The Briefing, Vol. VIII, Issue 21

May 25, 2020

Happy Memorial Day to all our readers.

This week:

  • The mysterious, unpredictable election season
  • Biden patronizes blacks, risking their votes
  • Montana, Arizona races put Senate in reach for Democrats

President 2020

Coronavirus: Polling continues to look rather grim for President Trump. He hasn’t led Joe Biden in a single national poll since mid-February. More importantly, he trails in all recent polls of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. And Biden is starting to take leads in more polls of Florida, North Carolina and Arizona

Trump will benefit to some degree when the pollsters move away from registered and toward likely voters. But he is still behind. He needs something to shake up the current political reality.

Can that happen? In the age of coronavirus, it certainly can, and it can work either way.

There has been a massive displacement in the U.S. job market. Yet so far, thanks to aggressive government interventions, Americans have barely felt the pain associated with their unusually high levels of unemployment. Paychecks are still being covered. Rents and mortgages are largely still being paid. But that might not last.

This renders the 2020 election far less predictable than previous races — even more unpredictable than the notoriously poorly predicted 2016.

Another wild card is the fact that the American public is so thoroughly tuned out of political news right now. It now appears that in-person conventions might not happen at all — certainly not for the Democrats, but possibly also not for the Republicans either. There may be no political rallies or public events for another month or more. In-person voter contacts are unlikely to occur for months. The race will be carried out over the phone and online.  

What sort of difference will that make? No one knows. Nothing quite like this has ever happened before, so the effects will be by definition unpredictable. 

The black vote: Speaking of unpredictable, 2020 could be the year in which Democrats find out how much they can take the black vote for granted. Again, the jury is out on this one. 

Some history is worth revisiting here. Prior to 2008, Democrats could could count on winning 85% to 90% of a black vote that comprised just over 10 percent of the electorate. Barack Obama solidified that support, however, taking 95% in 2008 amid increased black turnout — up from 11 to 13. 

The problem Democrats face now is that Barack Obama can never run again. This helps explain decreased black turnout in 2016, and also the decline in the Democratic vote share to 89 percent. 

Now let us consider Joe Biden’s interview last week with noted podcaster Charlemagne tha God. His remark was, “I tell you if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”

Biden has enjoyed a lot of good will from black Democratic primary voters. But then, so did Hillary Clinton, yet she suffered a lack of black enthusiasm in November. To perform well among black voters in the primary is not necessarily the same thing as to maximize Democratic potential with black voters in a general election. And if Democrats fail to do that, especially in key states, they lose.

So when Biden makes such a patently offensive remark, telling black people that he is the arbiter of who is black, it really does make a difference. If it turns off as few as 5 to 10 percent of black voters, it could be enough to cost him a key state or two — and perhaps the election.

President Trump has tried to woo black voters, posing the question of what they have to lose by throwing off decades of fealty to the Democratic Party. He will never win the black vote. But if he can win even 20 percent of it, he will have revolutionized modern presidential politics. The unconventional nature of Trump’s candidacy, in comparison to the typical Republican, means there is at least a chance, long as it sounds.

Senate 2020

Arizona: Sen. Martha McSally, R, continues to trail Mark Kellyby double digits in the latest poll. Her underperformance has reportedly caused Trump himself to express concerns. With Trump himself trailing in so many recent polls of Arizona, he has twice as much reason to worry. Arizona was one of Trump’s worst-performing states, relatively to Romney, and the last thing he needs is a sinking-ship Senate candidacy on the ticket. Between the NRSC and the bespoke party-aligned SuperPAC Defend Arizona, Republicans are expected to spend $15 million defending her, on top of whatever McSally, other outside groups, and McConnell’s own SuperPAC are ready to spend.

Democrats have made a big show of trying to compete for Texas based on the potential of its Hispanic voters to turn out and vote Democrat. But Arizona has always been a more promising prospect in this regard. Its Hispanic voters are far more Democratic in their tendencies than those in Texas, and the state is less conservative to start with.  

Montana: Gov. Steve Bullock has just outraised Sen. Steve Daines by a two-to-one ratio in the last quarter, and has now raised $6 million since entering the race in March. A poll from Montana State earlier this month showed Bullock leading Daines by 7 points. This clearly threatens Republican control of the Senate. 

The SuperPAC of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has set aside an incredible $10 million to spend on this race — a wild sum for such a small state. Although it is a bad sign for Daines that he trails at this early date, President Trump is sure to win very big in Montana. A huge Republican effort, combined with Daines’ ability to self-fund, is sure to make this a competitive race in the fall.