Kamala Harris Is Still the Democrats 2020 Frontrunner

While the Democrats 2020 Presidential primary is set to be historically crowded, it is already apparent before she has even announced her candidacy that first-term Senator Kamala Harris has the clearest path to winning the nomination. Winning the chance to take on President Trump through a path of victories running through the South and her home state of California.

It is likely that at least twenty and as many as three dozen Democrats will announce their candidacies before the first debates begin in June 2019. While these candidates are set to represent every niche in the party, many of the top-tier contenders with the most media recognition and donor funding support progressive policies such as Medicare For All, a $15 federal minimum wage and tuition-free public college. Positions which were popularized by Senator Bernie Sanders unexpectedly popular democratic socialist campaign in 2016 and which Harris and many other top tier candidates have since endorsed.

Black Democrats account for roughly a quarter of Democratic primary voters and a represent a powerful voting bloc that has a knack for backing the victor in the party’s Presidential primaries. They have historically formed the base of support for moderate primary candidates on account of their higher levels of religiosity and social conservatism, as they did for Hilary Clinton in 2016. Yet they are still more likely to favour Black candidates regardless of their political positions as they did for Barack Obama in 2008. This may be especially true in a field as crowded as 2020 will be with White candidates.

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Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey will compete with Harris for Black voters

Kamala Harris will be focusing her efforts on winning the crucial South Carolina primary which is only the 3rd in the nation and whose voters will be majority Black. Winning South Carolina will place her in a strong position to consolidate Black Democrats around her candidacy. This would allow her to then dominate many of the primaries going forward in the disproportionately Black and racially polarised states of the South.

The only other likely African American candidate is Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey. Booker is also a major contender for the nomination with a high media profile since his days as mayor of Newark and enjoying the favour of many wealthy New York area donors. While Booker has refashioned himself as a progressive since 2016 in anticipation of the 2020 primaries he was previously a centrist Democrat with close ties to Wall Street.

Harris begins with an early advantage over Booker, who is her key rival for the Black Democratic vote. Harris has earned much more in donations from small donors so far than Booker which is a key metric of grassroots enthusiasm. She will also benefit from the fact that 55% or more of primary voters are likely to be female.

Booker is likely to come under great criticism in the debates for his long record of cosiness with Wall Street and corporate America. Harris is really just as establishment-friendly as Booker is, notably failing to prosecute several bankers after the Global Financial Crisis while she was Attorney General for California, yet she is more likely to escape relatively unscathed owing to her having always been less reliant on Wall Street support than Booker, whose home state borders New York.

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Sen. Harris enters the race with a key home state advantage in California which is by far the most populous state in America, being home to roughly 40 million people or 12% of the United States population. Harris has the highest profile of any Californian likely to run and the state is set to hold its primary far earlier in 2020 than in previous election cycles. A victory in the largest state in the country would lend Harris serious momentum in the early part of the race which may prove decisive in such a divided field.

This momentum that could be especially helpful in rallying support to her candidacy from supporters of other female candidates. As many will drop out or been deemed unviable after lacklustre showings in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada which historically have whittled down the field.

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Left to right: Senator’s Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, for example, is not even leading early polls in her home state and attracted great controversy for her DNA test for Native American ancestry in late 2018. She thus may struggle to unseat Bernie Sanders with his rusted-on core of supporters as the leading left-wing populist candidate in the race as it kicks off in Iowa and then New Hampshire.

The only other top tier female candidate to emerge so far is the progressive Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York who has so far not generated much excitement from the party’s grassroots for her previous life as a pro-gun, pro-Wall Street, centrist Democrat. While failing to make up for this with support from wealthy donors due to her role in Sen. Al Franken’s resignation in 2018 following allegations of past sexual harassment.

