Trump and Clinton Look Unstoppable Now; Some Thoughts About the 2016 Map

2016 Overview - Yes, there are scenarios where Clinton and Trump could come up short this summer. But they are increasingly unlikely, even remote. A Trump Clinton match up looks assured now, and what a titanic battle it will be.

Over the next week Democrats will vote in six states, Republicans four. The frontrunners are likely to lose some states in this patch. The nature of the states gives Sanders a bit more of a “comeback” opportunity, so there could be some drama this week. But it is also an opportunity for Trump and Clinton to re-assert their control over their nominating processes.

I spent some time recently looking ahead to a fall Clinton Trump matchup. A lot is unknown at this point but we do know a few important things: Clinton is consistently over 50 percent in the early match ups; Obama’s approval rating is now up in the high 40s, low 50s, a critical development in the race; the Electoral College Map still favors the Democrats; and on the big issue – can Trump flip enough white men to put the Rustbelt in play? - there just isn’t a lot of evidence yet that he can (and more here). For more on the fall, I recommend these good, early pieces from Dan Balz, Ron Brownstein and Greg Sargent.

The 2016 Electoral Map – New House rankings from the Cook Report now suggest that there is at least a mathematical possibility the Democrats could retake the House (they would need to win 30 of 31 targeted races). A bit surprised by this, I spent some time with the 2016 map and Cook’s rankings of all the Federal races. Using the Cook rankings (with one change - I moved AZ Senate into Tossup/Lean GOP), I came up with the following cheat sheet and thoughts about a possible expansion of what has been a very small Presidential map for Democrats:

Presidential 10-15

Dem Hold (10) - CO, FL, IA, NH, MI, NV, OH, PA, VA, WI

Dem PickUp (3) – AZ, GA, NC

Dem Watch (2) – MN, NM

Senate 8-11 (Dems need to pick up 7 seats net for a majority)

Hold (2) – CO, NV

PickUp 1st Tier (8) – AZ, FL, IL, NC, NH, OH, PA, WI

PickUp 2nd Tier (2) – GA, IA

House 37 - (31 Dem PickUps and 6 Holds, 30 net needed for majority)

AZ (2), CO (1), CA (4), FL (5), IL (1), IA (2), ME (1), MI (2), MN (2), NE (1), NH (1), NJ (1), NV (2), NY (6), PA (1), TX (1), UT (1), VA (2), WI (1)

Key Takeaways - In 2016 there is remarkable overlap between the Presidential and Senate target states. 9 of the 10 top tier Presidential states also have priority Senate races (and Dems are trying to make the 10th, Iowa, competitive at the Senate level), whereas only 3 of the Presidential states in 2012 and 2008 also had competitive Senate races. This overlap offers the national Democratic Party coordination opportunities that could produce enough economies of scale to free up resources to expand the national map. Why is this important? It has my belief that in the Obama era the national Party has not taken enough responsibility for winning elections beyond the very small number (10) of states in each of the last two Presidential cycles. Expanding the map as we discuss below will not only help the Democrats win the Senate, but now that the House is mathematically in play, maximize gains in the House (and of course help at the state and local level too).

The counter of course is that it is too risky to spread limited resources too thin. Hunker down, the argument goes, weather the Trumpian storm, win the Presidency, remake the Supreme Court, etc. But this is an unusual electoral map offering unique opportunities this year; Trump as GOP nominee ensures substantial resources allowing Democrats to consider going on offense; and if successful, could allow Democrats to not just win but have a chance of getting some of their agenda through Congress next year. Let’s look at two highly leveraged expansion paths:

Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina– Each of these longer shot Presidential targets also have targeted Senate races, and given where the polling is today in the Senate, it would be wise for the Democrats to put more races in play. There are questions whether any Southern state is open to the Democrats with Trump on the top of the ticket, but more will be known about this soon. Arizona looks particularly attractive this time as early polling has both the Presidential and Senate races as toss ups; there are also two Congressional seats in play; and Hispanics could be motivated by a ballot that may have both Arpaio and Trump. It should be noted that in 2008 team Obama ran a serious well funded campaign targeting Hispanics in nearby states with similar Hispanic populations - CO, NM and NV - turnout increased between 30 and 63%. Given where the polling is now, the first ever well funded and sophisticated Hispanic effort lead by the nominee could turn Arizona into a purple, lean blue state, as we’ve seen in other states with large Hispanic populations where the national party has invested.

Adding these three states would leave only the Illinois Senate race outside the national Democratic Party map and solely up to the DSCC to manage - though Illinois natives Obama and Clinton might have something to say about that.

California and New York - The map also suggests that the national Democratic Party and nominee should consider mounting some kind of coordinated effort in both New York and California. 19 of the 37 targeted House seats fall within the expanded 13 state map. 10 more fall in New York and California. Mounting targeted campaign in NY and CA to drive up turnout – something no national Democratic party has done in decades – could help put 10 more House seats in play. This means 29 of the 37 target House seats would fall under the national coordinated campaign’s reach, leaving only 8 of the 37 House races and solely up to the DCCC. This kind of coordination and leverage would be unprecedented in recent national politics, and could make the difference not only in the Democrats winning the White House, but in flipping the Senate and getting the House very very close.

So the national party strategy could look like:

National Party Coordinated Strategy

Pres/Senate (10) – CO, FL, IA, NH, MI, NV, OH, PA, VA, WI.

Expansion 1/Pres P/U and Senate P/U (3) – AZ, GA, NC. 

Expansion 2/Maximize House Impact – 17 targets in core 10 Presidential states, 19 in expanded map. 10 more in CA, NY.

Expansion 3/Presidential Watch (2) – MN, NM (states closer than expected in 2012).

Will the nominee and national Party expand the national map, taking advantage of unprecedented economies of scale and highly leveraged opportunities specific to this cycle? I hope so.

Oldie But Goodie - “In this election cycle the Republican’s angry war against modernity has escalated and appears to have become institutionalized. It is almost as if the more the world moves away from the simplicity of the Reagan moment the more angry and defiant – and of course wrong – the Republican offering is becoming” - Simon Rosenberg, “Forward, Or Backward?” September, 2012

More on the 2016 Election - Our tally of the Presidential primary debates audiences which finds the GOP far outperforming the Dems; the Democratic bench is stronger than it appears; Clinton should become a champion of political and electoral reform; thoughts on the "children of Reagan;" my in-depth interview with conservative author Matt Lewis on what the GOP can learn from a generation of reform and success on the center-left; my long form magazine piece on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess, anticipating the rise of Trump; Rob Shapiro on Trump's economic plan and the crackup of the GOP.  

"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site. You can find previous columns here. It also appears each week on the London-based progressive site, Left Foot Forward

Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign. I am not, however, a consultant to, or paid by, any campaign or party committee.