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2020 Election Preview

While we haven’t done one in a while – live election coverage was a cornerstone of this site in the early days – as the data-driven aspect has always intrigued me. Since late 2017, I’ve backed off on election coverage to put full effort into college sports, however, with interest for this election off the charts, I decided to bring the coverage back for one night only – albeit with a preview rather than a liveblog. So, without further ado:

Before we get into it: let’s set some ground rules on the terms we’ll be using throughout:
Safe: This race is >99% likelihood of victory for the favored candidate. Upsets can theoretically happen but are exceedingly rare.
Likely: Expect a couple of races with likely characterization to go to the underdog candidate, but any more than that would mean one party or the other is having an exceptionally good night.
Lean: The underdogs in these races have a decent shot and will win a significant percentage of the time, but they are clearly underdogs
Tilt: Expect the favored candidate to win this race more than 50% of the time, but not significantly so.
Tossup: A true coin flip, these races should theoretically split roughly 50-50 – although, often times this isn’t how elections work, as one party tends to overperform their polls across the board.

THE PRESIDENCY

Map with probabilistic characterizations
No tossups, gun to my head prediction

I’ll start off with the presidential contest, which, while clearly the most important, frankly isn’t that interesting to me. First off, if you’re reading this, you know who the candidates are, you know what the polls say, so there isn’t much that I feel that I can add. The polls are clear: Joe Biden is the favorite to win this election, and there has been so much high-quality polling of the race that to go against the polls would be denying data, and I can’t do that. The race is simple: either Joe Biden is going to win, or we will see the biggest polling error since 1948. What are the odds of that happening? Not great, but with mail-in voting and changes in election law across the country, I would believe it if we saw a bigger than average (three points) polling miss in 2020. However, for the President to secure re-election, the polling miss would have to be roughly double that, which, while not impossible, is quite unlikely.

I gave Joe Biden the edge in each of the tossups, although odds are Trump will hold at least one. The fact of the matter is that if Biden wins any of the southeast battlegrounds: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, or Texas, the race is likely over, while if he loses them all, we could be waiting a few days to find out who won, as the upper midwest seems likely to take longer to count their votes.

SENATE

Map with probabilistic characterizations
No tossups, gun to my head prediction

We start off with 43 safe seats for the Democrats, and 39 for the Republicans. We’ll go more in-depth on the competitive races.

ALABAMA
Incumbent senator Doug Jones (D) has the toughest race of any incumbent this cycle, as he faces former Auburn football head coach Tommy Tuberville (R) in one of the reddest states in the country. Jones only barely snuck into office against one of the worst senate candidates in recent history, Roy Moore (R), and Jones, who has not been a conservative Democrat in his tenure as some expected, seems likely to lose this seat. Characterization: Likely R

ALASKA
Incumbent Dan Sullivan (R) narrowly defeated then-Sen. Mark Begich (D) by three points in the 2014 wave, and he faces a tough re-election race this time around against surgeon Al Gross (I), who also received the Democratic Party’s nomination. Gross has fundraised extraordinarily well, besting Sullivan by a 2-to-1 margin, and Alaska has a history of electing independents, including for governor very recently. With that being said, Alaska is a red state, and most polls show Sullivan with a lead in the mid-single digits. The so-called “Last Frontier” is an extraordinarily difficult state to poll, though, and an upset is certainly a possibility. Characterization: Lean R

ARIZONA
Appointed incumbent Martha McSally (R) is seeking to finish the last two years of this term after being appointed following the death of the late Sen. John McCain (R). McSally was appointed this seat by Gov. Doug Ducey (R) after losing the 2018 race for the other Arizona seat to now-Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D). McSally was originally thought to be a moderate but pivoted drastically to the right after she received some challengers to her right flank in the primary of that 2018 race, which many believe led to her eventual downfall. She has fundraised extremely well, though, with gross hauls of nearly $57 million, but runs into a very tough challenger.

