Democrats Have a Teeny, Tiny Edge for 2020

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- No Democratic candidate has better than a 5-to-1 shot to win the 2020 presidential nomination, and it’s not much better than 50-50 that President Donald Trump will run again. There are a lot of political unforeseens ahead.

With that caveat, this year’s midterm election suggests that Democrats will go into the next national contest with a slight structural advantage. This matters if, as in 2000 and 2016, the race is decided by fewer than three percentage points.

Trump was elected in 2016 with a 306-to-232 Electoral College win while losing the popular vote by more than 2.8 million votes, or 2.2 percentage points.

Democrats Have a Teeny, Tiny Edge for 2020

As of today, there are four states, all carried by Trump in 2016, that can be expected to fall into the toss-up category in 2020: Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Excluding those states, Trump or another Republican would have 231 electors from solidly GOP or GOP-leaning states and Democrats would have 232 from their strongholds. So Republicans would need 39 of the 75 electoral votes from the four purplest states, and Democrats would need 38, to reach the presidential threshold of 270.

Florida was the Democrats’ biggest setback this year, with losses in gubernatorial and Senate contests they expected to win. But that’s no reason to take it out of the toss-up category — both of the big races there were decided by less than one half of one percentage point, and Democrats won a statewide race for agriculture secretary and picked up two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Florida will be competitive, and its 29 electoral votes are a must-have for Republicans.

Wisconsin looks like the purest toss-up state; neither side has an inside track to its 10 electoral votes. By contrast, Michigan (16 electoral votes) and Pennsylvania (20) are tilting blue — in both states Democrats scored decisive wins on Nov. 6 in gubernatorial and Senate races. But winning those two states would leave Democrats two electoral votes short if Republicans take Florida and Wisconsin.

That’s what makes the Republican Sun Belt so interesting. Democrats see some realistic chances for inroads in Arizona (11 electoral votes) and North Carolina (15) and possibly even in Georgia (16).

I’ve thought that Texas and its 38 electoral votes would remain out of reach for Democrats for at least another presidential-election cycle or two, but two things may alter that calculation: Beto O’Rourke’s electrifying Senate run, which brought out record numbers of new voters, and an analysis in the New York Times by the journalist Thomas Edsall, who understands political trends and demographics as well as anyone. He wrote persuasively last week that Trump’s alienation of college-educated white women and the erosion of Republican support in the rapidly growing urban and suburban parts of Texas suggest that the state could become a battleground in the 2020 presidential election.

In Middle America, Ohio has gotten redder, looking more like Missouri. Apart from Senator Sherrod Brown’s impressive re-election victory there, Democrats were shut out in the Buckeye state. There will be a half-dozen higher pickup priorities for Democrats.

But I disagree with the pundits who put Iowa in the same category. Yes, Republicans won the governor’s race there, but Democrats split the other top statewide offices, picked up two U.S. House seats and won a combined 50,000 more votes in congressional contests. In an election-eve Iowa Poll, Trump had a 52-percent unfavorable rating among voters.

Lots could change in the next two years. The political landscape could be transformed by war, the economy or the investigation of Trump by Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller. Trump’s emotional state could deteriorate. House Democrats could self-destruct if their left wing pursues the kind of no-compromise strategy that’s been the hallmark of the Republican Freedom Caucus. And, of course, much rides on whom the two parties end up nominating.

But a blue wave in November washed a Democratic House into the Capitol, even if slowed by Florida and Ohio. And that leaves the party in high spirits and looking forward to the next two years.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.

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