It’s been just about two weeks since the 2020 Election, or just about long enough for some good and bad takes to start simmering to the surface. I did an initial post-mortem on the election, and I pretty much stand by that. I’ve thought a bit more though, and I have new things to add. Let’s dive into it.
The closest comparative to Joe Biden’s 2020 victory is Barack Obama’s 2012 win. Obama won 51.1% of that vote, compared to Mitt Romney’s 47.2%, but Obama won the electoral college 332-206. Biden has 50.9% of this year’s vote, to Trump’s 47.3%, which netted him a 306-232 win. Democrats should be concerned that in the last twelve years (time since Obama’s first win), we’ve essentially traded Florida, Ohio, and Iowa into the red column to move Georgia and Arizona to swing status, and Virginia and Colorado to blue. I suppose if we can hold the “blue wall” of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New Hampshire, it’s not so bad. However if those 60 electoral votes truly fall into undecided or red hands, even Texas and North Carolina moving blue wouldn’t equal out (and I think both are purple at best). Demographics will only be destiny if in fact conservative forces use them to create permanent minority rule through the electoral college, the Senate, and the courts. The “new electorate” is simply not equally distributed out across the country enough, nor do this year’s results suggest that it is durable enough.
It’s pretty fair to say a Democrat needs to hit 50% nationally to pull out the electoral college. There may be somewhat of an open question at 49%, but there’s not much chance below that. It’s also fair to say that hitting 50% as a post-LBJ Democrat (to be read post Civil Rights, Vietnam, the sexual revolution, etc.) is hard. Jimmy Carter hit 50.1% in his 1976 win. In addition to his 2012 victory (mentioned above), Barack Obama did it in 2008, hitting 52.9% and 365 electoral votes. Bill Clinton got super close in his 1996 re-election win, getting 49.2% and 379 electoral votes in a three way race, but his 1992 was a low-water mark in victory, with 43% and 370 electoral votes in a three way victory. Only with Biden, Obama both times, Clinton in 1996, and Carter in 1976, the Democrats have topped 49% in the last 14 elections after LBJ. Al Gore hit 48.4% in 2000, John Kerry 48.3% in 2004, and Hillary Clinton with 48.2% in 2016, but all lost the electoral college. By comparison, some low water marks of the post-LBJ era include Michael Dukakis in 1988 (45.6% and 111 electoral votes), Walter Mondale in 1984 (40.6% and 13 electoral votes), President Carter in 1980 (41% and 49 electoral votes), and Senator McGovern (37.5% and 17 electoral votes). For reference, Vice-President Humphrey received 42.7% of the vote and 191 electoral votes in 1968. In 52 years, Democrats have won six elections, and topped 49% in five of the fourteen elections. They’ve finished with 46% or less in six of those elections.
This century, elections have been remarkably stable. Every Democratic nominee from 1996 through 2020 has secured at least 48.2% of the vote. Every Republican nominee since 2000 has secured at least 46.1% of the vote. The extent to which either party exceeds those numbers is often the decisive factor. The only Republican to significantly exceed 47% has been George W. Bush (both times), while both Barack Obama wins and Joe Biden’s were close to 3% above the Democratic floor, or more. For this reason, Republicans tend to run negative Presidential races and concentrate on lowering Democratic turnout. That’s probably not going to change anytime soon. Let’s not pretend it will.
