The 2020 election may well be decided in the three states that gave Trump the presidency (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin) plus Arizona, Florida and North Carolina. Impeachment doesn’t break 50 percent in those states, and neither does Elizabeth Warren. She fares worse than the other candidates in head-to-head matchups with President Trump.
Only Joe Biden ekes out a win in four of the states, according to a New York Times and Sienna College poll out Thursday, losing to Trump in North Carolina and staying even in Michigan.
It’s good news for Biden, but just barely, and the continued strength of Trump has Democrats freaked out.
“It should freak them out,” says Dave Wasserman with the non-partisan Cook Political Report. “It’s consistent with the scenario where Trump could lose the popular vote by 5 points and still win the election.”
Wasserman said some time ago that Democrats could run a tree stump against Trump and they’d win. The problem, he added, is they’ve got to nominate a real person—and that person will have flaws that Trump can exploit.
That’s not to say that Warren can’t win, Wasserman said, but at the moment she looks very risky. A big danger sign is her weakness among whites without college degrees, he says. “If anything, it’s a more severe problem than what Hillary Clinton faced in ’16.”
The latest Iowa poll has Warren winning and Biden finishing fourth, which should be an alarm bell for the Biden campaign. “Where is the urgency?” Wasserman asks. Any other candidate would announce a 25-city bus tour, or something, and “take the fight to the people.” But that’s not Biden’s best setting, says Wasserman. “He’s good in set-piece speeches and rope lines where he can give hugs. It’s not town halls and keeping his answers short and to the point.”
For Larry Sabato, founder and director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, the biggest takeaway from the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal that has Trump’s approval rating at 45 percent is the constancy of his support despite countless events that would have cratered any other president.
“I know Democrats are disputing these polls but I believe them. I think they’re right,” Sabato told The Daily Beast. “Nothing has changed over the past three years. Trump is up and down a couple of points, but 46 percent will probably vote for him again, and the 54 percent who voted against him (Clinton plus third parties) will do so again.” How that divvies up will determine the winner.
Trump won in 2016 with 46.1 percent of the vote, and whether he can pull off that inside straight again hinges on the Electoral College. He’ll only needs to get to about 47 percent in the popular vote to win the electoral votes he needs, and his rock solid 45 percent makes him competitive for reelection.
Democrats won the popular vote in 2000 and 2016 yet lost the presidency in the Electoral College, “and that’s going to become the norm, and if not the norm, close to the norm,” Sabato says.
In California alone, there will be millions of surplus Democratic votes that can’t do anything for the nominee. Democrats should forget about airing TV ads, says Sabato, and instead spend that money on resettling Californians in key states where people have begun building blue communities.
With California burning, it’s a good time to induce people to move, he says, acknowledging that he’s being “fanciful” in proposing a resettlement program, but that it’s useful in getting Democrats to focus on the challenge they face in overcoming Trump’s advantage in the Electoral College.
Progressive activists point to 2018 as evidence that Democrats will turn out in historically high numbers in 2020. But so will Republicans, says Sabato. “What (Democrats) have to do is make it easy for people to vote Democratic. Democrats seem determined to make it difficult to vote Trump out. They have to make it as easy as possible.”
If Democrats want to win, says Sabato, they should nominate Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who’s still in the race, or Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota centrist. Or Biden.
Larry Rasky, Biden’s former communications director, filed the paperwork last month for a “Unite the Country” super PAC to raise money for his friend of 30 years. Rasky, who was with Biden for his previous runs in 1988 and 2008, is hoping that the third time’s the charm.
A powerhouse in Boston business and political circles, Rasky says that he’s taken a lot of “incoming” about the New York Times poll and its implications for Warren and Biden. He told The Daily Beast, “I am a friend of Elizabeth Warren and supporter of hers in Massachusetts, and a donor of hers since the beginning. I love Elizabeth, and his positions are not identical to hers. Anybody who doesn’t recognize Joe’s a progressive doesn’t know the man. He’s been in a lot of tough fights for progressive values for a long time.”
Biden has been considered the frontrunner because he is the most likely Democrat to beat Trump, so the polling in the six key swing states “doesn’t surprise me,” says Rasky. “I think the American people are ahead of the insiders on this. I don’t take anything away from Elizabeth. But at the end of the day, people want the best person to beat Trump.”
That was true the day Biden entered the race, and it remains true today. The ability to defeat Trump in key states remains his strongest claim to the nomination—and Warren’s biggest hurdle.