The Presidency, Senate, House of Representatives, and state legislative races are crucial. Many races are safe for one party or another. However, then there are swing states with swing districts. Even swing counties and swing precincts are discussed. These are where both parties are competitive.
How did I determine tipping point status? I looked at each chamber and evaluated voter turnout, partisan registration, early voting statistics, polling data, and consensus from a few fellow political observers.
The Presidency – Pennsylvania
Shades of 2016
This was a tough call. However, my model and the general consensus is Pennsylvania will determine control of the White House. Pennsylvania leans Democrat by raw voter registration numbers. However, many Democrats in Pennsylvania defected to Trump. This, combined with near-uniform Republican strength and independents backing Trump helped him narrowly carry Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes. He already had 270, but this helped cement it.
This sent shockwaves among many. Clinton was the favorite to carry the Keystone State. However, the final RCP average only had Clinton up by 2.1%. While fairly large, there are two key differences between then and now. Firstly, 46.8% is far from 50%. That is why many say 50% or above is the number to have to feel comfortable, and even then polling errors can occur. Undecided voters could also play a key role. However, the current 538 average gives Joe Biden a lead of 4.7% and a majority of the vote. While both variables of a polling error and Trump crushing it with undecideds is possible, it is highly unlikely.
Additionally, the non-college-educated electorate was higher than anticipated and overwhelmingly went for Trump in 2016. To correct this, many pollsters have joined the already large group that weighs their polls by education.
With these factors in mind, it is possible Trump wins Pennsylvania. However, a major polling error and/or nearly all undecideds would have to go to Trump. While possible, it is not likely. This is why my model gives Biden a 79.4% of winning Pennsylvania. However, we might not know the winner immediately as mail-in ballots will likely not trickle in until a while. Mail-ballots cannot be processed until 7:00 AM on Election Day in Pennsylvania.
The Arizona Factor
My model also showed Arizona might be the tipping point state. If Pennsylvania goes to Trump but Wisconsin, Michigan, and NE-02 don’t, then Arizona is likely Biden’s best bet for 270. The state is a prime ground for Biden. It is more urban, has a large number of retirees, and has a large Mormon population. These three groups have been seen as shifting against Trump. They powered Democrats to the House majority and are now in large part why Biden has an edge in Arizona.
In numbers, Latinos are the biggest base for Biden in Arizona. However Latinos are seen as shifting to Trump from 2016, which could hurt Biden. Biden must work to retain Latino support. Luckily for Biden, there appears to be less bleeding from Latinos in Arizona than in other swing states like Florida. If Biden can hold down his losses, or even neutralize or improve with Latinos, then that is really good for him considering the three groups mentioned above will almost shift to Biden relative to 2016.
However, polling still shows Biden doing better in Pennsylvania than Arizona, in large part due to Republicans already built-in registration advantage. There will have to be a considerable amount of Biden Republicans as well as strong independent support for Biden to win Arizona. This is certainly possible, which is why Arizona is seen as leaning towards Biden. My model gives Biden a 68.1% chance of carrying Arizona.
While 79.4% and 68.1% are a sizable difference in %, in actual margins my model thinks Pennsylvania will only vote 1-2% to the left of Arizona, and both have different electorates. This is why Arizona is seen as Plan B as Arizona has a different coalition that could mean Biden could still win in Arizona if Trump does better than expected with white-working class voters.
Senate – North Carolina
Battle for the Majority
Control for the Senate is being heavily contested, with most now seeing a Democratic majority as more likely than a Republican one, especially if Biden emerges victorious. If Biden wins, then the magic number for Democrats falls to 50. Either way, many, including my model, predict North Carolina will be seat 50 for Democrats and the Georgia Senate Special as seat 51.
Democrats are projected to lose Alabama, while Republicans are projected to lose Colorado. Both of these losses fault on the partisan composition of the state and how polarized the environment is. This means Democrats still have 47 Senate seats.