At this admittedly very early stage half a year before the debates begin and over a year until Iowa votes, I predict the primaries unfolding with Kamala Harris winning South Carolina, California and the more African American states in the South while White candidates like Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren feud endlessly over White voters (particularly White men) in less diverse states. Giving Harris the best chance of winning the nomination in a divided field with the support of Black Democrats and some White female progressives without necessarily needing to win a majority of voters outright.

Note: This post is a second try at an article I previously posted in August 2018.

Read next: Texas Hispanics and the Future of the Republican Party

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How the Party of Lincoln Became the Party of Trump: A Timeline

1828: The Democratic party is formed by supporters of President Andrew Jackson, an agrarian populist from Tennessee. The party was most popular among small farmers and unskilled workers, particularly in the South and frontier west. The Democrats competed against the Whigs, who were strongest in New England and represented the interests of the East Coast’s emerging urban middle class and financial and industrial elite.

1854: The Whigs have recently collapsed over the issue of the expansion of slavery America’s new territories to the west. The Republican Party or Grand Old Party (GOP) is founded in a schoolhouse in Ripon, Wisconsin by former Whigs and anti-slavery Northern Democrats committed to halting the expansion of slavery into the new states of Kansas and Nebraska.

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Map of the United States and the Confederate States of America during the Civil War

1860: Abraham Lincoln is elected the first Republican President of the United States in November on a platform of halting the further expansion of slavery, sweeping all the North bar its sole slave state of Missouri. In the following months, most of the South will secede from the Union over their right as states to practice slavery and launch the American Civil War, still the bloodiest conflict in American history.

1865: With the North having won the Civil War, the states of the now-defunct Confederacy are gradually re-admitted into the Union. White Democrats in the South brutally suppress the vote of newly freed African Americans, with the KuKluxKlan and similar terrorist organisations acting as the paramilitary wing of the Democratic party to maintain segregation and White supremacy. Almost all the South now is dominated by the Democratic party at every level of government, effectively becoming a one-party region.

While the Democrats enjoy a stronghold in the “Solid South” and among the swelling ranks of Catholic and Jewish immigrants in the cities of the industrializing North, the Republican party will dominate Presidential politics for most of the next 70 years with the support of Northern Protestants, immigrant and non-immigrant alike.

The lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, Marion, Indiana, 1930

The lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith. Marion, Indiana, 1930

1932: In the aftermath of the Great Depression, a liberal Democrat from New York, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) is elected President in a landslide. FDR assembles a coalition of the White working and middle classes at a time when most African Americans still lived in the South and were unable to vote. This “New Deal” coalition enabled the passage of sweeping left-wing social democratic reforms and wins most Presidential elections until 1968.

Both parties are home to prominent liberal and conservative wings. With liberal Republicans and Democrats strong in the more urbanised North East, conservative Republicans in the Mid West and conservative Democrats dominating the South. Meanwhile, African Americans have engaged in the Great Migration from the segregated rural South to cities in the North, which lasted from 1916 to 1970. Previously pro-Republican even though the vast majority were unable to vote, African Americans gradually begin to become more Democratic.

July 1964: After a great struggle, President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Southern Democrat from Texas, oversees the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress. First introduced by President John F. Kennedy, a liberal Democrat, before his assassination, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned discrimination and segregation based on race, sex or religion in education and employment. While Democrats held very large majorities in both the House and Senate, it was the Republican party which provided the bulk of House votes in favour of the bill, owing to intense opposition from Southern Democrats.

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November 1964: Barry Goldwater, a leading GOP conservative and libertarian and Senator from Arizona runs as their candidate in the 1964 Presidential election. Goldwater was a vocal opponent of Republican President Eisenhower’s acquiescence to much of the New Deal in the 1950s. Although Goldwater opposed segregation, he voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act on the basis that it violated states rights.