So let’s talk about how we did it, and how it didn’t spread down ballot. The story is the same in state after state. In Georgia, the suburbs. In Pennsylvania, the suburbs. In Michigan, suburbs. In Arizona? You guessed it. By no means should one suggest that Biden *only* won because of the suburbs, but one should not dismiss it because it doesn’t fit their narrative. There seems to be a lot of consternation over how Biden won, and I don’t get why. As we saw four years ago, Democrats needed to improve their margins in the cities AND persuade the suburbanites to vote for them. They appear to have done both. Turnout hit record highs in Philadelphia, improved in Detroit, and yet Biden still ran up huge margins in suburban Atlanta and Phoenix. LatinX organizers in Arizona were huge in the victory, and so was a disciplined message to the middle. Perhaps the rest of the party should have taken a hint. Poorly run campaigns and bad left-wing messaging converged together to leave down ballot Democrats consistently coming up short of Joe Biden, and victory. With a similar national margin in 2012, Senate Democrats reached 53 seats. In 2008, they reached 60 seats. In 2008 and 2012, Democratic Governors were winning Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, and North Carolina (once). Joe Biden was out performing the whole party at the state level in New Hampshire, and Senate candidates in Maine, North Carolina, and Georgia. Meanwhile your Mark Kellys, Roy Coopers, Connor Lambs, Lauren Underwoods, Sharice Davids, and other strong, independent brand Democrats won. Why?
Let’s start by addressing the tired debate about “far-left” messaging. No, “defund the police” was not helpful for Tom Malinowski or Conor Lamb. While the left has talked a lot about Medicare for All supporting candidates, nearly all of them won in safe “blue” districts and states. Obviously having the loudest voices in the party supporting policies that aren’t popular in swing districts isn’t helpful. This isn’t news or anything new. It’s always been a tension in the Democratic Party. People thought Truman would lose in 1948 over tensions on the issue of segregation. He did not. Of course I wish we didn’t have members talking about defunding the Pentagon. I also wish our leaders were pushing forward other voices too. No, I’m not an AOC fan, but the folks on the left have managed to push her and close to another dozen people out to the forefront with their message. Who is the “mainstream” party’s Ilhan Omar? The answer would be no one, which goes a long way to answering why our party has no one under 60 besides Kamala Harris currently occupying a leadership post in the party. The messaging did suck. If you don’t like that, do something about it.
Which leads me to my problems with the campaigns themselves. Let’s be serious, what was the message in some of these Senate races? Give us the majority? More importantly than that, they were both begging for small dollar donations (with a more progressive message), while saying “we’re not AOC!” Who believes that? Why would anyone buy that? How hard would it have been for everyone to run with Biden’s message on Covid, on health care, on climate, etc.? To be fair, some did. Others ran on their bios, demographics, general pandering, and “Mitch is bad.” The result? Republicans were effective in their attacks- the Democrats are AOC. Not that I think policy really moves voters, but what exactly was a Democratic controlled Congress going to do? Pack the courts? Raise taxes? End the filibuster? Swing states and swing districts don’t love that. What else did we give them though? Did we promise them a coherent agenda down ballot? I’d argue not.
I also would argue that the campaign consultant class needs to stop pretending it’s 2006. Spending all of your money in the final two weeks of the election only makes sense if that’s when you’re getting all of your votes. “Election Day” is a dead concept. “Election Day” now needs to be viewed by Democrats as the entire time that ballots are out. This is true both on paid communications AND ground operations. An ever growing percentage of Democrats are voting before Election Day. Democratic consultants and operatives need to adapt to that, and realize that any growth in the electorate is ALSO likely to come early. Any undervotes in this year’s election can largely be traced to candidates being unknown when our voters vote. Time to get with the times.
That’s all for now. My next post will link from convention to now.
It took me nearly a week to finally be emotionally and intellectually able to write this piece, but write it I will. Joe Biden is our President-Elect. Donald Trump has been defeated. Kamala Harris has made history. People danced in the street, they cried tears of joy, they prayed, they rejoiced. For me, Saturday was one of the most moving days I have ever had. The sting of Hillary Clinton’s loss obviously hit me personally, I worked for both of Hillary’s Presidential campaigns, but it hit me even more personally than that. Rarely in the Trump era did I feel targeted by his vitriol, because I’m a white, straight, Catholic, suburban raised man, and he wasn’t trying to scapegoat me. I watched his policies and his rhetoric aimed directly at the heart of family, friends, and acquaintances alike, and felt helpless. It made me angry. The feelings I had this past weekend were so much different, so much better. I watched millions of people genuinely rejoice, dance in the string, and dance. For the first time in my political career, none of the bureaucratic BS of the campaign mattered at all to me. I was just proud of what I had been a part of. Nothing mattered to me but how this made people feel. It’s a new day.