Democrats are also modest favorites to oust Republican Senator Martha McSally in Arizona who was appointed to fill the late John McCain’s Senate seat. Astronaut Mark Kelly has always held a substantial lead in polling, and Biden is favored to flip the state. Maine is expected to be close, but Republican Senator Susan Collins is consistently trailing Maine Speaker of the House Sara Gideon. Furthermore, due to ranked-choice voting, Gideon is likely going to benefit on the back of Green Party Nominee Lisa Savage’s second preferences. Savage has openly endorsed Gideon as her second preference.
The 50th Seat
That means Democrats would have 49 seats, one or two short of a majority depending on the Presidential outcome. The 50th seat will likely be North Carolina. The seat for much of the summer and early fall was expected to be won by former State Senator Cal Cunningham. Republican Senator Thom Tillis has had low approval ratings consistently and has angered both sides. This is in large part due to Tillis opposing further border wall funding back in 2019, but after backtracking and voting to expand border wall funding. This made people question his loyalty to Trump, while also angering opponents of the border wall.
Polling had always shown many more undecideds in the Senate race than the Governor or Presidential race in the Tar Heel State. Cunningham has always held a fairly firm edge. Then Cunningham had an October surprise when it came out he had an affair. He declined to speak to the press about it, and the scandal made his favorability ratings plummet.
Now with both men disliked it has come down in large part to polarization. Many are reluncantly voting for Cunningham and vice versa. Polling shows the race is now more correlated with the Presidential race, and it is hard to see either outperforming their party’s nominee substanitally. There are also still many undecideds.
We will get results fairly early relative to other states in North Carolina, with the State Board of Elections estimating 97% of the final vote will be in on election night. It’s worth noting that ballots received by November 9th that were postmarked by Election Day will be counted. This could give Democrats a late boost in the state.
My model shows Cunningham with a 57.7% chance of winning. This is a modest edge but it’s far from ruling Tillis out. If Democrats lose North Carolina they still have several options.
Their next best bet is arguably Georgia’s special election to serve out the remaining two years of former Senator Johnny Isakson’s term. After stepping down due to health concerns, Governor Brian Kemp appointed Republican businesswoman Kelly Loeffler to try and win back moderate voters. This was rebuked by many in the Trump-wing of the GOP including President Trump himself, who supported conservative firebrand Representative Doug Collins to be appointed to the seat.
Now Collins is challenging Loeffler from the right in the jungle primary, where there is a runoff if nobody achieves 50% in the first round. Also running on the Democratic side are Reverend Raphael Warnock, who is widely seen as the front-runner in the primary and was propelled in first by practically the entire Democratic Party coalescing behind him. Joe Liberman’s son Matt is also running as well as Attorney Ed Tarver, Many Democrats fear they will siphon votes away from Warnock. Earlier concerns were that they would lock Warnock out of the runoff, but with Warnock being seen as a front-runner they now are afraid they will prevent Warnock from avoiding a runoff, and they are likely right. The race will likely go to a runoff.
If a runoff occurs, many believe Republicans will be more favored. However, early runoff polling shows Warnock having an edge. Political observers I talked to came to a consensus that Loeffler and Collins trying to both run to the right will damage them in a runoff.
Iowa is another prime target, where Joni Ernst finds herself in hot water against realtor Theresa Greenfield. Greenfield has denounced some more progressive positions. She was leading the incumbent for much of the campaign. However, Ernst has appeared to pull ahead late in the cycle. Polling shows different stories, but most polls show Greenfield outrunning Biden.
Georgia’s regular election is also tight. Former Congressional candidate Jon Ossoff is giving incumbent Republican David Perdue a run for his money. Recent polling has shown a tight race, and with a Libertarian candidate on the ballot, a runoff for this race may also occur. My model shows a runoff as the most likely scenario. Perdue would likely hold an edge in a runoff, but runoffs are unpredictable.
Montana is also tight with Democratic Governor Steve Bullock only trailing narrowly against incumbent Steve Daines. Early voting data has shown Democratic counties and younger people turning out strong in Montana, which has helped Bullock in my model. Daines has a 60.7% chance of winning in my model, but the race is still close.
There are many more tight Senate races such as Kansas, South Carolina, Alaska. However, they are seen more as reach targets for Democrats, and will almost certainly not be the 50th or 51st seat.
