The Briefing, Vol. VIII, Issue 36

This week:

  • Trump’s paths to victory are narrow
  • Cash crunch prompts him to consider personal $100M expenditure
  • Republican Senate picture solidifies somewhat despite Georgia in-fighting

President 2020

Polling: We’ve finally reached the point in the election season where polls are coming in faster and more consistently from around the country. With a few outliers, the results so far have to be somewhat disappointing for President Trump. Then again, given his famous propensity to underperform in polling, the situation might not be as dire as it seems.

On a national level, Trump seems to be at least five points behind former Vice Presdient Joe Biden, no matter the poll, and perhaps as many as nine points behind. No one has been able to reproduce the recent Trafalgar poll result where he appeared competitive in Minnesota, and Biden is clearly in the running to win North Carolina. The most alarming problem is that Biden also seems on pace to win Arizona.

There are a few bright spots for Trump that are worth mentioning. For one thing, a Susquehana poll has him within two points in Pennsylvania. Trump leads in Iowa in an AARP survey, and he remains stubbornly competitive, if slightly behind, in every poll of Florida. However, his overall situation looks poor, but not hopeless. He will almost certainly enter election day as an underdog, but he also did that in 2016.

Cash: Compound the poor polling with a campaign cash crunch that now has Trump considering spending about $100 million of his own money on his campaign. It’s true that Trump managed to win in 2016 despite being outspent two-to-one by his Democratic opponent, but that’s not the sort of thing one wants to take chances with. Joe Biden is massively outspending Trump right now on the airwaves, including a $47 million ad campaign in battleground states. There is a real danger that Biden could solidify and build up the leads he appears to enjoy in places like Wisconsin and Michigan.  

The lesson here is that Trump’s path to victory is a narrow one. He has to overcome a financial disadvantage, outperform his polling by several points in several states that are very politically different from one another, and thus string together an electoral college majority.

Senate 2020

Georgia: Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R, was surely disappointed when her Republican opponent, Rep. Doug Collins, received the endorsement of state House Speaker David Ralston, R. But her campaign’s accusation that Ralston abuses his power, based on a report from last year in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about his criminal law practice, has apparently prompted Ralston to redouble his efforts to defeat her. He has amassed a long list of legislators who are backing Collins, including two who had previously endorsed Loeffler. He also seems to have convinced one other legislator to withdraw his Loeffler endorsement and remain neutral. 

This race is a jungle primary, meaning that the top two candidates in the 21-candidate field, regardless of party, will go on to a runoff if no one gets 50% on Nov. 3. Among the minor Democratic candidates: Former Sen. Joe Lieberman’s son, Matt.

The race is a close one, with neither Loeffler nor Collins anywhere near 50% in any poll. It also remains a distinct possibility that the two of them could advance to an all-Republican runoff.

Iowa: Both President Trump and Sen. Joni Ernst, R, lead in the latest poll of Iowa — surely a relief to Republicans there and to Trump’s campaign, which in many scenarios needs the Hawkeye State to win re-election. 

Amid all the controversy now about mail balloting, this is a state where Republicans began a huge push to outclass Democrats in mail balloting at the beginning of last decade. They enjoyed great  success, electing two Republican governors, dominating statewide offices, seizing Democrat Tom Harkin’s old Senate seat, and controlling the state legislature for most of the time since. Republican legislators in Iowa have nonetheless answered President Trump’s call to put curbs on mail balloting, but it remains as accessible as in past elections and it’s something both parties have long prioritized.

Montana: Still another survey, this time from the AARP, has Sen. Steve Daines, R, leading his Democratic challenger, Gov. Steve Bullock, D, 50 to 47 percent.. Despite Bullock’s popularity and proven ability to win, Daines is simply popular and won’t be easy to beat. He has personal cash to spend, and he lacks the sort of baggage that Republican politicians in Montana tend to accumulate.

Montana is not a Republican state, despite its reputation for conservatism, but good Republican candidates can usually win there. It’s vitally important for Republicans to get this race off the table if they have any hopes at all of holding a Senate majority in 2021. That Daines can hold his own in this environment is a very positive sign for the party.