Astronaut Mark Kelly (D) is her opponent for this race. Kelly is perhaps best known for being the husband of ex-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D), who was injured in an assassination attempt. Kelly was considered a major recruiting win for Democrats and has proven so, fundraising an absurd $90 million and leading in polls throughout. Kelly originally seemed to be on track to win by double-digits, and while the race has somewhat tightened since as Republican voters in the historically-red state “came home” to McSally, the conventional wisdom is that Kelly is still a significant, although not surefire favorite. Characterization: Lean D

COLORADO
Incumbent Cory Gardner (R) is another member of the 2014 wave, he defeated then-Sen. Mark Udall (D) by a small margin in what was considered an upset at the time. Gardner has had some moderate tendencies during his term, including support for his state’s decision to legalize cannabis, but he still faces a very tough re-election bid as Democrats secured their best possible recruit for this race.

Ex-Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) jumped into this race at the last minute after a poor showing in the Presidential primaries. Hickenlooper was previously a popular, moderate governor of the state for two terms. He has been hit for saying he did not want this seat during the Presidential race and for some ethics scandals from his time as governor, for which he was fined $3,000. However, Hickenlooper has been up high single-digits to even low-double digits throughout this race and seems likely to flip this seat. Characterization: Likely D

GEORGIA (SPECIAL)
This seat is a special race to fill out the term of Frmr.-Sen. Johnny Isakson, who resigned last year due to Parkinson’s Disease. This is a unique contest as there were not any primaries, so 20 candidates of all parties will be on the ballot, with the top two advancing to a runoff in January (unless any candidate receives >50%, which seems near-impossible).

The appointed incumbent is Kelly Loeffler (R), a former executive for the company that owns the New York Stock Exchange, and one of the richest members of the Senate, with a net worth of over half a billion dollars. She has been hit for making significant gains in the stock market after she received a classified briefing on the coronavirus. Loeffler was originally appointed to this seat by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) as she was thought to have some appeal to Trump-skeptical suburban moderates. However, after receiving an intra-party challenge from Rep. Doug Collins (R), she has pivoted drastically to the right, especially on the issue of immigration, and seems to have beaten out Collins to the party’s right flank. Collins, who has been in the House for eight years, was the favorite to receive the appointment, and while he has not been endorsed by Trump, the President had previously called him his “pick” for the seat after Collins was a strong defender of the President during impeachment. Despite that, Collins has struggled in fundraising; while the representative has raised more than Loeffler from donors, the incumbent’s self-funding ability has meant that he’s been outspent nearly 4-to-1 in the race, and while Collins looked likely to be the highest-finishing Republican after Loeffler’s scandal, Loeffler’s shift to the right has led her to overtake him in most polls.

Minister Raphael Warnock (D) is the overwhelming favorite to finish first in the November round of voting. Warnock has spent the last 15 years as head pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, preaching from the same pulpit MLK once preached. Warnock was seen as a very strong recruit for Democrats but struggled to coalesce Democratic support early. However, in the past few weeks, Democratic voters have come home to Warnock, the choice of the party and Frmr-Pres. Barack Obama. Warnock has opened up a massive polling lead over Loeffler and Collins in round one voting intention and seems to hold an edge over both of them in the eventual runoff. Two other Democrats are worth a mention: Matt Liberman (D), son of ex-CT Sen. Joe Lieberman (I/D), and Ex-US Attorney Ed Tarver (D), both of whom struggled to fundraise after Warnock won the party’s support.

As for tonight’s result, Warnock is certain to take the first runoff spot and could clear the 50% threshold on a truly amazing night for Democrats. As for the second spot, Loeffler seems to be slightly ahead of Collins, although an upset there is possible. Polls show Warnock beating out both Loeffler and Collins, whose race to the right has cost them moderate voters, however, the lower January turnout is likely to favor Republicans. Thus, I rate the eventual winner of this seat as a tossup. Runoff Characterization: Safe Warnock, Lean Loeffler. Final Characterization: Tossup