President Johnson successfully painted Goldwater as an extremist, arguing that his hyper-aggressive stance against the Soviet Union and the use of nuclear weapons could start a nuclear world war. While Goldwater was able to win all the Deep South and his home state of Arizona, he lost every other state to Johnson in the biggest landslide in modern American history. However, 1964 would be the last Presidential election where Democrats managed to win White voters, while African Americans now begin to vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

1968: Due to the unpopularity of the Vietnam War within his party, President Johnson decides not to run for a second full-term. Richard Nixon, a moderate Republican from California wins the 1968 Presidential election, bringing an end to the New Deal Coalition by winning the “Silent Majority” of White voters who opposed the blooming feminist, anti-war and student movements. Nixon ran a law and order campaign in response to a wave of riots and civil disobedience in Black neighbourhoods following the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jnr that April.

While Nixon wins several states with his Southern Strategy of racial dog-whistling to appeal to ancestrally Democratic White voters in the region, much of the Deep South votes for former Alabama Governor George Wallace, who had quit the Democratic Party to run as an independent. Wallace had shot to national fame for his “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” in 1963, physically blocking black students from entering the University of Alabama and fulfilling his promise of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”, requiring JFK to send in the National Guard to force Wallace to step aside.

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1972: Nixon wins his re-election in 1972 in a landslide, including the vast majority of former Wallace voters and every state in the country bar Massachusetts. The GOP begins to very slowly shed its socially liberal wing in favour of conservative White voters in the South and Catholic “White ethnic” Americans (largely of Irish, Italian, German and Polish ancestry) who are fleeing the increased diversity and now skyrocketing crime rates of Northern cities for their suburbs. Disproportionately secular and socially liberal Jewish Americans however, remain heavily Democratic-leaning to this day.

1973: The United States Supreme Court delivers a landmark ruling in Roe v Wade, upholding women’s rights to have an abortion.

1980: Ronald Reagan, a conservative Republican and former Governor of California, wins the 1980 Presidential election. He gave his first campaign speech after winning the GOP nomination in Neshoba County, Mississippi, site of an infamous murder of civil rights activists in 1964, proclaiming “I believe in state’s rights”. Reagan actively courted the vote of White Evangelical Christians, organizing them for the first time into a large and highly motivated block of voters in opposition to Roe v Wade and pornography and in favour of reintroducing prayer in public schools.

Reagan is heralded as the ideological successor to the Barry Goldwater with his staunch anti-Communism and rejection of the New Deal in favour of free-market, small-government fiscal conservatism. Columnist George Will remarked after Reagan’s victory that “It took 16 years to count the votes from 1964, and Goldwater won.”

1984: Reagan wins re-election in a landslide in 1984, winning every state bar Minnesota and cementing the conservative factions takeover of the Republican party. Reagan owes his enormous to the support of the “Reagan Democrats”: socially conservative, working and middle-class “White ethnic” Democrats in the North East and Mid West who feel that their party has become too liberal since the 1960s. Macomb County, Michigan in the suburbs of Detroit comes to be identified as the epitome of Reagan Democrat country.

1990/1991: David Duke, former Grand Wizard (or leader) of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, wins the Republican primary for Louisiana’s Senate election. Duke loses, but still wins 44% of the vote. Before running again the next year for Louisiana’s Gubernatorial election, where he wins 39% of the vote. Given that Louisiana is in the racially polarised Deep South, it is almost certain that the former KKK leader won the majority of the White vote in both of these elections. The Democratic party has clearly lost its monopoly on the racist vote in the South.

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Bill Clinton gives a campaign speech on law and order at Stone Mountain, Georgia, the birthplace of the Klu Klux Klan and a Confederate monument. Standing behind him are the predominately Black inmates of a local prison

1994: President Bill Clinton, a conservative Southern Democrat from Arkansas who successfully appealed to White supremacist sentiment during his 1992 election campaign, faces his first mid-term. Democrats lose their majority in the House of Representatives for the first time since 1952, as the GOP accuses Clinton of not governing as conservative as he had promised on the campaign trail. Republicans gains were concentrated in Southern and rural seats largely held by conservative Democrats and where Clinton had performed well. Newly appointed Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, a conservative firebrand from Georgia, then pursues a strategy of all-out obstructionism with his new House majority, eschewing bipartisan deal-making to reduce Clinton’s chance of re-election by denying him any chance of passing major legislation.

