To Hawthorn Friends & Family – 

Writing in the National Journal this (Friday) morning, the great Charlie Cook – best of all the political prognosticators – wrote:

For Republican candidates on the ballot this year in a competitive state or district, this would be a really good time to call your pollster and get into the field with a survey ASAP if you haven’t already. The odds are very high that your numbers are not as good as they were even six weeks ago.  This is a fundamentally different election than it was 100 days ago, and unrecognizable from the beginning of this year.

In short, this election is turning into a horror show for the Republican Party. In conversations this week with a large number of top-notch pollsters, operatives, and strategists from both parties with decades of experience, the reports are that independents are breaking away from President Trump.  While his share of Republican Party support remains high – possibly even a touch higher than a few months ago – there are signs that the number of voter identifying as Republicans has started to drop.  Sure, the ones left behind are as loyal as ever; it gets that way when the wagons are circling and tightening.

Charlie suggests 2020 could be for the Republicans what 1980 was for the Democrats.  Of course, history also offers examples of 1964 (LBJ’s sweep over Goldwater), as well as 1948, when an embattled incumbent, Harry Truman won re-election and re-took strong control of both House AND Senate.

All Charlie writes fits with so many other headlines we’re reading, including:

Cunningham, Biden Lead in NC (Hotline)
This year’s Senate races spell disaster for the Republican Party (Washington Post)
POLITICO’s Election Forecast:  Trump, Senate GOP in trouble (Politico)
Analysis|4 poll numbers that could spell doom for Trump and the GOP (Washington Post)
Democrats smell a rout – and the chance to control redistricting in 2021 (Politico)
Biden again blows by Trump in cash race (Politico)
A Biden landslide (TwentyTwenty)
Dems Claim Biden Up in Missouri (MoScout)
Over the last few decades, Georgia has gone from a swing state to reliably GOP. But it’s now looking like a genuinely competitive state again (Sabato’s Crystal Ball)
POLL:  Democrat Theresa Greenfield leads GOP Sen. Joni Ernst in Iowa Race (USA TODAY)

AND it fits the outcomes recently produced by “outraged” voters, who:

  • In Iowa finally retired the racist Congressman Steve King
  • In New York retired House Foreign Affairs Chair Eliot Engel
  • in Virginia, forced out a GOP incumbent who made the mistake of presiding over the marriage of a gay couple
  • In North Carolina rebuffed President Trump’s anointed congressional candidate in favor of a 24-year-old
  • In Kentucky nearly defeated Democratic establishment darling Amy McGrath to oppose Mitch McConnell
  • In Utah, turned against former Governor (and Ambassador) Jon Huntsman in his bid to return to the Governor’s office
  • In New Jersey, rolled over the Norwood machine’s choice candidate for a (by-marriage) Kennedy
  • In Colorado, nominated a pro-gun, pro-QAnon supporting whacko
  • In West Virginia, rid themselves of 13 incumbent state legislators, including the House Speaker and Senate President
  • In New Mexico, defeated SEVEN incumbent state senators in their primaries (five of whom were Democrats, including three committee   chairs and the Senate Leader)
  • In Oklahoma – the reddest of Republican states – passed  Medicaid expansion (even though it was defeated by 50,000 in early voting, it passed by 57,000 votes in ballots cast at the polls election day)

All of which seem to validate the choice of 28 Republican and nine Democrat members of congress NOT to seek re-election to the House (PLUS three Republicans and one Democrat who lost their primaries).

AND it fits what we’re seeing for our corporate clients in a variety of state polls, as well as a national poll last week done by our long-time colleague Mark Allen of American Public which found the current Trump/Biden vote nationally is 48% to 35% (with a slight Biden advantage among undecided adults). We also found overwhelming concern and anxiety over the coronavirus pandemic, which could spell doom for any hope of presidential coattails in November.

Gallup’s Presidential Approval Tracker has Trump’s most recent approval rating at 38%; at the same point in their first terms, Presidents Clinton (52%), W. Bush (48%), and Obama (47%) fared much better. This morning Doug Sosnik, six-year Clinton Senior Advisor, engaged in a conversation with Charlie Cook and his audience, during which he stated that the most important time for a presidential campaign is the second quarter of the election year.  In light of the last three months, the Trump campaign is hoping they can defy this conventional wisdom.

Alan Abramowitz of Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball compared Joe Biden’s performance so far this year with Hillary Clinton’s performance during the same period four years ago.  Though RealClearPolitics shows that Biden only leads Clinton by 0.2% in an average of polls through June 2020 and 2016, respectively.

If one delves deeper, though, it becomes clear that Biden’s numbers are far less volatile than Hillary’s were. Plus Trump led in 14% of polls against Clinton, but he has only led Biden in 1% of  them in this cycle. (All of this is without consideration of the Democrats’ comparative likeability and political baggage.)

BUT, as of Monday, we’ll still be 112 days away from Election Day on November 3 . . . and 79 days away from October 1 when early voting will be in the process of starting in a lot of states.  A LOT can happen in 112 days.

Reflect:  112 days BEFORE this Monday was March 23rd.  Think about all that has happened since then:  pandemic, protests/riots, recession/depression with a quarter of America’s workforce unemployed.

What will happen in the NEXT 112 days and how will it impact the elections (especially pandemic, schools opening or not, Fall football, etc.)?  Whom will people decide they BLAME and whom do they TRUST?  Who will actually GO (to the mailbox or polling place) VOTE?

Will the enthusiasm of Trump’s voters – which is MUCH higher than the enthusiasm of Biden’s – make a significant difference?  Will the voters preference – as of now – for Trump’s handling the economy over Biden’s over-ride their disappointment with his handling of the pandemic and demonstrations?  Will there be increasing focus on Biden’s age:  older when he TAKES office than Ronald Reagan was when he LEFT office.

The Trump campaign is highly focused on turning out in 2020 white, non-college-educated voters who did NOT vote in 2016, which explains some of the divisive rhetoric and leaves open the question of whether there are enough of them to overcome the deficit with college-educated voters.

And will the Trump tirades against vote-by-mail backfire and discourage COVID-afraid seniors, many of whom are Trump voters, from going to the polls AND from voting a mail ballot?

When I started covering campaigns – 50 years ago, I am appalled to note – in that long-gone era the Presidential campaign started Labor Day (for the Democrats, at Cadillac Square in Detroit) and no one paid any attention until after the World Series.  With early voting starting this year in late September and the heavy shift to mail voting in many states, that world is forever gone.

As Charlie Cook noted in his column, the “late” campaign phase is coming very “early” this year.