GEORGIA
Incumbent David Perdue (R) is up for his normal re-election this year. He will take on 2017 GA-6 nominee Jon Ossoff (D), the nominee in what many called “the most important house race in history” for a left-trending, upscale seat in the Atlanta suburbs that was the first special election following Trump’s win. Ossoff fundraised well for that race but lost it by three points to now-ex-Rep. Karen Handel (R), who lost the seat in 2018 to another Democrat. After being seen as a mediocre campaigner during that contest, Ossoff, now 33, has seemed to improve for this race and has out-fundraised his opponent again. Georgia is leftward-trending, and Ossoff has won the four most recent polls of the race, but Georgia is still a historically-red state and Perdue is a relatively non-controversial incumbent. My inclination would be Ossoff is slightly favored to get more votes tonight, however, there is a wrinkle, as if neither candidate reaches 50%, the race will go to a January runoff, and a third-party candidate, Shane Hazel (L) seems likely to secure a couple of points. If the race does go to a runoff, Perdue would seem to be somewhat favored, as the January turnout will be beneficial to Republicans. That wrinkle makes this the toughest race in the country to predict. Characterization: Tossup

IOWA
Incumbent Joni Ernst (R) was elected in the 2014 wave in what was an upset after Barack Obama won the state twice. Ernst has been seen as a rising star in the party and a potential future Presidential candidate but faces a tough challenge from real estate executive Theresa Greenfield (D). Greenfield’s biography is unexceptional, she ran for office once before, for Iowa’s third congressional district, where she was thrown off the ballot after her campaign manager forged petition signatures. Thus, it was considered odd when the DSCC endorsed her well in advance of the primary, but Greenfield has proven to be a strong campaigner, outraising Ernst 2-to-1 and leading slightly in the polls despite Iowa’s light-red getting redder color. However, a last-second poll from famous, A+, gold standard Iowa pollster Ann Selzer showed Ernst with a four-point edge. The New York Times, another A+ pollster, also showed Ernst with a slight lead, and thus, I shifted this race slightly in Ernst’s direction at the last minute. However, Greenfield looks likely to overperform Biden in the state, and an upset is still very possible. Characterization: Tilt R

KANSAS
Rep. Roger Marshall was the Republican’s choice candidate for this seat following the retirement of incumbent Pat Roberts, defeating a controversial challenger thought to jeopardize this seat in the primary by a decent margin. However, this race has proven to be close despite Marshall’s relatively moderate stances, as Democrats scored a big recruitment win in State Sen. Barbara Bollier (R -> D). Bollier was a former Republican member of the legislature who switched parties after the 2018 election. This race was originally thought to be off the playing field in a red state, but poor fundraising from Marshall has allowed Bollier to flood the airwaves, and most polls have shown Marshall with a lead only in the mid-single digits, meaning an upset is still possible. Characterization: Lean R

KENTUCKY
Incumbent Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) is on a glide path to reelection against 2018 KY-6 nominee Amy McGrath (D). McGrath “fell up” to this race after losing that congressional race in 2018, and has fundraised incredibly well, with a $90 million war chest, the only reason why this race deserves a mention. Most polls of the race have shown McConnell up by low-double digits, however, McGrath’s great fundraising and McConnell’s polarizing nature as the most unpopular member of the Senate give her an outside shot of an upset on a truly amazing night for Democrats. Characterization: Likely R

MAINE
Incumbent Susan Collins (R), previously well-known for her broad popularity (she took 69% of the vote in 2014!) has since become one of the most controversial members of the Senate, holding the line on impeachment and Brett Kavanaugh’s SCOTUS nomination despite the blue lean of her state. Unsurprisingly, Democrats drew a strong challenger for her this year, State House Spkr. Sara Gideon (D), who has outraised Collins more than 2-to-1 as national donors were angry over Collins’ unpopular votes. Collins, who drew strong bipartisan support in her previous re-election bids, seems unlikely to get much of a crossover vote this time, although she will overperform Trump in the state. All recent polls have shown Gideon with a lead, but Collins’ strong campaign skills and universal name-recognition are assets, and the race remains competitive. Characterization: Lean D

MICHIGAN
Incumbent Gary Peters (D), who won this seat by 13 points despite the 2014 wave, has drawn a strong challenger for this race, in 2018 MI-Sen nominee John James (R), who is seeking this seat after falling short for the other Michigan senate seat by a closer than expected six-point margin despite the 2018 wave. This is one race where the Republican has fundraised neck-and-neck with the Democrat, and James seems likely to outperform Trump, however, Peters seems to be a favorite to retain this seat, as all recent polls have shown him up, some by double-digits. Characterization: Lean D

