This week, Joe Scarborough of MSNBC’s Morning Joe (MJ) has been gleeful about new Morning Consult (MC) polls which he claims strongly favor Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Biden over President Trump. Mr. Scarborough further asserts that the polls show that the President’s recent emphasis on law and order isn’t helping him. I assume that Mr. Scarborough is spinning left because that’s what MSNBC does. The candidates’ polling numbers on FiveThirtyEight.com (538) between the beginning of the Republican Convention and now indicate that the race is tightening; the MC polls seem to me to indicate an Electoral College Contest perhaps on its way to narrowing from six swing states to two.
In 2016, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won states with 232 Electoral College votes (she lost some to “faithless Electors” – too hard to assess for 2020 other than to acknowledge that each candidate will want to achieve a total exceeding 270 in order to compensate for any “faithless” Electors). To win the presidency, Mr. Biden needs to hold the 2016 Clinton States and claim 2016 Trump States with 38 or more Electoral College votes. Let’s review the bidding:
MC showed Mr. Biden to be significantly ahead in Michigan, a 2016 Trump State with 16 Electoral College votes. All seem to consider Michigan in the bag for Mr. Biden. Let’s say they’re right, although 538 shows Mr. Biden’s lead to be narrowing a bit. That brings Mr. Biden to 248 Electoral College votes (assuming that he holds all 2016 Clinton States with no Faithless Electors).
The MJ team chortled that MC indicated that Mr. Biden was beating Mr. Trump by 10 in Colorado and 7 in Minnesota. In fact, 538 indicates that Mr. Biden has lost almost half the Minnesota lead he enjoyed six weeks ago. In any event, I don’t see why he should be excited about having a sizeable lead in either state. Ms. Clinton won both. If he can’t carry them, he would need more than 22 Electoral College votes even with Michigan in his column.
MC found Mr. Biden narrowly ahead in North Carolina – considered a swing state because former President Barack Obama won it in 2008 — and Georgia, and trailing narrowly in Texas – all three 2016 Trump States. While a victory in North Carolina would probably seal the presidency for Mr. Biden, the Tar Heel State seems to me a long shot and the Peach and Lone Star States but electoral Fool’s Gold. [Georgia Republicans have wrested the title from Chicago Democrats and Louisiana Democrats as the nation’s best election thieves 😉 ].
The MJ team noted that Mr. Biden was beating Mr. Trump by 10 in Arizona and by 9 in Wisconsin, both 2016 Trump States. 538 shows the Democrat to have smaller, but nonetheless notable and consistent, leads in both states. Certainly encouraging for Mr. Biden; but even assuming that he ultimately wins both states, their combined 21 Electoral College votes plus Michigan’s 16 are still one short of the 270 Mr. Biden needs even if he holds all 2016 Clinton States with no faithless Electors.
So in the next 60 days, Mr. Biden will need to maintain his leads in Arizona and Wisconsin and challenge Mr. Trump in North Carolina – if for no other reason than to help Democrat Cal Cunningham in his Senate race against apparently unpopular Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis – together with feints into Iowa (an Obama State which 538 shows the President to have but a narrow lead and whose 7 Electoral College votes would, together with the 2016 Clinton States, Arizona, Michigan, and Wisconsin, win Mr. Biden the presidency). Mr. Trump seems to need repeated forays into North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Arizona with occasional feints to Minnesota.
All that said: it may ultimately come down to two states: Pennsylvania and Florida. If the 2016 Clinton States, Arizona, Michigan, and Wisconsin ultimately go to Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump holds North Carolina and Iowa, the good news for Mr. Biden and the bad news for Mr. Trump: Mr. Biden needs only Pennsylvania or Florida to secure the presidency; Mr. Trump needs both. What I consider disquieting for Mr. Biden and encouraging for Mr. Trump: MC, which gave Mr. Biden implausibly wide margins in Arizona and Wisconsin, gave him only a 4 point lead in Pennsylvania (538 has him doing a bit better, but indicates that he’s lost a third of the margin it showed him as having before the Republican Convention). For a senator that spent his career representing a neighboring state and has had a good record with blue collar workers, this is uncomfortably close. Mr. Biden was shown to have but a 2-point margin in Florida – making the state, controlled by Republicans and won by a point by Mr. Trump in 2016, clearly a toss-up (538, again, shows Mr. Biden faring a bit better but still having lost almost half of the Sunshine State lead he had before the RNC).
It is perhaps no secret why both candidates this week visited Pittsburgh, in the western (more conservative) part of Pennsylvania and events dictated that both travel to Kenosha (albeit to give very different messages), located in a pivotal state (while Mr. Trump has not traveled to Portland, in a solidly Democratic state).
There was one Morning Joe observation this week with which I entirely agree: in starkly political terms, every day the candidates, the media, and our citizens focus on the unrest in some of our cities, or on any issue that is not on the Coronavirus, is a good day for President Trump. Unfortunately, our attention span is scant. I am concerned that we have become numb to the increasing numbers: over 6 million cases and approaching 190,000 deaths as of the date this is posted. I fear that Coronavirus many not reclaim our citizens’ focus until we inevitably reach the grim milestone of 200,000 dead.