Now, some notes…
An ode to Joe Biden.
We don’t give Joe Biden enough credit for what a master politician he is. Just the black and white ink of his resume should have been proof enough- Senate Judiciary Chair, Senate Foreign Relations Chair, seven times elected Senator, two-term Vice-President of the United States, and yes, now the President-Elect. We tend to view Joe Biden through his losses, and lose site of what he’s achieved, be it personal or political. This man is one of the great American statesmen and politicians of post-World War II America. Don’t mistake him for a saint, but don’t dismiss him as Barack Obama’s “crazy uncle #2” either.
Joe Biden was in my top tier in this race from day one (along with Harris, Booker, and Klobuchar), so obviously I’m thrilled with this outcome. Obviously being a part of his team, this is personally fulfilling as well. A lot of people ask me why I felt he was right though, and I’ll give you this anecdote- on Super Tuesday in headquarters, I declared very early in the day that Biden would win Massachusetts, and I was basically laughed at (one super senior staff member simply replied “that won’t happen.”). A buddy on the campaign asked me if I was serious, to which I replied kinda yes, and he asked me why. I asked him what other candidate could possibly win Rep. Pressley (The Squad) and Rep. Lynch’s (Irish Catholic moderate) Boston districts. My point played out pretty well. Biden could build the broadest coalition in the race, because he could speak to and empathize with the most people. He’s got Bill Clinton abilities, combined with the experience of the Obama White House, and the wisdom of years. All of that played huge against Trump.
The Broken Democratic Brand…
After 2016, one of the criticisms of the Democratic Party was that “the brand” was broken. The party had lost power in all three branches of the federal government at that time, and our 2016 nominee had ended the race deeply unpopular. The argument was basically that Barack Obama had won twice largely on personal popularity. The party itself didn’t poll very well, and seemed to hemorrhage voters they used to get.
Joe Biden won Tuesday’s election, the Democratic Party did not. Let’s be honest beyond Biden about what kind of candidates were winning. Mark Kelly and John Hickenlooper were remarkably strong Senate candidates. Roy Cooper and Josh Stein in North Carolina are very powerful Governor and Attorney General candidates. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro was the only Democratic row office candidate to win. House superstars like Lauren Underwood and Conor Lamb survived. Many of their freshman colleagues met a much harsher fate. Even at the Presidential level, Joe Biden joined Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama as the only Democrats of the post-LBJ/late 1960’s cultural revolution to win a national election. All were very gifted politicians and came to power on the back of a national crisis. We never win on generic ideology.
How bad are things though? In Pennsylvania, Democrats lost the popular vote for the US House by nearly 130k votes, at last glance. Democrats lost the entire New Hampshire state government, including both houses. Pennsylvania’s House and Senate Democrats sit at the exact same numbers they were at after the 2010 midterms. North Carolina’s legislature, just two years after Democrats broke the supermajorities, lost Democratic seats. Pennsylvania Republicans won their first row office victories in over a decade. New York State legislative Democrats lost seats. Minnesota and New Mexico Democrats lost Congressional races in good Presidential years.
I would not say 2020 was a terrible year for Democrats, but it was a correction of 2018’s majority. Like in 2016, late breaking voters seemed to decide giving us strong majorities was not in their interests. The reality is that Republicans have proven very capable of convincing voters to deny Democrats power, even in elections where they are rejecting the GOP. In 2018, Democrats were winning down ballot races in GOP strongholds. In 2020, Democrats lost some of those same seats back, limiting their ability to govern moving forward.
The Blame Game
Let’s dive into this week’s best political battle- the Conor Lamb’s of the world vs. the AOC’s of the world. I’ll start by stating the somewhat obvious- my politics aren’t a match with “the Squad,” and more so are with Lamb. With that said, I think that both sides have brought forward some interesting thoughts, both about Biden’s wins and the down ballot losses Democrats have suffered this cycle. For me, there’s lots of blame and credit to go around.