MINNESOTA
Appointed Incumbent Tina Smith (D) was awarded this seat when then-Sen. Al Franken (D) resigned in 2017. She faces Ex-Rep. Jason Lewis (R), who was also formerly a talk radio host. Lewis squeaked out a win in the purple suburban MN-2 in what was considered a big upset in 2016 but was then ousted by a five-point margin in 2018. Lewis has proven to be a strong campaigner, outperforming expectations in both 2016 and 2018, and benefits from strong name recognition due to his radio show, but Minnesota is still a light blue state, although trending red. Smith’s incumbency and stronger fundraising mean she is likely to prevail, although on a good night for Republicans an upset is possible. Characterization: Likely D

MISSISSIPPI
Incumbent Cindy Hyde-Smith is up for a full term against Ex-Rep. and 2018 nominee Mike Espy (D). Espy held Hyde-Smith to a closer than expected seven-point margin in the special election and quickly was recruited to run again. Espy kept that race close due to strong turnout from black voters, and, thanks to a 3-to-1 fundraising advantage, Espy has kept this race competitive as well. The deep red nature of the state makes Hyde-Smith a strong favorite, but Espy has proven to be a great candidate, and this race remains on the very edge of the playing field. Characterization: Likely R

MONTANA
Incumbent Steve Daines (R) is seeking a second term after being swept in on the 2014 wave. He faces a tough re-election as Dems secured their best possible candidate in Gov. Steve Bullock (D), who jumped into this race on the very last day after denying he had any interest while he was running for President. Bullock has been a very popular Governor and won re-election by four points in 2016 even while Trump easily carried the state. Bullock has also received credit for his state’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak but did shift moderately to the left during his Presidential campaign, especially on the issue of guns, where he was once moderate. Daines’ uncontroversial nature has left Bullock without an attacking point for much of the campaign, and the incumbent has held a slight lead in the polls throughout. However, Montana is only a moderately red state and one of the final where split-ticking voting remains, including for Bullock himself, and thus an upset would not at all be surprising. Characterization: Tilt R

NEW MEXICO
This seat deserves just a quick mention. Rep. Ben-Ray Lujan (D) seems to be a significant favorite over TV Meteorologist Mark Ronchetti (R) due to Lujan’s fundraising and the state’s blue lean, but Ronchetti has seemed to have surged late, securing the endorsement of the state’s largest newspaper, the Albuquerque Journal. All polls have shown Lujan ahead, but Ronchetti’s moderate nature and Lujan’s seemingly extraordinary political ambitions mean that Ronchetti could pull the upset on a very good night for Republicans. Characterization: Likely D

NORTH CAROLINA
Incumbent Thom Tillis (R) is facing a very strong challenge from Ex-State Sen. Cal Cunningham (D). Cunningham is the type of candidate that Democrats love to run in the South, a moderate, white, male, veteran, but that biography has proven to pay off, as Cunningham has been a strong candidate on the coattails of Biden and Gov. Roy Cooper’s strength in the state, outraising Tillis 2-to-1 and leading in the polls throughout. Cunningham has faced a string of bad headlines over the past few weeks, as it was revealed that he has been involved in multiple affairs, however, it has not seemed to undercut his support as Democrats worried it might. North Carolina is still a purple state, but Cunningham’s fundraising makes him a slight favorite despite the scandal. Characterization: Tilt D

SOUTH CAROLINA
Controversial incumbent Lindsey Graham (R) is seeking a fourth term. Graham started his career in the House as an establishment conservative and won this seat for the first time in 2002. After flying under the radar during the Bush years, Graham pivoted aggressively to the center after Obama’s election, positioning himself as the heir-apparent to John McCain. Graham was a hawkish conservative that was willing to ignore leadership, especially on issues such as immigration. Graham then ran an abortive Presidential campaign in 2016 where he repeatedly railed against Trump, at one point calling him a “jackass”, but after Trump’s election, Graham swung drastically back to the right, becoming a staunch defender of the President and earning back his trust with virulent defenses of then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh and President Trump during his Impeachment. His high-profile nature has drawn him a strong challenger.

