Democrats See 2020 Election Won By Slim Margins In Several Key Battleground States

November 8, 2019 by Dan McCue
Press briefing on the 2020 Election at Democratic National Committee headquarters. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – The Democratic party believes whoever its eventual nominee is, the race to win the 2020 presidential election will come down to slim margins of victory in several key battleground states.

As a result, said David Bergstein, the DNC’s director of battleground state communications, the party is making a “multi-million” investment and training thousands of young people in college towns, and minority and ethnically diverse communities “to ensure our nominee has multiple paths to an Electoral College victory.”

Speaking to reporters at a briefing at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in Washington, Bergstein said the party has “learned from the mistakes of 2016” and is working hard to ensure “there’s a baseline infrastructure in place across a broad electoral map.”

“[President] Trump is facing a lot of headwinds when it comes to his re-election — in fact in terms of his job approval rating, he’s starting at a point below that of any modern president, but the DNC is taking nothing for granted,” he said. “The reality is, despite the president’s problems, the battleground states remain tight.”

Now less than a year out from the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, Democrats see the race to the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House coming down to a handful of battleground states: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

With the possible addition of Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada and Texas being in play due to Trump’s net approval rating in those states having dropped by double-digits since he’s been in office.

Building Infrastructure

Bergstein said a significant focus of the party for the past year has been on building a “scalable infrastructure” that will allow the nominee to ramp up quickly once the primaries are over and the general election race begins.

“In the past, in a typical election cycle, you’d have senior staff arriving in battleground states sometime between the end of April and early June, and they’d have to start building a general election campaign infrastructure from scratch,” he said.

“There’s a lot of resume reading and hiring and finding offices to open … what we’re doing now is elongating the process, working on a lot of those pieces now, so we can hand it off to the nominee,” he said.

“At the same time, we’re really working everyday to make sure we have people in the battleground states, hosting events, talking about the negative impact the Trump administration has had on those communities.”

While the party’s candidates are spending their time and focusing their resources on the early primary states, the DNC has sent organizers to the general election battleground states to conduct constituency outreach.

“For instance, they’re making sure we are building the African-American organizing infrastructure in Detroit, and that we’re building the LatinX organizing infrastructure in Arizona,” Bergman said.

He noted that the party has also increased its investment in every state by some 33% compared to what it had invested by this point in 2015.

“These funds support all kinds of general election readiness,” Bergman said. “Basically everything the eventual nominee will need to compete vigorously in battleground states.”

Organizing Corps

Among the things the nominee will need is talent. Toward that end, the party has established Organizing Corp, which has been tasked to build “an army of young people in the key battleground states,” said Rachel Haltom-Irwin, the program’s executive director.

“All the studies show that the best way to change a voter’s behavior is to have them hear a compelling case made by someone from their community … by someone they know, knocking on their door,” she said.

At the same time, the party has recognized that even canvassing on such a local level is a far more sophisticated undertaking in 2019 and 2020 than it was even 10 years ago.

As a result, Organizing Corp. has focused on providing organizers with “true training, in the field,” Haltom-Irwin said. “They’re out there, registering voters, and doing real work, starting the day they’re accepted into the program.”

The party is rolling out the program in stages with the goal of having at least one thousand of these trained organizers ready to join the nominee’s campaign by June 2020.

When it announced the availability of the first 300 positions, more than 2,100 people applied. All received 8 weeks of training, earning $15 an hour.

“This is another example of where we are learning from past history,” Haltom-Irwin said. “In April 2016, Hillary Clinton had a primary staff of about 330 organizers and in a matter of weeks, she had to scale up to 3,800. We’re working to enable the next nominee to smoothly transition to running a general election.”

The States

Bergstein said while many pundits wrote Democrats off in this year’s crop of battleground states after the 2016 election, the 2018 midterms and the results of this week’s off-year elections show a sharp swing back toward the Democrats in places like Pennsylvania, Virginia and Kentucky.

“And once Trump’s status starts to become shaky in a state like Pennsylvania, his route to re-election starts to look very difficult,” Bergstein said.

“Just ask yourself, what state that Trump didn’t win last time can he realistically win in order to make up for the loss of a Pennsylvania or Michigan?” he said.

Bergstein, a native of Oregon, said he’s even heard his home state might be critical to Trump’s re-election hopes. Such talk, he said, mystifies him.

“I don’t think a Republican has won a statewide race in Oregon in 20 years,” he said.

The Trump campaign is said to be placing similar hopes in New Mexico and Nevada, where, Bergstein said, “There’s not a lot of evidence to show them being competitive at all.”

The Democrats define the next bucket of states as those Trump can’t take for granted. They include Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas.

“Trump’s been visiting Texas a lot and to be that active seems like a tacit admission that he’s playing defense in a state that he shouldn’t really have to be worried about,” Bergstein said.

There are two reasons for this, according to political scientists in the state. One is that voters who traditionally support Republicans in the state are moving away from the party — this includes suburban women, Latinos and Asians who make up a key voting block in several congressional districts.

“Trump is the worst thing to happen to the Texas GOP in the modern era,” said Mark Jones, the fellow in political science at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. “That’s because he’s alienated constituencies that traditionally support Republicans in Texas, while also providing the Democrats with a tool to motivate their voters.”

The electorate, particularly in the suburbs of major Texas cities, is also becoming more favorable to Democrats. In the 1970s and 1980s, those suburbs grew with an expanding white, middle class population that was fleeing the cities and amenable to the Republican Party’s message at the time, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a professor of political science at the University of Houston.

“Today, the suburbs of Texas are changing,” he said. “Those white suburbanites are now getting older and moving to more rural parts of the state, and they’re being replaced by younger, more progressive and ethnically and socially diverse young people.”

Florida and Ohio are close in every presidential election, and Bergstein said the Democrats intend to contest them “vigorously.”

Katherine Jellison, professor and department chair of History and Politics at Ohio University has seen evidence of this firsthand.

She said while many of the political commentators in her state are writing Ohio off as red, she’s observed that those who are traditionally active in Democratic politics have not taken such proclamations lying down.

“For instance, the Indivisible organization is actively recruiting more members in the state and training progressive Ohioans in rural areas to do “deep canvassing,” Jellison said. ” That’s a method in which folks go door-to-door in red-leaning neighborhoods and have lengthy conversations about kitchen-table and family issues before they even bring up the topic of electoral politics.

“On the local level, Democratic party offices that used to be open in a community only in the couple of months leading up to a Presidential or off-year election are now staying open year-around in both odd and even years and are sponsoring regular—sometimes weekly—programming,” she said.

And the activity is having ripple effects. Jellison noted that a number of  voter education and protect-the-vote organizations in Ohio —including the venerable League of Women Voters—are growing their memberships across the state.

“So many Ohioans don’t seem willing to accept the experts’ opinion that the state will no longer be a swing or bell weather state,” she said.

Bergstein said the national Democratic party is working with a network of community leaders in Ohio to set up a formal organizing infrastructure in the state. The party has also assigned a communications staff to the state as well as digital and data directors.

“The path to victory in so many of these battleground states is not just turning out the base or wooing independent voters … it’s making sure you’re doing the work and competing for every vote,” Bergstein said. 

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