First off, I’ll state three obvious truths about Biden’s victory. First, there is no doubt that people of color, and more specifically their organizers, played a gigantic role in flipping Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, and holding Nevada. Second, there is no doubt that Biden’s being more acceptable to suburban moderates in those same states got him those last few percentages of the vote that he critically needed. Third, and I can’t believe I’m writing this, but the unity encouraged by Bernie, Elizabeth Warren, and “The Squad” played a critical part in avoiding the lack of enthusiasm we fought in 2016. If you remove any piece of this puzzle, Joe Biden probably becomes the third Democratic nominee this century to win the popular vote but lose the crucial states needed to win. With all this in mind, I have to say that I’m not denying anybody the credit they are being given for this victory. When someone says Stacey Abrams deserves credit for flipping Georgia, all I’m doing is nodding in agreement, because you ain’t wrong.
… but let’s talk about the losing we did too. This is a tough love portion that goes in two parts, with the first being the impact of further-left messaging on the difficult races, particularly swing states and districts. The use of the term “socialism,” which is somewhat misleading anyway by “new left” Democrats, is a non-starter with many immigrant populations (especially Latinos) and suburban voters (swing districts). It played a huge role in losing Florida and Texas, and more specifically swing Congressional districts. Pointing out that candidates who supported Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal all won, while not pointing out that they represent safe blue districts, is dishonest at best. Talking about defunding the police, abolishing private health care, ending commercial flights, and phasing meat out of our diets, while quite popular in our liberal enclaves, is a straight ticket to defeat in the kinds of districts that you have to win to get a majority. For their popularity in blue districts, “the Squad” is a perfect boogeyman for Republicans to put front and center in their efforts to call moderate Democrats extremists. You can’t build a majority under the American government system for further-left politics. Fortunately, I don’t think the “socialist” messaging stuck to Biden in most places, particularly after he won a primary against that. It absolutely worked is scaring late-breaking voters in Florida, Maine, North Carolina, Texas, and Congressional districts in Nebraska, Oklahoma, Ohio, and even New York. It’s not about forcing everyone to be moderate, it’s about forcing them to be disciplined. If your policy isn’t to actually *defund* the police, don’t use words with that meaning to gin up voters who are already with us. If you’re not actually going to *seize the means of production,* don’t call yourself a socialist. Since anything you say will be used against you anyway, only give them words you mean to give them. I will give a rare rebuke to our leadership though on the Hill for this- if you don’t want AOC to be the face of the party in Iowa and Florida, start pushing some other voices out front and on TV more. If you don’t, don’t get mad later.
Let’s not limit the blame to just the progressives though. Not all of AOC’s critique of the party is wrong. The Democratic Party is not interested in party building at a precinct level, across the nation. Most state legislative caucuses are fully owned by their expensive television consultants, and their money flows there. AOC’s point about investing heavier into the online presence, which those of us in the industry call digital organizing, was proven right this cycle by those of us on the Biden campaign, who both organized Super Tuesday almost fully online, then spent literally months organizing digitally during the pandemic. Elections are literally won where the people are, not Washington, and that is online in communities, and at the most localized level, which is the precinct. Want some truth? Hillary lost Pennsylvania by 5 votes per precinct in 2016. Our organizing model does not view campaigns through that sort of lense (more later on this.).
The Waste of the Grassroots Donor
I don’t have to remind you that well-funded Democrats lost Senate races in Kentucky and South Carolina. I don’t have to remind you of the hundreds of millions of dollars wasted on these races, which you may have contributed to. I doubt I need to dive too far into the relative disappointment for Democrats, particularly on the House and Senate level, with how we performed relative to how well funded we were.