Ex-SC Democratic Party chair Jamie Harrison (D) is Graham’s opponent. This was originally thought to be a longshot bid, but Harrison has proven to run an exceptional campaign, threading the needle between South Carolina’s conservative electorate and the liberal national donor base. His aspirational speeches and ads as well as his race have drawn comparisons to Obama, and Harrison has fundraised staggeringly well for a ridiculous $109 Million, making him the most well-funded candidate for any non-Presidential race in the history of the country. Graham has led recent polls by low-single digits, and that coupled with the state’s red lean makes him a favorite, but Harrison’s strong fundraising makes an upset possible. Characterization: Lean R

TEXAS
Despite Texas’ blue-trending nature, Incumbent John Cornyn (R) has faced a fairly easy path to re-election. Unlike Sen. Ted Cruz, who was held to a three-point margin of victory in 2018, Cornyn is fairly uncontroversial and faces a weaker candidate in 2018 TX-31 nominee MJ Hegar (D), who fell upward to this seat after losing that race. Despite Dem’s interest in Texas, Cornyn has actually out-fundraised Hegar and seems to be a significant favorite for re-election. Characterization: Likely R

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Map with probabilistic characterizations
No tossups, gun to my head prediction

I don’t have the time to go in-depth on all 100+ competitive races, but I’ll briefly touch on the 14 that I have rated as toss-ups. Democrats seem very likely to gain seats overall, although how these 14 seats go will tell you whether it is on track to be a gain of just a couple of seats or potentially upwards of 15.

ARIZONA-6
AZ-6 is a medium-red, left-trending district covering Phoenix’s upscale suburbs, including parts of Phoenix and Scottsdale. David Schweikert (R) is the incumbent. Schweikert won this seat on the 2010 wave and has been an anti-establishment conservative and member of the Freedom Caucus in Congress. He won by ten points two years ago, but has faced a major ethics scandal since, and drew a strong challenger in 2018 AZ-8 nominee Hiral Tipirneni (D) who carpetbagged to this district. Tipirnenei is known for holding now-Rep. Debbie Lesko to a closer than expected five-point margin in a 2018 special election. For context, I rate that race as safe this time around. Tipirnenei has outraised Schweikert nearly 3-to-1 for this race as the scandals dried up Schweikert’s fundraising. The left-trending nature of the district and Schweikert’s ethics issues make Tipirneni a slight favorite.

CALIFORNIA-21
CA-21 is a Hispanic-majority, medium-blue district covering southeast Bakersfield, some outskirts of Fresno, and some rural California. Incumbent TJ Cox (D) is seeking a second term. Cox, who is of Asian descent, won this seat in a mild upset against an incumbent, David Valadao (R), who is back for a rematch this year. Valado was a moderate in the House and was considered very popular prior to his loss. On the backs of some minor scandals from Cox, Valadao fundraised well for this race, albeit behind Cox, and he led the first round of voting 50-39, with the party breakdown being 52-48 in favor of the Republicans. Democratic turnout will be stronger in the general, and the incumbent should be a very mild favorite, but his strong performance in the first round makes Valadao regaining his seat a real possibility.

MISSOURI-2
MO-2 is a medium-red, left-trending district covering the southwest St. Louis suburbs. Incumbent Ann Wagner (R) is seeking a fifth term. Wagner, an establishment conservative, is seen to be a potential future member of House leadership but was held to a four-point win in 2018. State Sen. Jill Schupp (D) will look to close that gap. Schupp won her seat by defeating now-SoS Jay Ashcroft (R) and is considered a very strong campaigner. The moderate liberal has fundraised almost as well as the incumbent, and this district is thought to be trending to the left very rapidly. However, it is still GOP-leaning overall, and Wagner is likely a slight favorite.

NEBRASKA-2
NE-2 is a light-red, trending left district covering Omaha and most of its suburbs. Incumbent Don Bacon (R) is running for re-election in a district Biden is likely to win. He faces 2018 nominee Kara Eastman (D) In a rematch after narrowly winning two years ago. Eastman, a bold progressive endorsed by Justice Democrats, the group the elevated Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was left for dead in 2018 after beating out the Democratic establishment pick in the primary, however, Democrats came to regret that, as she held Bacon to a significantly closer-than-expected two-point margin. Unsurprisingly, Democrats aren’t making the same mistake this time, and she has outraised Bacon slightly and somewhat softened some of her most left-wing edges. Bacon’s incumbency and Eastman’s progressive views make Bacon a slight favorite, but this is the most interesting race of 2020 to me, as Justice Democrats have yet to prove they can win in swing districts, and an Eastman win would bring new credibility to the organization, which to this point has only targeted safe-blue seats.

