republican
- Utah – Safe Republican
- Vermont – Safe Republican
- West Virginia – Safe Republican
- Missouri – Likely Republican
- Montana – Leans Republican
- North Carolina – Likely Democratic
- Delaware – Safe Democratic
- Washington – Safe Democratic
On the Republican side, five states start in the Safe Republican column. Governors Eric Holcomb (Indiana), Chris Sununu (New Hampshire) and Phil Scott (Vermont) are all extremely popular while polling shows their Democratic (or, in the case of Vermont, Progressive) rivals mired in the 20s. Utah is also a race where Republicans have the advantage; Democrats last won the office in 1980. In West Virginia, Democrat-turned-Republican Governor Jim Justice is not extraordinary popular, but it seems unlikely Democrats can repeat their 2016 success here .
Missouri begins as Likely Republican. Incumbent Governor Mike Parson is popular, and while Democrats have a credible nominee in State Auditor Nicole Galloway, she’s failed to show breakaway potential in polling. Her staunchly pro-choice position on abortion will also hinder her in this socially conservative state.
Montana starts at Leans Republican. We see this as the most competitive of the gubernatorial races. The limited public polling has consistently shown Greg Gianforte with a narrow lead, but Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney is a very credible recruit and Democrats have a strong track record in Montana’s gubernatorial races.
North Carolina begins at Likely Democratic. While Governor Roy Cooper isn’t quite leading by as much as he has been at his peak – the most recent Public Policy Polling (PPP) poll shows him ahead by 11 points – he remains popular and Republican Dan Forest has simply not run an effective campaign. It’s not impossible that Forest pulls closer here, but at the moment Cooper is a strong favorite.
Finally, Democrats appear well-positioned in Delaware and Washington, which we rank as Safe Democratic. In Delaware, incumbent John Carney is popular and the state hasn’t seen a competitive gubernatorial election since 2004. Washington polls, meanwhile, show incumbent Jay Inslee, who underperformed in 2012 and 2016, pulling over 60% of the vote. Neither race will be competitive.