Democrats also have to defend incumbents in swingy Minnesota, Michigan, and New Hampshire. However only Michigan seems remotely competitive, and even then, incumbent Gary Peters is seen as having a solid edge.
House – Michigan’s 8th Congressional District
The House, unlike the Presidency and Senate, is not seen as particularly competitive. However, Republicans think they have a chance. Narrowing the Democratic majority is possible, but getting an outright majority is very difficult in this environment. My model shows a chance of a Republican-controlled House at 3.3%. Democrats, in contrast, have a 96.1% chance of control.
If there is a crazy red wave and Republicans are looking for House control, then my model shows Michigan’s 8th Congressional District as their 218th seat. The seat comprises Democratic-heavy Lansing before wrapping east to take in the ruby-red Detroit exurbs. In 2018, Democrat Elissa Slotkin flipped the seat blue riding on a large win in Lansing and cutting the margins in the Republican-heavy portions of the district. Now Republicans are running Paul Junge, a former local news anchor. Slotkin has a 94% chance in my model, slightly lower than the chances Democrats have at retaining House control.
According to my model, the 219th seat for Republicans to gain control is Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. In the southeast corner of Iowa, the 2nd is comprised of rural farm-towns, the liberal University of Iowa, and the city of Davenport. The popular Democratic incumbent is retiring and both major-party candidates are current or former Iowa State Senators. Democrat Rita Hart has an edge. However the race could be close, and the model shows it as the 219th Republican seat. One could reckon it will be closer, and the model is largely using built-in statistics such as partisan registration stats. However, the general feeling is Hart will win.
There are many opportunities for both parties to gain seats in the House, and Democrats are expected to make House gains. However, Republicans could make gains, especially if Trump wins.
These were much harder to predict, and for these projections, a general model was not used. Instead, I manually looked at key contests and looked at the median seat in several factors such as fundraising, partisan composition (when applicable), and candidate quality among other things. Here is what I believe each key race will be for determining control of a chamber, but the median seat could be any key seat in a legislature. A great tool for analyzing state legislative chambers is CNalysis.
Alaska State House
House District 1- Alaska is interesting in the sense that a coalition that consists of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents have a tripartisan majority in the lower chamber. This has been a barrier against the conservative State Senate and Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy. The coalition was expected to be returned until two Republican coalition members announced they would support the Republican minority and partner with non-coalition Republicans to make a sole Republican majority.
One of those two members, Bart Lebon, won his Fairbanks-based State House seat by exactly one vote in 2018. Now Democrats are mad and are working to dispatch him. A Democrat and an independent are also favored to flip two Anchorage-held Republican seats. If those two seats flip and Lebon loses, then the coalition has a fighting chance. Another Republican coalition member, Louise Stutes, has sent mixed signals on if she will continue to support the coalition, and whomever she supports might determine control.
Arizona State House
Due to districts being multi-member, it is hard to forecast a certain seat, but the 17th is another good barometer to see. If a Democrat finishes first in the 17th – House Districts are the same map as Senate but send the top-two to the House – then it likely is a good night for Democrats.
Arizona State Senate
Senate District 17 – Arizona Democrats are wanting to dismantle the Republican grip on Arizona, and both chambers could flip. Democrats are expected to flip a Republican-held, Clinton-won state senate district and another one that Trump won. The median seat is the Chandler-based 17th, which comprises of rapid population growth and suburbs. These are a good recipe for Democrats, but the Republican incumbent is the former Speaker of the Arizona House.
Iowa State House
House District 16 – In the Omaha suburbs, the Trump-won 16th is a toss-up, as is State House control. If Democrats flip the chamber they can block some measures of the conservative Iowa Governor and Senate. Many toss-up seats in the House are in rural and suburban areas. The 16th is an open seat and Dems are investing in the District on behalf of Democratic nominee Jen Pellant.
Michigan State House
House District 45- In suburban and Dem-trending Oakland County, the Rochester Hills-based 45th will be a prime test for control of the chamber as well as the extent of Oakland’s blue shift. Dems need four more seats for a majority, and the 45th may be that 4th seat.