1998: Barry Goldwater passes away. Goldwater, once the hero of the  GOP’s conservative movement, begins to distance himself from the party’s direction in the 1980s, as his liberal stances on social issues such as abortion and homosexuality came into conflict the growing stature of the Christian Right in the party. In a speech to establishment Republicans, Goldwater says “Do not associate my name with anything you do. You are extremists, and you’ve hurt the Republican party much more than the Democrats have.”

Goldwater had also given an interview to the Washington Post in 1994 where he stated: “When you say “radical right” today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like (televangelist) Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican party and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.”

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2008: Barack Obama wins the 2008 Presidential election, the first ever African American and first Democrat from outside the South and first liberal Democrat to do so since JFK in 1960. Obama did better among White voters in the North than any Democrat since Johnson in 1964. Yet he sheds votes among the party’s already poor post-Clinton numbers among White voters in the Deep South and heavily White and rural Appalachia, winning as few as ~15% of White voters in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

America witnesses a surge in gun sales, while Obama quickly becomes subject to a range of popular conspiracy theories among Republican voters, most notably that he is the anti-Christ, a Muslim and was born in Kenya and therefore ineligible to be President. The latter of which was propagated by New York real estate billionaire and reality TV star Donald Trump. Congressional Republicans refuse to work with Obama in a bipartisan manner, aiming to reduce his chance of re-election as they attempted under Clinton.

2010: Democrats experience a huge backlash in the 2010 mid-term elections. Losing their majority in the House and wiping out most of the few remaining White Democrats in the South. Once the bastion of racist sentiment in America, the Democrats are shedding their remaining racist White voters, disproportionately without college-degrees, towards to the GOP. Republicans spend the rest of Obama’s term engaged in all-out obstructionism, bringing Congress into total gridlock and, after winning the Senate in 2014, going so far as to eventually deny Obama even a hearing on his final Supreme Court nominee.

2012: Mitt Romney fails to make Obama a one-term President, despite matching  Ronald Reagan’s 1984 landslide margin of 60% of White voters, due to the electorates growing diversity and increased turnout among people of colour for Obama.

2015: The United States Supreme Court rules in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples have the right to marry. A devasting blow for the White Evangelical Christians, ~80% of whom now routinely vote Republican and have the highest rates of turnout in the nation. With White Evangelical Christians, conservative Catholics and Mormons together accounting for the majority of Republican voters.

2016: Donald Trump wins the Republican primary by appealing to White Christian nationalist sentiment, before going on to win the Presidential election in November by taking a number of industrial states in the Mid West which hadn’t voted Republican for President since Reagan in 1984. Trump turns out and wins record numbers of White Evangelical Christians, despite his numerous personal scandals and notable lack of religiosity.

Once the party of Lincoln and abolishing slavery, the Republican party has now descended into a right-wing authoritarian reaction against the advances of Civil Rights, secularisation and the country’s first African American President. The Grand Old Party is now the party of a radicalised minority of overwhelmingly White voters who reject the direction the country has taken since the 1960s, if not the Civil War.

Read Next: Trump’s Base? Middle-Class, White Christian Nationalists

The New South and the Future of the Democratic Party

Democrats strong performance in the South in the 2018 mid-term elections has profound implications for the party’s map in both the Electoral College, which elects the President and the U.S Senate. While the Democrats are faring less well in the industrial Mid-West thanks to a loss of support among White voters without college degrees, they are becoming much more competitive in several formerly conservative states in the “New South” whose rapid urbanization and changing demographics have been to their political advantage. This has given Democrats the chance to expand the map into the South in 2020, to not only beat Trump and re-take the Senate but reshape America’s political geography for generations to come.