This is not something that would have even been a thought before Howard Dean’s 2004 Presidential campaign, and it wasn’t even conceivable until after 2008. The old big donors would ask the party leadership essentially where to donate. With the shift away from PACs and institutional donors, there’s no way to focus donations into the most flippable seats. Let’s be honest about some of the well funded Senate seats we lost- Kentucky, Montana, South Carolina, Kansas, and even Texas- were not supposed to be competitive for President. The money still flowed there. Small dollar donors as our primary life blood in donations means a lot of money will go to waste. They will donate with their hearts, not their heads, and that’s their right to. That doesn’t help though.
Back in the primaries, I ripped the DNC for using the number of donors as a criteria to make the stage. I said it forced candidates to chase the whims of Democratic activists, not the average, median voter back home. I maintain that criticism after this general election.
The Failed Democratic Organizing Model.
I’m just going to cut straight to the chase here- The Democratic Organizing Model being used nationally basically exists to make it’s managers look good. That’s it. It’s there to produce large scale numbers that look good to your potential next employer. It’s not there to do much else.
I told you earlier that Hillary lost PA by 5 votes per precinct, which she did. Did we react to that by partnering with down ballot candidates to increase our vote share, precinct by precinct? No. We instead focused on macro change, with the focus on statewide autodialers and big shifting numbers. This is not a Pennsylvania specific problem, and even in a victory it showed up in our losses down ballot. Democrats will lose roughly a dozen Congressional races nationwide, and lost close state legislative races in swing states like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas. This is specifically why we can’t govern and have nice things.
The average organizer was managing 25 to 40 precincts total. The organizing model in an area that size should emphasize quality, not quantity and efficiency. We should be building a precinct captain structure, and running each district as it’s own mini race. Recruitment call goals should take a back seat to one on one’s and meeting with clubs, party committees, and active citizens. We should be less reliant on predictive analytics to tell us who to talk to, because we should have volunteers engaging their neighbors. We should organize, not phone bank. Our turfs are small enough to do so.
Don’t limit this to just organizing. Our constituency outreach is one-size fits all, and often times turns off more people than it should. Our political outreach often times has no idea who the local electeds are. Our press teams spend way too much time on statewide and national press. In short, I think Democratic campaigns are too big and bloated in their structure, and broken in their execution. We got through that this time, because people worked hard and our candidate was made for this race. That won’t happen automatically again.
What I Got Wrong
In the beginning of this race, I said we needed to nominate Biden or someone like him, who could beat Trump in the close states- because I said then that Trump would get every vote of his 46% from 2016, if not more. I was right then, more so than I was right at the end. To this point, Trump has received nine million more votes than he did last time, and sits around 47.5%, a 1.5% upward shift. While his campaign and White House seemed inept, and he was polling around 41-42%, the fact is that this race played out very similarly- most of the undecided voters were actually for Trump. Trumpism was about more than a campaign or policies, but was inherently cultural. He proved much of the Democratic professional class wrong- you don’t need to quantify everything and be precise in every calculation to succeed politically. You can do it through blunt force and speaking directly to an audience motivated by things without a policy objective. Political incorrectness is what motivates their base, and we learned in this election that trying to match that turns off some of the folks we need to build a majority.
As I suspected, the demographic divides in our politics began to crumble. Biden made gains among white voters, seniors, suburbanites, and independents. Trump made gains among black men and certain Latino groups. Demographics were not destiny. I over-estimated the impact that would have in a few swing-states though- namely Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina. The truth is that the era of monolithic demographic movements is coming to an end. With that end, our politics will almost certainly re-align some more. This is probably good for Democrats, if they embrace it, as the GOP did not pay a price for their embrace of Donald Trump really.