NEW JERSEY-2
NJ-2 is a purple district that covers the southern tip of the state, including Atlantic City and some Philly suburbs. The incumbent is Jeff Van Drew (D -> R), who made headlines after bucking his party on impeachment and then switching parties. Van Drew, who won this seat by an eight-point margin in 2018, was a moderate liberal in Congress and has, surprisingly, not shifted his voting record much since switching parties, and is easily the most liberal member of the Republican caucus. He faces teacher and nonprofit exec Amy Kennedy (D), wife of ex-RI Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D). Her connections to the Kennedy network and Van Drew’s polarizing nature has led to her outraising Drew slightly for this race. This seat looks to be very competitive, but Van Drew’s “RINO” (Republican in name only) nature may scare off some conservative voters, leading to me giving a slight edge to Kennedy.

NEW YORK-11
NY-11 is a purple district that covers Staten Island and some middle-class neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Afghanistan veteran Max Rose (D) is the incumbent. Rose picked up this seat by a 6-point margin in the 2018 wave in what was considered an upset and has been a moderate liberal in Congress. He has tried to appeal to Republicans by criticizing extremely unpopular NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio (D). Rose faces State Rep. and 2017 NYC Mayoral nominee Nicole Malliotakis (R). Malliotakis lost the 2017 race by a 40-point margin, about in line with expectations. Malliotakis has shown some moderate tendencies, especially on guns and immigration. This race is very competitive, with the slightest of edges to Rose.

OKLAHOMA-5
OK-5 is a red, left-trending district covering most of Oklahoma City, its northern suburbs, and some rural areas. Incumbent Kendra Horn (D) won this seat in the biggest upset of the entire 2018 cycle, ousting an incumbent by a slight margin. She has been moderate in the House but did vote for impeachment. Unsurprisingly, she drew a very strong challenger for this race in State Sen. Stephanie Bice (R). Horn has out-fundraised Bice, but the red lean of the district makes this anyone guess. Gun to my head I’ll pick the incumbent, Horn, but this is very close.

PENNSYLVANIA-10
PA-10 is a light-red district covering Harrisburg and York. Scott Perry (R) is the incumbent. Perry, a Freedom Caucus member, is a questionable fit for the light red nature of the seat, and won re-election by a closer-than-expected three-point margin in 2018, leading to Democrats drawing a very strong recruit for this race – State Auditor Eugene DePasquale, a moderate who has been elected to statewide office twice, and a former legislator from York. DePasquale has fundraised very well for this race, actually slightly outraising the incumbent, and he seems to be the slightest of favorites in the contest.

TEXAS-7
TX-7 is a White-plurality, wealthy, medium-red, left-trending seat covering west Houston and some Houston suburbs. Incumbent Lizzie Fletcher (D) won this historically-GOP seat on the 2018 wave but faces a tough challenger in veteran Wesley Hunt (R). Hunt, a black, establishment conservative, has a compelling story of serving in Iraq and has come up with truly great fundraising of $6.6 million, making him one of the best-funded challengers in the country, outpacing Fletcher. Hunt has endorsements from Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, and if I had to pick a seat where an upset (many other forecasters consider Fletcher a significant favorite) was likely, it would be this one. However, with that being said, this district is trending to the left rapidly, and Fletcher is therefore a slight favorite.

TEXAS-21
TX-21 is a red, left-trending district comprised of upscale, suburban San Antonio and Austin, along with some rural Texas. Incumbent Chip Roy (R) is seeking a second term after being held to a closer-than-expected two-point margin in the wave. Roy is an anti-establishment conservative, seen as a potential heir-apparent to Ted Cruz’s ideology. He faces a tough challenger in ex-State Sen. and 2014 gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis (D). Davis has incredible fundraising of $8.8 million, among the best for a challenger nationwide, and nearly doubling up Roy. Roy’s anti-establishment nature makes this race very competitive, as Austin has trended left very rapidly, but Roy is still likely a slight favorite.

