I think we are in for a relatively smooth high-turnout election. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a lot of concerns about voting this fall. Democrats, true to the “never let a good crisis go to waste” philosophy, tried to use the pandemic to push universal mail-in voting. Failures by voters using mail-in voting for the first time in various primaries and new policies under the President’s new Postmaster General made it less likely that ballots would arrive on time have scrapped those efforts. However, a combination of mail-in votes that have arrived in time and vigorous early voting across the country, as well as younger people stepping up to work at precincts in positions previously occupied by older-COVID vulnerable populations, have the election looking less chaotic. 

There are certain to be problems as there are every year with long lines, counting issues. However, this is the case in every election. It will really become an issue if the election is truly close, with one state making the difference between the candidates.  For all the chaos this election could bring, election officials and voters have done a remarkable job pulling things together to limit the issues as much as possible. 

The Presidency 

The polls all point to the President’s defeat on Tuesday. Yet, polls alone can’t be relied on. Trump supporters will intone, “The polls were wrong in 2016.” The truth is more complex than that. The polls were mostly right. When taken as an average, national polling was very close to the national result. Polls were off widely in a few states, leading to the President’s narrow win in three states.  

However, this election isn’t 2016. In 2016, Donald Trump entered the fall campaign an underdog. Yet he won by exploiting Hillary Clinton’s record of dishonesty. He also spoke to the economic stagnation that gripped many areas of the country.  Undecided voters and voters who disliked Trump and Secretary Clinton broke for the President by a wide margin.

In 2020, the President is the incumbent. As a country, we’ve been through four exhausting years. The majority of voters don’t like him. Also, we’ve experienced a global pandemic that most Americans feel he has mismanaged, as well as chaos and civil disturbances in the streets. As much as Republicans will argue these things are not his fault, that’s unlikely to sway the American people.   

The consensus coming into 2020 is if the election were a referendum on Trump, he would lose. The President has failed to make this election anything but a referendum on himself. Efforts to make this election about Joe Biden’s fitness or radical positions which he and his running mate, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, D-Calif., hold largely failed due to Trump’s lack of focus. Nothing has really stuck with the swing voters who will determine the outcome of the election.  Whatever one thinks of the late-breaking Hunter Biden story, it’s too convoluted to make an impact on voters who weren’t already voting for the President anyway. 

The Trump campaign has squandered a ridiculous amount of money, and at the end of the day, are finding themselves off the air in many swing states or having to rely on the RNC to fund ads. Biden’s campaign is winning the campaign ad air war. Yet, on the ground, the Trump campaign does have some key advantages. It has been more willing to engage voters during the pandemic, going door to door and to get out and register voters in larger numbers than the Biden campaign. These ground efforts may make the election far closer than it has any right to be. 

However comfortable voters may be with people coming to their house, they’re less comfortable with the large indoor rallies Trump that have been linked to many cases of COVID-19. These, combined with the outbreaks of COVID-19 around both President Trump and Vice President Pence, have created the impression of an Administration not taking the pandemic seriously enough. This may drive many white suburbanites and senior citizens who voted for Trump in 2016 to vote against him in 2020.  At the same time, Trump has made modest gains among minorities, particularly non-white men, but not enough to offset his white voters’ losses. 

In the end, I believe that Vice President Biden will win by comparing all states that Hillary Clinton won in 2016 while also carrying Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, North Carolina, Maine’s Second Congressional District, and Nebraska’s Second Congressional district. This will give Biden 335 electoral votes to the President’s 203.  (See: Map

There are some states which are hard to nail down. Florida is probably the toughest.  I think that state as well Georgia, North Carolina, and Ohio will be very close, probably within a one or two percent margin. 

The President’s going to lose the popular vote by a solid margin. Even in states Trump won, no one expects him to win by the same margin this time around. In 2016, He won Iowa by nearly ten points and Texas and Ohio by eight. He may win all of those states by one to three points, and that’s going to be a trend. The President will probably lose the popular vote by six to eight percentage points, which would be the worst popular vote defeat for an incumbent since Jimmy Carter in 1980. 

The popular vote doesn’t affect the Electoral College outcome, but it may determine the shape of a post-presidency for Trump and the GOP. If Trump loses narrowly, he or one of his children may run in 2024. If he loses by much more than three or four percentage points, I think you won’t see immediate or aggressive efforts by the Trumps to run again. Instead, they’ll capitalize on right-wing populist media and merchandising. Also, the greater the margin of Trump’s defeat, the more likely Republicans will be to try to pivot away from their last four years of obeisance to Trump. 

Congress 

I’m standing pat on my state of the race predictions from a month ago in the Senate. I think Republicans will defeat U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Ala. At the same time, Democrats will oust U.S. Senators Martha McSally, R-Ariz., Cory Gardner, R-Colo., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., leading to a three-seat gain for the Democrats and a 50-50 Senate. With a Joe Biden Presidency, Democrats will technically have control but struggle to get anything accomplished. This will also make it a challenge for Biden to appoint Senators like Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to his cabinet as it will create vacancies and may temporarily hand Republicans a majority. 

I will admit that there are many races I’m less certain of than I was. U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, has trailed her Democratic opponent Teresa Greenfield in most polls. I still think she (and President Trump) will still win the state. In 2016, Trump’s win exceeded the polling average by 6.5 percent. In 2018, many of the polls were also off in the Iowa Governor’s race. The fundamentals of Ernst’s campaign and her outreach in every Iowa county should pay off but this is going to be a squeaker either way. While I don’t think she’ll win by four as the last Des Moines Register poll indicated, I think she will squeak through to a  second term. 