There is another silver lining- I do not see another Donald Trump. He is their turnout machine, and he will not be on the ballot in 2022. while others will try to embrace Trumpism, I sincerely doubt their ability to do it. While he is morally troubling and intellectually lazy, Donald Trump is the greatest marketing mind on the planet and he managed to sell himself- an inexperienced, personally flawed, policy lightweight- as the symbol of political masculinity, the anecdote to political correctness, and the pushback to Obamaism is America. He knew there was no market for Paul Ryan’s Ayn Rand crap, Cheney’s neocon wars, or even the moral smugness of much of the old school “Christian Conservatism” crowd. You may think a Tom Cotton, a Mike Pence, or Don Jr. can easily pick up his cause now, but you’ll likely find that is wrong. Much like Bill Clinton’s successors (Gore and Hillary) could not ride his popularity to the White House, and Barack Obama’s personal popularity didn’t push Hillary over in 2016, you’re likely to find its hard to find another Trump.
That’s all for now. I’ll gather this whole series up in one, later on.
Today is a mostly virtual day for me. I’ll have a lot more tonight. Most of the coverage of this race is silly season now. One thing to note? 40k ballots are in for Northampton and Lehigh Counties. Democrats have cast 69.5%. That’s back breaking.
You can’t win yesterday’s war, but that’ll never stop Rudy Giuliani from trying. His latest stunt involved leaking e-mails “involving” Hunter Biden introducing a Ukrainian business associate to his father, then the Vice-President. The problem? His “source” has been declared a Russian agent by Trump’s Treasury Department. The dates they alleged the meeting to happen, they were discredited. Their “source” is a certified crackpot. And the meta data suggests the files were created later. In trying to conjure up the “Comey Letter” or Wikileaks hits on Hillary, Rudy did a sloppy job of trying to make fetch happen. Dare I say, Rudy’s skills are in decline, as is most of Team Trump’s. This is what, the fifteenth time they’ve tried to make Hunter Biden a thing? America doesn’t care. At least he doesn’t work for his dad.
The trouble for Democrats these last 20 days is that we’re a bed wetter party, and the media isn’t going to call this race for the blowout it is. That’s bad for ratings and sales. They’ll at least cover the crackpot conspiracies of Rudy, Jarvanka, Bannon, or whatever other clown steps up. Axios wrote an article today saying Biden hasn’t been scrutinized. Part of their proof? He isn’t being asked about “Medicare for All” enough. You know, the issue he ran against in the primary and won on? Yeah, that. Writing that this election is a blowout isn’t interesting though. It doesn’t get click impressions. So now they’ll print Trump press releases, verbatim. Perhaps more annoying though are the bed wetters who will freak out though, and then cite 2016 as why we should worry now.
Locally speaking, the Desales/WFMZ poll shows Joe Biden leading PA-7 54-39%, and Susan Wild leading the Congressional race by 18%. Governor Wolf gets 59% approval for handling the Coronavirus in the same poll. Generally if you want to know who will win Pennsylvania, look at PA-7, 8, and 10. These kinds of numbers suggest Trump is dead here.
In 2016, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by narrowly pulling out Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. His margin in those three states was roughly 75K votes. Add on Florida, North Carolina, and Arizona, and his margin was roughly 450K votes. Flip those states? It’s a Democratic landslide. Throw in Ohio, Iowa, and Maine-2, which all flipped from Obama to Trump? You have a battleground.
Right now, I’m calling Joe Biden to flip all of these states but Iowa. I’m predicting victory in Nebraska-2 as well. At this time I’m not calling flips in Iowa, Georgia, or Texas, but all are possible. Had Hillary won the popular vote by 3% (her polling average lead was 2.9% that morning), she flips PA, MI, and WI. With only a small bump past that, she wins FL, NC, and AZ. If Joe Biden holds a 10% lead on election night, every state I’ve named here goes blue. A 10% win is an easy 400+ electoral vote win. I don’t presume a 10% final victory. I do presume a healthy win though.
I’m not sure I’m as confident in the Senate though. The Democrats have plenty of opportunities, but a lack of sure things. They have solid leads in Arizona and Colorado, but also look like they’ll lose Alabama. Maine, North Carolina, Iowa, and Montana all look super close, as Democrats often lead, but haven’t closed the deal. In Michigan, their incumbent seems to be treading water. Yet at the same time, South Carolina, Kansas, Alaska, Texas, and both seats in Georgia seem competitive. And of course Kentucky is still out there. A 56-44 Democratic Senate isn’t crazy. Neither is a 51-49 Republican one. I still think the Democrats win, but I wouldn’t bet anything valuable.