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The Southern United States according to the U.S Census Bureau

The 2018 mid-term elections saw Democrats run the table in suburban Romney > Clinton House districts with a high proportion of college-educated White voters, winning seats outside almost every major city in the country. While Democrats were forecast to do well in urban and suburban areas, they exceeded expectations and won many more of these kinds of districts in the South which were not considered competitive based on the polls. Not only did Democrats win toss-up’s like President George H. W Bush’s former House district in Houston, Texas and former GOP House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s district outside Richmond, Virginia, but also seats in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Charleston, South Carolina, Dallas, Texas, and a seat in suburban Atlanta, Georgia which Democrats were unable to flip in a high profile special election in 2017.

While Democrats failed in their long-shot bids to win the Texas Senate and Georgia Governor races, they managed to come within 2.6% and 1.5% respectively of winning these once deeply conservative states by running on unapologetically progressive platforms. Beto O’Rourke and Stacey Abrams inspired these states large populations of people of colour as well as young people to the polls, while winning unprecedented numbers of the college-educated White voters in the suburbs of their major cities because of Donald Trump, offsetting Trump’s dominance among White voters who are Evangelical Christian, non-college educated or living in rural areas. All demographics which are experiencing a proportional decline in the states of the “New South” and the country as a whole.

Republicans had built an overwhelming advantage among Southern White voters since the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the party’s embrace of Evangelical Christianity in the 1980s. This strategy saw them slowly come to dominate Southern politics despite the regions large African American population due to slavery and Texas’s large Latinx community dating back to its time as a part of Mexico.

The seed of Democrats recent inroads into the South began with the rapid population and economic growth of several Southern metropolitan areas, which have been able to attract white-collar knowledge economy jobs and the disproportionately college-educated workers which staff them. The suburbs of these cities are now less culturally and economically distinct from their Northern counterparts than ever. A change fueled in part by immigration from Latin America and Asia but even more so by from the migration of residents from colder and more expensive states like New York and California towards the cheaper housing and strong job markets of the New South’s major urban areas.

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Democrats newfound strength in the South became apparent under Barack Obama, who won Virginia and North Carolina in 2008 by turning out their high African American populations and performing well among college-educated White voters in the suburbs of Northern Virginia, which borders Washington D.C, and North Carolina’s Charlotte and Research Triangle areas. College-educated White populations which have grown rapidly in both states, as well as the suburbs of Texas and Georgia.

These demographic changes have caused Virginia to now be considered a Democratic-leaning state, having re-elected Obama in 2012 and voted for Hilary Clinton in 2016. Northern Virginia, now home to a third of the state’s population, has arguably even become culturally closer to North East region than the South, following in the footsteps of Washington D.C, Maryland and Delaware to its own north. While North Carolina narrowly voted for the Republican in both of these elections, the closeness of the result in 2012 suggests that Obama could have won it had his campaign not written off the state early on. With North Carolina Democrats managing to unseat a first-term Republican Governor in 2016 even as Hilary lost the state by 3 points.

While Texas and Georgia remained very Republican-leaning under Obama, Donald Trump has proved an anathema to the growing population of college-educated White voters in these states metropolitan areas. With these voters swinging so hard to Hilary Clinton in 2016 that they turned their states into closer battlegrounds than Ohio and Iowa, two once pivotal swing states in the Mid West where Trump did very well by outperforming among non-college educated White voters. While Republicans maintain their grip on more rural parts of the region like Alabama, Arkansas and Kentucky, the 2018 mid-terms have made it clear they can no longer consider any of the top five most populous states in the South to be safe for them in Presidential or Senate contests.

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Non-Hispanic White vote for Barack Obama in 2012

Democrats improving electoral fortunes in the increasingly urbanized and college-educated New South has profound implications for 2020. An expanding map in the South would be particularly well-exploited by Beto O’Rourke should he choose to run for President, as well as likely African American candidates such as California Senator Kamala Harris and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. They could, for example, exactly match their terrible 2016 map and still win merely by flipping Texas on account of its 28 million-strong population. Or still lose Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Iowa but win by taking Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Arizona, another fast-changing formerly conservative state where they won a key Senate seat in 2018.

