Notes from the Primaries: Could Democrats take the White House and flip the Senate?

New figures suggest that the Democrats' electoral map can be significantly expanded


2016 Overview

Yes, there are scenarios where Clinton and Trump could come up short this summer. But they are increasingly unlikely, even remote. A Trump Clinton match up looks assured now, and what a titanic battle it will be.

Over the next week Democrats will vote in six states, Republicans four. The frontrunners are likely to lose some states in this patch.

The nature of the states gives Sanders a bit more of a comeback opportunity, so there could be some drama this week. But it is also an opportunity for Trump and Clinton to re-assert their control over their nominating processes.

I spent some time recently looking ahead to a fall Clinton Trump matchup. A lot is unknown at this point but we do know a few important things: Clinton is consistently over 50 per cent in the early match ups and Obama’s approval rating is now up in the high 40s, low 50s, a critical development in the race.

The Electoral College Map still favors the Democrats; and on the big issue whether Trump can  flip enough white men to put the Rustbelt there just isn’t a lot of evidence yet that he can. For more on the fall, I recommend these good, early pieces from Dan Balz, Ron Brownstein and Greg Sargent.

The 2016 Electoral Map

New House rankings from the Cook Report now suggest that there is at least a mathematical possibility the Democrats could retake the House (they would need to win 30 of 31 targeted races).

A bit surprised by this, I spent some time with the 2016 map and Cook’s rankings of all the Federal races. Using the Cook rankings (with one change – I moved AZ Senate into Tossup/Lean GOP), I developed the some thoughts about a possible expansion of what has been a very small Presidential map for Democrats.

Key Takeaways

In 2016 there is remarkable overlap between the Presidential and Senate target states. Nine of the ten top tier Presidential states also have priority Senate races (and Dems are trying to make the tenth, Iowa, competitive at the Senate level), whereas only three of the Presidential states in 2012 and 2008 also had competitive Senate races.

This overlap offers the national Democratic Party coordination opportunities that could produce enough economies of scale to free up resources to expand the national map.

Why is this important? It has my belief that in the Obama era the national Party has not taken enough responsibility for winning elections beyond the very small number (ten) of states in each of the last two Presidential cycles. Expanding the map, as we discuss below, will not only help the Democrats win the Senate, but now that the House is mathematically in play, maximise gains in the House (and of course help at the state and local level too).

The counter of course is that it is too risky to spread limited resources too thin. Hunker down, the argument goes, weather the Trumpian storm, win the Presidency, remake the Supreme Court, etc.

But this is an unusual electoral map offering unique opportunities this year; Trump as GOP nominee ensures substantial resources allowing Democrats to consider going on offense. If successful, this could allow Democrats to not just win but have a chance of getting some of their agenda through Congress next year.

Let’s look at two highly leveraged expansion paths:

Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina

Each of these longer shot Presidential targets also have targeted Senate races, and given where the polling is today in the Senate, it would be wise for the Democrats to put more races in play. There are questions whether any Southern state is open to the Democrats with Trump on the top of the ticket, but more will be known about this soon.

Arizona looks particularly attractive this time as early polling has both the Presidential and Senate races as toss ups; there are also two Congressional seats in play; and Hispanics could be motivated by a ballot that may have both Arpaio and Trump.

It should be noted that in 2008 team Obama ran a serious well funded campaign targeting Hispanics in nearby states with similar Hispanic populations Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada and turnout increased by between 30 per cent and 63 per cent.

Given where the polling is now, the first ever well funded and sophisticated Hispanic effort lead by the nominee could turn Arizona into a purple, lean blue state, as we’ve seen in other states with large Hispanic populations where the national party has invested.

Adding these three states would leave only the Illinois Senate race outside the national Democratic Party map and solely up to the DSCC to manage – though Illinois natives Obama and Clinton might have something to say about that.

California and New York

The map also suggests that the national Democratic Party and nominee should consider mounting some kind of coordinated effort in both New York and California. 19 of the 37 targeted House seats fall within the expanded 13 state map. Ten more fall in New York and California.

Mounting targeted campaign in NY and CA to drive up turnout something no national Democratic party has done in decades could help put ten more House seats in play. This means 29 of the 37 target House seats would fall under the national coordinated campaign’s reach, leaving only eight of the 37 House races and solely up to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

This kind of coordination and leverage would be unprecedented in recent national politics, and could make the difference not only in the Democrats winning the White House, but in flipping the Senate and getting the House very very close.

Oldie But Goodie

Simon Rosenberg, Forward, Or Backward?, September, 2012:

‘In this election cycle the Republican’s angry war against modernity has escalated and appears to have become institutionalized. It is almost as if the more the world moves away from the simplicity of the Reagan moment the more angry and defiant and of course wrong the Republican offering is becoming.”

Simon Rosenberg is the founder of the think tank NDN/NPI. In the run up to the US election Left Foot Forward will be reposting his weekly analysis of the campaign trail as a UK exclusive. You can find previous columns here

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