I continue to be surprised that U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., hasn’t been able to establish a solid advantage over his Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison. I still think that Graham will ultimately prevail, but this is incredibly tight.

I still think both Georgia races will go to the GOP, but the situation looks more fraught than it did.  

If U.S. Senator David Perdue, R-Ga., doesn’t win on election day, his race will go to the run-off along with the special election for the seat currently held by interim U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., on January 5th.  Republican turnout in runoffs is quite high and if Biden wins, Republicans will have a special interest in limiting his ability to pass legislation. In 1992 and 2008, after Democratic victories in the White House, Georgia Republicans dominated U.S. Senate runoffs.  

However, Trump will still be in office, and it looks like America will have a very tough time with COVID’s third wave. The President is barely engaged on the issue. After the election, regardless of the outcome, he’ll have little reason even to pretend to care. This could lead to a serious backlash for either Senate candidate and give Democrats an incentive to turn out. 

The special election has a lot of uncertainty. At one point, it looked like Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., could face in the run-off, however, Rev. Raphael Warnock has moved into the lead in most polls and it appears he’ll face either Loeffler or Collins. Both have problems. Loeffler has tried to position herself as the Trumpian true believer. However, she isn’t and her efforts come off as phony, cheesy, and kitsch at best. Collins is what Loeffler pretends to be; however, he also can be too hard-edged. Things like his classless remarks on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death are not going to help Collins with suburban voters in January.  Whether the GOP has a better chance with Collins’ authentic but often careless approach or whether Loeffler can move to the center just enough to win in January is the question Republicans will have to resolve. 

Since I wrote my piece, Tillis’ Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham has had a sexting scandal. Five years ago, he would have been forced to withdraw in disgrace. Given that Donald Trump is President, Republicans have no credibility to criticize, and those who do, look like hypocrites. Cunningham still maintains a narrow lead over Senator Tillis. However, Cunningham’s standing is weaker, and the scandal may end up in his loss.  

In addition, the race between U.S. Senator Tina Smith, D-Minn., and former U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis, R-Minn., has been closer than I expected with a couple of polls showing the margin between the two candidates at one percent and three percent. However, others show the incumbent with a more substantial lead. Still, this one could surprise. Lewis has a better chance of staging an upset than John James does in Michigan at this point. 

Previously, I thought Republicans would make modest gains in the House. I now think Democrats are probably set to pick up five to eight seats based on district-level polls and the overall state of the race. 

Governorships

Governors running for re-election in both parties should win handily. The biggest highlight of the night for Republicans will likely be Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte winning the Governorship of Montana.  This will end sixteen years of Democratic rule and increase the Republican gubernatorial majority to 28-22. 

While that’s what I think will happen, there are other scenarios that are possible. 

Democratic Wave 

A Democratic wave is far more likely than a narrow Trump victory. Everyone who called 2016 wrong, including pollsters, is trying to avoid making the same mistake again. The problem may be that in adjusting the vision of the electorate to match 2016, pollsters and pundits may be overestimating Trump’s strength and underestimating Biden’s. 

There are fundamental facts on the ground, including the pandemic and the state of the economy, that really does point to a huge Trump loss. Trump’s entire playbook is motivating his base. A high turnout election is likely not going to be in Trump’s favor.  

Even in our hyper-partisan environment a huge blue wave could swing Texas, Georgia, Ohio, and Iowa to Biden. If that happens, Biden would receive 413 electoral votes, which would be the most by any candidate since George H.W. Bush’s 1988 victory. He also will end up having carried the top 15 most populated states in the country, with  Tennessee being the largest electoral vote prize won by the President. 

It’s tough to say what that might do down-ballot. If people are voting straight Democrat, you could easily see Senators who are on the bubble, like Senator Ernst lose. In addition, Jon Ossoff might get enough votes to win outright in Georgia and avoid a runoff with Senator Purdue.  And several more House seats might flip to the Democrats.

Narrow Trump Win: 

The President could win in an upset. In my mind, I don’t think he’s got a chance in Michigan or Wisconsin, and I think his odds in Nebraska’s Second and Maine’s Second are pretty thin. His path to victory involves holding Florida, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. That will get him to 267 electoral votes. If he loses any of those three, it’s over. If he does win those, he then needs to win one other state. There are two possibilities: Arizona, and Minnesota. 

Arizona is a historically Republican state. However, Trump’s been behind in Arizona all year. Cindy McCain, the widow of the late U.S. Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., has endorsed Joe Biden, the state has one Democratic Senator and is well on its way to having two if Mark Kelly’s lead holds. Trump’s constant digs at McCain isn’t offensive to every Republican in the state, but it is to enough that I think this will be a hard state to pick up. 

Minnesota is a state that the Trump campaign has invested a lot in. Biden has been up in the polls, but he doesn’t have the type of lead Hillary Clinton did four years ago, and she only ended up winning by 1.5%.  

The reason Minnesota might prove to be a potential upset is that Minneapolis led the way in the defund the police movement. While many areas of the country had rioting and unrest, Minnesota got the brunt of it and dealt with a lot of dysfunction in their largest cities. Seeing progressives in Minneapolis stumble through attempts to abolish the police may have made Trump-wary voters in the suburbs and rural Minnesota more willing to support him than those in other states.   

It’s a reminder that there are, in reality, fifty-one different presidential elections going on in each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia. Of course, because of that, it’s also possible that Trump becomes the first Republican to carry Minnesota since 1972 and still loses the electoral college by a solid margin because other areas of the country are more concerned about the fallout of his handling of COVID-19 than crime.  Though, that’s probably even less likely than a narrow Trump win. 

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