A Harris, Booker or O’Rourke Presidential campaign would also be a serious threat to incumbent Republican Senators up for re-election in North Carolina, Georgia and Texas, where O’Rourke could run for the Senate again if he doesn’t become the Presidential nominee. While also being a much-needed boost to Sen. Doug Jones (D) chances of re-election in Alabama now that he won’t be running against an alleged paedophile. Along with battleground seats in Arizona, Maine, Iowa, and now Democratic-leaning Colorado, the South is key to Democrats hope of re-taking the Senate in 2020 and actually being able to pass major legislation and confirm Supreme Court nominees under a Democratic President.

In a previous post, I discussed how Republicans will be forced to come to terms with America’s changing demographics when they are no longer able to win in Texas and pointed to Texas’s very large and somewhat more Republican-friendly Hispanic population as being central to their future as a viable party of government at the federal level. The results of the 2018 mid-terms show that Donald Trump has accelerated the electoral impact of demographic change in the New South. Giving the right Democratic candidate the chance to potentially win all of Texas, Georgia and North Carolina as soon as 2020 with a coalition of people of colour and college-educated White voters in the suburbs. An ironic outcome given it was Republican’s courting of White Christian nationalism with the Southern strategy in the 1960’s which became the germ seed for Trump’s eventual takeover of the party.

Y’all don’t quote me on this. You start out in 1954 by saying, “N*gger, n*gger, n*gger”. By 1968 you can’t say “n*gger”—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.

And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this”, is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N*gger, n*gger”.

Lee Atwater, former Chair of the Republican National Committee

Read Next: Texas Hispanics and the Future of the Republican Party

The Mid-Term’ House Race is Actually Two Different Elections

The 2018 United States mid-term elections are shaping up to be the most important election in living memory. All 435 seats in Congress’s House of Representatives are up for re-election, and if Democrats can’t win back the House for the first time since 2010, Trump will be the firm favourite to win his re-election bid in 2020, absent a run from a strong third party candidate.

While Democrats have a lead of 8 to 9 points in polls of the generic congressional ballot, they will need to win by at least 6, maybe even 7 points to win a majority, thanks to the effects of Republican partisan gerrymandering of districts and racial segregation which has concentrated many Democratic-leaning Black and Latinx Americans into very safe inner-city seats.

The Democrats path to a House majority runs through two distinct types of seats. Those which favoured Republican Mitt Romney for President in 2012 before supporting Hilary Clinton in 2016, and those which voted for Obama in 2012 before flipping to Trump. While media coverage has largely focused on the former type of seats, which tend to have a high proportion of college-educated non-Hispanic White Americans and be located in suburban areas, it is in the latter, less-educated and more rural seats where Democrats may find the most upside.

I. The Romney > Clinton Suburban House Seats:

Well-educated, high income and traditionally Republican, the seats in the suburbs of major cities which Mitt Romney won in 2012 but swung to Clinton in 2016 are the most important battleground in the House for Democrats, at least according to the media. These upscale areas, home to a disproportionate share of college-educated White voters,  elected the Republican candidate in the House while splitting their vote towards Hilary Clinton in the Presidential contest. But now congressional Republican’s steadfast support of the President means Democrats are set to do very well in these kinds of seats in the mid-terms.

A majority of college-educated White women, in particular, voted for a Democratic Presidential candidate in 2016, likely for the first time since the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Now many educated White women in the suburbs are set to take out their anger on the entire GOP, wiping out many of the country-club Republicans which once epitomised the party.

The Romney > Clinton House swing seats are largely found in the suburbs of major urban areas, with notable clusters in Southern California (in once staunchly Republican Orange and San Diego counties), the suburbs of Philadelphia (thanks to court-mandated redistricting of Pennsylvania’s Republican-drawn House map), and all across New Jersey, a state that is dominated by the suburbs of New York City and Philadelphia. Many these seats are also found outside major cities in the Mid West, though relatively few are to be found in the South, owing to the overwhelming conservative bent of Southern White voters, even among college-educated suburbanites.