TEXAS-22
TX-22 is a White-plurality, red, left-trending district covering much of Houston’s southern suburbs. Incumbent Pete Olson (R) is retiring. Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls (R) is the Republican nominee, who is running as a staunch anti-establishment conservative with a focus, unsurprisingly, on crime. 2018 nominee Sri Preston-Kulkarni (D) is seeking to seal the deal after losing to Olson by 5% in 2018. Fluent in multiple languages, Preston-Kulkarni is a strong campaigner and has some progressive tendencies. He also has out-fundraised Nehls 3-to-1, but has been hit for a 1997 arrest for cocaine possession. Like much of Texas, this is a red district that is trending left, but it is still red, and thus Nehls is a slight favorite.

TEXAS-24
TX-24 is a White-plurality, medium-red, left-trending district in the Dallas suburbs. Incumbent Kenny Marchant (R) is retiring. Ex-Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne (R) is the Republican nominee. Van Duyne is an anti-establishment conservative who served as the mayor of a lower-middle-class Dallas suburb for six years. She then served in the Trump HUD department. She faces school board member Candace Valenzuela (D), who has a compelling biography of experiencing homelessness as a child. Valenzuela, who has both Black and Hispanic ancestry, has strong support from national progressives, including an endorsement from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and she has out-fundraised the controversial Van Duyne. Both sides are running candidates that do not seem to appeal to moderates, and in a red, left-trending district, the favorite is unclear. Valenzuela has led the few polls of the race and seems to be a slight favorite, but the race could go either way.

UTAH-4
UT-4 is a red district covering central and southwest Salt Lake County, as well as much of Salt Lake City’s suburbs, along with a large rural tail. Incumbent Ben McAdams (D) is seeking a second term after winning in an upset in the 2018 wave. McAdams has been a moderate liberal in the House but did vote for impeachment. He faces former NFL player Burgess Owens (R), who fell into poverty after leaving the league before converting to Mormonism and turning his life around. Owens has been a national star and is one of the more unique candidates of the cycle running on a platform somewhat similar to the little-known Reform Party, which Donald Trump tried to win the Presidential nomination of back in 2000, although he still is fairly right-wing on fiscal issues. Owens has fundraised very well, although still slightly behind McAdams. McAdams’ incumbency gives him a slight edge, but this is still a red district, and an upset is on the table.

VIRGINIA-5
VA-5, my home district, is a medium-red district covering the Charlottesville area as well as a broad stretch of rural Virginia, from the DC exurbs to the North Carolina border, making the district bigger than the state of New Jersey. Incumbent Denver Riggleman (R) was defeated at the GOP convention after officiating his friend’s same-sex wedding. Republican’s new nominee ex-Campbell County commissioner Bob Good (R), who is most well-known as athletic director for the evangelical Liberty University. Good is running as a red-meat, anti-establishment conservative with a strong emphasis on social issues. He will face a tough race, though, as Physician Cameron Webb (D) has attracted major buzz, outraising Goodnearly 4-to-1. Webb served as a fellow in both the Obama and Trump White Houses and has proven to be a very strong candidate, but the red lean of the district means that Good, despite his controversial nature, is a very slight favorite.

GUBERNATORIAL

Map with probabilistic characterizations
No Preview
No tossups, gun to my head prediction

The gubernatorial races this year haven’t gotten much coverage, mostly because they don’t look to be close, but four are worth a mention.

INDIANA
Incumbent Eric Holcomb (R) is seeking a second term. Despite being held to a six-point margin in 2016, Holcomb was not expected to face much of a challenge from former state health commissioner Woody Myers (D), however, the race has been thrown into limbo in recent days, as Navy veteran Donald Rainwater (L) has run a very strong campaign. Despite the Libertarian label, Rainwater has mostly just run to Holcomb’s right, hitting him hard on the state’s coronavirus lockdowns, though he does have some classic Libertarian views such as marijuana legalization. One poll had Rainwater taking 24% of the vote, and in a scenario where that poll is accurate, Myers could have a chance to sneak through the middle with Rainwater splitting the right-wing vote. That poll seems to be an outlier and Holcomb remains a strong favorite, but not an overwhelming one. Characterization: Likely R