Minnesota State Senate
Senate District 56 – Arguably the most vulnerable chamber for control flipping is the Minnesota State Senate. Democrats are favored to flip around three to four seats but only need two for a majority, assuming notable Tik-Toker Matt Little wins re-election in his Republican-leaning seat in the southern Minneapolis exurbs. The 48-44% Clinton 56th is prime ground for a Democratic flip. The suburban seat is shifting to the left, and incumbent Republican Dan Hall who took a, “Victory Lap” when a conversion therapy ban was defeated, is a controversial politician. He is expected to lose and thus give Democrats full control of Minnesota state Government.
New Hampshire Senate
Senate District 24 – In 2018, Democrat Tom Sherman flipped the 24th resting along the Gulf of Maine. The district, while narrowly backing Hillary Clinton in 2016, is more friendly to Republicans down-ballot. That same night, Republicans held SD-24. Looking at 2020, just like the chamber itself is likely to stay Democratic, and so will SD-24.
House District 83 – In the Charlotte suburbs, Democrat Gail Young is trying to flip this Republican state house seat. Trump won HD-38 57-39%, but the incumbent, Larry Pittman, is known for his controversial and inflammatory public comments. However partisan fundamentals make winning the seat just like the House hard. Another note: in 2018 in a slightly altered seat, Young held Pittman to a <6% win.
Senate District 24 – This seat takes in rural areas between Greensboro and Chapel Hill and is fairly Republican. However Veteran J. D. Wooten is making the race close. The 54-42% Trump seat contains all of Alamance County and parts of Guilford. If Wooten wins in his rematch, Dems have a good shot of winning State Senate control and having a say in redistricting.
Pennsylvania State House
House District 105 – In the Harrisburg suburbs, the 105th is a GOP seat. It voted for Trump by roughly eight points and has strong Republican roots, as does Dauphin County historically. With Democrats expected to net around 5 seats in the Philly suburbs and one in the Pittsburgh exurbs, Democrats would only need three more state house seats. There are more toss-up seats in the Philly suburbs that Dems can win and a couple of toss-ups in the Pittsburgh area. However, Democrats are expected to lose a state house seat in a +34 Trump seat due to the incumbent Democrat retiring. This means if Democrats do really well in the suburbs or there are some rural surprises, Democrats have a shot. The 105th is a suburban seat in which Democrats have a shot but would need a wave. That is why Republicans remain the slight favorite for the state house.
Pennsylvania State Senate
Senate District 13 – The state senate is seen as slightly more competitive. It is no easy feat, however, especially after Democratic State Senator Joe Yudichak became an independent caucusing with Republicans. Now Democrats need to flip two seats they are favored in, carry a toss-up seat centered in Harrisburg, and the 13th. Based in Lancaster County, the 13th is heavily Republican, but progressive Janet King is trying to flip the seat. Winning would require large Democratic margins out of blue Lancaster city and not getting romped in the rural portions of the seat. As with the chamber, Republicans are slightly favored in the 13th, but if a blue wave occurs or Yudichak comes back to the Dems, they have a good shot.
Texas State House
House District 67- Beto O’Rourke carried a bare majority of State House seats despite losing by around three points in his Senate bid against Ted Cruz. One of those seats was the Plano-based 67th. The +5.5 O’Rourke District is represented by conservative Jeff Leach. Democrats selected education advocate Lorenzo Sanchez as their nominee, besting the more moderate Tom Adair in the Democratic primary. Both Leach and Sanchez have amassed large fundraising chests, and the race is close. CNalysis currently gives Dems the advantage.
West Virginia State Senate
Senate District 2 – West Virginia’s upper chamber could possibly revert back to Democrats despite its heavy Republican lean federally as Democrats still do modestly well downballot. In the 2nd, Republican Mike Maroney was the favorite… until it came out he solicited prostitutes. Then, an arrest warrant was issued against him for using the prefix “Doctor” on campaign signs without saying which kind of doctor he is, which violates state law. Will partisanship save him?