The House? It doesn’t seem to be in play. If races like SC-1 aren’t really in play, is the House? If races like PA-6 and 7 aren’t in play, how do the Republicans defend themselves in tough defenses? I’d bet on Democrats winning a dozen new house seats.
There are some interesting Governor races in Montana and Missouri, and seemingly a solid Democratic win in North Carolina. The Democratic Party looks to be headed to crushing defeat in West Virginia, Indiana, New Hampshire, and Utah though. Don’t expect too much change here.
There is an alternative universe on twitter though, one that is convinced Donald Trump is not only going to win, but he’ll win bigger than 2016. Never mind the lack of evidence, his opponent’s strength against him, or his financial deficit. They believe in “secret” Trump voters, polling biases, and of course, Santa Claus. The question I ask myself is if they’re just coping, or stupid. Of course I could ask if Democrats still hyperventilating are coping or stupid too.
Rather than doing a race update or talking about issues, I want to take some time this morning to talk about politics, and why so many Americans hate it. Why it doesn’t speak to them. And why it’s not responsive.
Politics is an industry. It is not our system of government, it is an industry that has to produce growth and prosperity like any other. While I think most people think the industry’s consumers are the voters, I think the truth is that the consumers are the small dollar donors on the left, and the high rolling lobbyists on the right. Whether the positions of the donors are electable or not, the show must go on. You can’t run the industry, or at least finance it’s current form, without the donors funding it. This means running candidates, and taking issue positions, that don’t match up with the median voters out in the districts, but instead match up with the median donors. Donors are generally way more partisan and ideological than the decisive voters. Hence, the two parties seeming ever more polarizing and out of step with the average person in your neighborhood. They are discussing issues that matter more to donors than average voters. If you view the consumer for this industry as voters, it makes no sense. If you view the folks finding things as the consumers, it makes perfect sense.
This seems like a good point to point out that this does not mean politics is inherently corrupt. Many people take the incorrect view that donors “buy” policy from politicians. They don’t. Candidates mostly come with safe, pre-packaged viewpoints that match up with the donors. Basically, the funding only really goes to people who agree with the donors. As the Democrats have moved from bigger donor to smaller donor models, the candidates have moved left accordingly. As the Republicans fund their campaigns from wealthy, white men and “culture warriors” they have took increasingly more extreme positions as well. Part of why Donald Trump has taken over a previously hostile GOP establishment is that he controls the activist donor class, and they don’t.
Which leads back to my initial point- American politics suck, and the rise of Joe Biden is actually a repudiation of the professional class who run it in DC, just as Trump 2016 was. It turns out the last Democratic Vice-President, with his long and complicated Senate record, his age, race, and gender, and folksy style, was something the broader voting base liked. Oh sure, he struggled in the earliest primaries, but once non-white voters and blue collar “Rust Belt” voters got into the game, he shot up the leader board. The donor class has come along, now that he’s facing Trump, but it’s worth noting how wrong they were at the start. The “great” operatives, the left media, the donor class, they all preferred anyone to Biden. He would certainly implode, they said. Just as Hillary was a lock to win, right? Some of the podcast class declared Biden dumb, wrong on everything, and boring. Hell, they even labeled him a moderate. I’m not the only one noticing this now.
We are now down to 30 days to go. There’s a strong consensus that Joe Biden is winning, and by a rough average of 8%. His lead is bigger than Hillary’s at this same point, by roughly 4%. Hillary won the popular vote by 2.1%. If she had won by 3%, she would have actually won. Joe Biden is in strong position to win.
If the election were today, I have Biden winning the electoral college 375-163. I have him winning the popular vote 52-45%. I have Biden sweeping the “big six”- PA, MI, and WI right now by 5% or more, and AZ, NC, and FL considerably closer. I have him pulling in OH, GA, and IA right now as well, albeit very close. The race *should* narrow down the stretch, and some states could move back towards Trump, but it could widen and put TX and SC in Biden’s column. For now though, I don’t have it very close.