If Democrats are going to retake the House, they are going to need to run the table in these high income, well-educated districts on November 6th. If the media narrative are to be believed, these suburbs are going to be the site of a bloodbath for Republicans. Caution is advised, however, as Hilary’s margin among college-educated White voters were so high that there may be little room for Democrats to get any more votes out of this demographic.

Further, Trump has largely governed as a traditional Republican fiscally (i.e his support for unpopular GOP tax cuts for rich and corporations) despite running on a more centrist if not left-leaning economic platform in his election campaign. Giving higher income White suburban voters added incentive to support the GOP which they did not have in 2016’s Presidential contest. As such, there may be some “reversion to mean” where a portion of middle to upper income suburban White voters who went for Hilary return to, or stick by, their traditional (i.e Republican) voting habits in the House.

II. The Obama > Trump Rural House Seats:

Trump’s narrow electoral college victory was powered by a historic overperformance for a Republican candidate among northern White voters without college degrees, a demographic which are overrepresented in rural areas. While the majority of Democrats House pickups on election night are likely to be found in suburban areas, they are going to need to retake some seats which cover rural, less-educated and heavily White areas which voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 but where Trump won by large margins in 2016.

These areas also represent Republicans only pickup opportunities in the House, both from retiring Democratic incumbents in the Mid-Western state of Minnesota. According to FiveThirtyEight’s 2018 House Forecast Republicans are favoured to pick up one rural seat in Minnesota and are a toss-up in another, although Democrats are almost certain to neutralise these potential gains by winning two Republican-held suburban seats outside Minneapolis, the state’s largest city.

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Minnesota 2012 > 2016 Presidential Results. Note Trump’s overperformance in rural areas, partly offset by his underperformance in the suburbs of Minneapolis, allowing Democrats to narrowly hold this once safely Democratic state

Thankfully for Democrats, Trump’s approval ratings are particularly poor by swing state standards in the once Democratic-leaning northern states he overperformed in like Pennsylvania, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. States whose blue-collar White voters have a history of class consciousness and trade unionism lacking among similar kinds of voters in say the South. While a majority of these northern White working-class voters support Trump’s imposition of tariffs and tough stance on trade with China, many of them have also realised that his campaign trail economic populism was a lie, as evidenced by his support for Republican’s tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy and attempts to take away people’s health care benefits in their failed repeal of Obamacare.

A reversion to the mean is thus also possible in these Obama > Trump swing seats, this time in the Democrats favour. Hilary Clinton likely did worse among blue-collar White voters than any Democratic Presidential candidate in the party’s history. The Democrats, therefore, have a lot of room to claw back among this demographic and as such have assiduously targetted them by focusing heavily on protecting and improving access to health care in their campaign messaging while avoiding discussing hot-button cultural issues like immigration, abortion or Donald Trump.

Democrats will also benefit from lower mid-term election turnout among non-college-educated Whites relative to Whites with degrees, as the effect of this differential turnout on the result is greatest in seats where the share of White Americans without degrees is  highest, as there are more of them to drop out of the voter pool relative to higher turnout Presidential election years. A phenomenon which Republicans will have never felt this way before as their electoral coalition has never been so heavily reliant on non-college educated White voters as they have been in the Trump era.

While most predominately White working-class seats are safe for the GOP, if Democrats can win swing seats like Iowa’s 3rd, Kansas 2nd, upstate New York’s 19th and 22nd and Maine’s 1st districts, Trump may well be in trouble among the key voting block he needs to win re-election in 2020. While the media is largely focused on the wealthy suburban areas where many of its members may reside, it is the more rural areas which once voted for Obama that Democrats will need to put them over the line.

