Spring 2019 has sprung and Democratic presidential candidates are popping up like dandelions, an unpopular president presides over a strong economy but faces unfavorable match-ups with likely opponents, according to many polls. Congressional stakes are also high as Democrats will seek to hold on to the House and hope to gain the Senate.
While it’s early, we offer the following insights in what may be important to watch on how the election may shape up – and shake out.
Presidential Campaign – Follow the Money
Despite trailing in current head-to-head matchups with the major Democratic candidates, President Trump has solidified Republicans behind him, with an 89 percent job approval rating among the GOP base. The president’s job approval numbers are also ticking upwards among independents, with an increase in April to 39 percent, nearing his post inaugural high of 42 percent. Also in the president’s favor is an impressive fundraising advantage, with his campaign bagging a $30 million haul in the first quarter. Historically, the only candidate to ever raise as much was Hillary Clinton in the first quarter of 2007; although nearly one-third of that amount was transferred from her Senate campaign coffers. Trump, on the hand, has raised 98 percent of his funds from individuals making donations of $200 or less. That suggests a broad and engaged base of grassroots support that (as yet) is unmatched by any challenger.
So, despite unfavorable polling data, the President has some strengths going into his re-election campaign. In addition to the following the money, keep your eye on polling data in three key battleground states: Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
While the Democratic field swells to a cast of thousands, Hawthorn Chairman, John Ashford noted they are sorting themselves into three groups.
The Over-the-Hill Gang: Former Vice President Joe Biden at 76, Sen. Bernie Sanders at 77 and Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 69 (compared to President Trump at 72). Yet septuagenarians Biden and Sanders currently lead the pack of much younger and less experienced candidates, which leads us to:
The Not Quite Ready for Primetime Players: Featuring Senators Harris, Gillibrand, Klobachar, Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Secretary Julian Castro. Mayor Pete and Kamela Harris appear to be the two most likely to break out of this pack.
Legends in their Own Minds: the third-tier group unlikely to break through (although Govs. Hickenlooper and Inslee, as well as Sen. Michael Bennet, might at least become minor contenders).
Former Vice President Biden is the current favorite according to the polls, with Sen. Sanders a close second. While the field may be as crowded as a Cecile B. DeMille movie, the waters may part early with 60 percent of the delegates being awarded in just two weeks, between Super Tuesday on March 3rd and March 17th.
With several candidates having home-state advantages in some of the big early voting states the key early battleground states for the Democratic field appear to be Florida, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.
The U.S. Senate
Republicans are defending more than a score of seats compared to a dozen for the Democrats. But Democrats are likely competitive in only Arizona and Colorado, and that depends on their ability to field strong candidates. The Democrats do have a strong candidate in Doug Jones in Alabama, who won his special election against the infamous Roy Moore, but in a reliably Republican state that President Trump carried 62 percent, Jones’ re-election prospects are dim against a Republican candidate with less baggage than Moore. The most likely outcome in 2020 is that the Democrats will lose one seat.
The U.S. House
Democrats flipped 43 seats in 2018 to take control of the House, making gains among suburban voters and in former Republican leaning counties. It’s too early to tell if those gains will hold, and Democrats have another factor to contend with in 2020 that was absent in the mid-terms: Trump will be on the ballot. Democratic freshmen will be well-financed for the fight as indicated by solid fundraising results from the first quarter. Of the 43 freshmen Democrats being targeted by Republicans in 2020, only eight posted numbers less than $300,000. No Democrat freshman has been outraised by declared opponents.
It is perhaps wise to keep the words of Lao Tzu in mind when looking ahead:
“Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.”
But if we follow the money and focus on key battleground states and races, we have plenty to watch as the 2020 election cycle unfolds.