Then there’s the matter of the Senate. Democrats look poised to flip AZ, CO, and ME. They look likely to lose AL. That puts the Democrats at 49 seats. They would need one seat and the Vice-Presidency or two seats to claim the Senate. The most likely tipping point seats appear to be NC and IA, both of which have been narrow Democratic leads lately. Then you get into a group of very close seats that would determine the durability of a Democratic majority. There’s a tough defense in Michigan that Democrats need to pay attention to. Democrats would look stupid if they blew the Senate on this defense. Then there’s a group of Democratic opportunities that range from extremely possible to a bit of a reach. Democrats have a chance (in plausibility order) of winning MT, both GA seats, SC, TX, MS, KS, AK, and KY. If I were a gambling man today, I’d say the Democrats win a net of six seats, for a 53-47 majority.
It would be too much to go through the individual House races and try to predict them all, but we can make some macro projections. First off, there aren’t enough Democrats really “in danger” to flip the House. There are probably at least as many Republicans in real danger, if not more. On the other hand, the Dems generic ballot lead is all over, and probably isn’t 2018 level strong. I’d expect Democrats to fall somewhere between even money and a dozen seats to the positive.
Rather than talking national polling in this post, we’ll focus on some state polling. Specifically the NYTimes/Siena polls showing Biden leading 49-42% in Pennsylvania and 47-42% in Florida. These polls are basically in line with other recent polling in both states. If you look over the recent Pennsylvania polling on RCP, Biden is averaging over 50% and leading by 6.4%, which is very close now to their national average. Biden is consistently hitting 49% across all the polls. In Florida, RCP has Biden leading by 2% at 47.8%-45.8%. He leads in all but one poll they used, though only once hitting 50%. In both states, the number of undecided is roughly 1 in 10, or less. Biden would probably carry Pennsylvania as is, but probably needs a slight bump to lock up Florida. In any case, Trump has huge problems in both. If he loses both? It’s over.
Meanwhile, the President remains hospitalized at Walter Reed. The campaign remains stopped in place. While I might give the edge to the North Carolina Senate race for weirdest race in the country this weekend, we’ve never seen a Presidential race like this. While people try to game out what will happen under each scenario, the truth is that we don’t totally know. This situation probably won’t move the decideds, but what will it do to undecided voters? It’s hard to game that out, but there’s a pretty good chance it won’t change the result.
So much is being made of the Biden campaign pulling down their negative ads. I know this isn’t what some people want to hear, but the decision makes sense. This is on brand for Biden. It also is highly unlikely Biden would gain using these ads during Trump’s hospitalization. Sure, Trump is continuing to attack- with the same garbage that hasn’t worked so far. Their campaign is a clueless operation. That’s why the polls are where they are.
To be honest, the national polls show a race that matches that. After polls from YouGov, Reuters, and Rasmussen showed the margin for Biden at 8% or more, the RCP average is now 6.6%. Comparing this to Hillary’s lead at the same point, that’s 3.4% better. If you prefer 538’s numbers, they have Biden up 7.6%. Hillary won by 2.1% in the popular vote. Had she won by 2.6%, she probably pulls back PA, MI, and WI, and the election. At 3.1%, she probably pulls in Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina. Giving even a 4% margin of error on Biden’s leads (as opposed to .8% in 2016), Biden would get the 2.6% needed to win. In reality he probably gets that and more. I’m not sure if this is 2008 or 2012, but it’s not 2016.
On top of all this, the Senate is slowly slipping away from the GOP as well. Democrats have solid leads in Arizona and Colorado, persistent leads in Maine and North Carolina, and are in jump ball races in Iowa, South Carolina, Montana, and Georgia. Recent polls have shown steep climbs in Iowa and Georgia for Democrats recently. Things are looking very upward for Democrats.