MISSOURI
Incumbent Mike Parson (R) was elevated to this seat when then-Gov.-Eric Greitens (R) resigned. Parson is an establishment conservative that has faced some scandals over his crony-capitalist tendencies and insider nature. He will face State Auditor Nicole Galloway (D), the only statewide elected Democrat in Missouri. Galloway has won statewide election before and does seem to have an angle of attack due to Parson’s COVID response and insiderness, but Missouri remains a red state. Characterization: Likely R

MONTANA
The most-watched gubernatorial seat in the country comes from Montana, as Gov. Steve Bullock (D) is termed out. Rep. Greg Gianforte (R) is the GOP nominee. Gianforte, the founder of a software company, lost a race for this position in 2016, before dropping down and winning a seat in the House following an infamous “body-slam” assault of a reporter on the day before his 2017 special election. Gianforte pleaded guilty to those charges but remained popular and won a full term in 2018. He has been on the right edge of the Republican caucus in Washington and faces a tough test from LG Mike Cooney (D). Cooney is a career Montana politician who has been endorsed by Bullock. Democrats have held the Governor’s mansion for 16 years, and Gianforte is a weak candidate, but Cooney seems to lack the charisma and “it-factor” that Bullock and Sen. Jon Tester have shown to appeal to crossover voters, and the polls have shown Gianforte ahead, although very slightly. Characterization: Lean R

NORTH CAROLINA
North Carolina is a purple state, but incumbent Roy Cooper (D) seems to be a significant favorite for re-election. Cooper won this seat despite Trump carrying the state in 2016, and Cooper has been a popular moderate in office, perhaps in part because the Republican legislature wouldn’t let him do anything. LG Dan Forest (R) is seeking the top job after eight years as the #2. Forest is a staunch social conservative, making him a questionable fit for the purple state. Most polls show Cooper with a wide lead, outperforming both Biden and Cunningham, the Democratic Senate candidate, but Forest could pull an upset if Trump carries the state by a wide margin. Characterization: Likely R

LOOSE ENDS

There are many state legislative elections this year, with the most interesting races being in Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Texas. Control of redistricting in some of those states are up for grabs, meaning they have national implications. Republicans will also try and break a Democratic coalition majority in Alaska, and on a good night for Democrats, the legislature in North Carolina or Pennsylvania is certainly in play as well. Additionally, over 20 major cities will have mayoral elections Tuesday, including Baltimore, where a self-funded Independent looks to spoil the Democratic City Council President, and in Portland, where the mayor is getting a challenge from the far-left in a city where criticism over the mayor’s handling of the protests following George Floyd’s death came from both sides.

There are also over 100 ballot initiatives. Some highlights:

In California, voters will decide if Uber and Lyft drivers should be classified as employees, if property taxes should be raised, if the use of cash bail should be eliminated, and if affirmative action can be used in college admissions and government hiring. Florida will vote on switching to a Louisiana-rules top-two primary system for state races, Massachusetts will vote to use ranked-choice voting, and Alaska will vote on a new top-four primary system with ranked-choice voting in the general election.

Coloradans will vote on whether or not the state should join the National Popular Vote Compact, which gives a state’s electors to the winner of the popular vote (although the Compact only goes into effect after a total of states surpassing 270 electoral votes decide to join). Virginia will vote on whether to put the hands of redistricting in a bipartisan commission, and four states: Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota, are voting on whether to legalize recreational marijuana. Finally, Oregon will vote on whether to decriminalize possession of small amounts of all drugs (manufacturing and selling would still be illegal), an issue that unites some on the left along with Libertarians. There is little polling on most of these races, but watching the outcomes will help signal what direction the country is headed in.

Alright, that’s a wrap! Polls begin to close at 6 PM ET in parts of Indiana and Kentucky. Let’s just hope we have a winner at some point in the next 24 hours!

1 comment on “2020 Election Preview

  1. Lester Berlin

    Excellent website. Graphics are very clear and easy to follow. Text was spot on. Unfortunately you fell for the what the pollsters were telling us. Somehow we need to dig deeper in to voters psyche.

    Reply

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