Key Seat to Watch:

If you want an early idea of how election day will go in the House, keep your eyes on Kentucky’s 6th district. Polls in Kentucky and Indiana close an hour earlier than the next earliest states, and Kentucky’s 6th is the only swing seat in either state and one that happens to be a 50-50 toss-up according to FiveThirtyEight’s 2018 House Forecast. Kentucky’s 6th is a predominately White, middle-income seat in a disproportionately White working-class state that voted heavily for Trump, 63 to 33 against Hilary. The district covers a mixture of urban, suburban and rural areas in the South, albeit in a state that borders the Mid West and did not join the Confederacy during the Civil War. Making the seat an ideal early indicator on election day.  If Democrats look like they will win Kentucky’s 6th or even just keep it close, they will be almost certain to win the House.

Read Next: Texas Hispanics and the Future of the Republican Party

Texas Hispanics and the Future of the Republican Party

Texas Senate: Ted Cruz (R) v Beto O’Rourke (D) – +8.99% to Trump in 2016, +15.78 to Romney in 2012

Democrats have been dreaming of turning Texas blue for decades. In 2018, they are in with a shot. Once a deeply Republican state, heavily Hispanic Texas swung hard against Donald Trump in the 2016 election, who only won the state by nine points when Mitt Romney won it by sixteen in 2012. Now 46-year-old congressman Beto O’Rourke seeks to unseat Tea Party firebrand Ted Cruz from his Senate seat. His longshot, rockstar campaign has electrified Democrats and have Republicans seriously worried about losing a crucial Senate seat in a part of the country they had long taken for granted.

Texas’s large and growing Hispanic population points to a future where Republicans will no longer be able to rely as exclusively on non-Hispanic White (NHW) voters as they do now. I predict that while future Republican Presidential candidates after Trump will continue down his road of nativism and nationalism, they will be forced to change strategy and reach out to Hispanic voters once they start losing in Texas.

Home to more than 28 million people, Texas is the most populous state in the United States after California. On account of this population size, it is absolutely crucial to Republicans arithmetic in the Electoral College, accounting for 38 of the 270 votes needed to elect the President. They simply cannot win Presidential elections without it.

Texas, along with California, Nevada, New Mexico and Washington D.C is “majority-minority”, meaning that less than half of its population identify as being non-Hispanic White. The U.S Census Bureau estimates that in 2042, non-Hispanic Whites will become a minority of the U.S population. At the 2010 census, non-Hispanic Whites accounted for 45% of  Texas residents, while 38% identified as Hispanic or Latino (of any race), 12% as Black or African American and 4% as Asian American.

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Obama’s 2008 vote share among non-Hispanic White voters

Texas was home to a similar proportion of NHW Americans as California was at the Census, yet California is one of the most Democratic states in the country while Texas is much more Republican. In a country where the single most important political cleavage is race, this at first seems puzzling. Why has Texas been so Republican despite being so diverse? The answer simply put, is because of the overwhelming conservative bent of it and other Southern states NHW populations. While Obama won 53% of NHW voters in California in his 2008 landslide and 49% of these voters in 2012, he won 26% of these voters in Texas in 2008 and only 20% of them in 2012. Preventing Texas from falling to the Democrats despite its diversity.

Texas happens to have the worst voter turnout of all 50 states in the country.  In 2016 Hispanics made up 32% of those who were eligible to vote in Texas, but only 21% of those who actually turned out to vote.  Hispanic Americans are less likely to be adult aged U.S citizens, both because of immigration (a substantial proportion of Hispanic immigrants are undocumented) and their younger age profile.

As in other states, the kinds of Hispanics who do turn out to vote tend to be older, wealthier and more likely to identify as a White Hispanic, be born in America, speak English at home, not be able to speak Spanish and have converted to Evangelical Protestantism. All things which make Hispanics more likely to vote Republican and all things which Hispanics in Texas are more likely to be, as many of them have lived there for centuries since the state was a part of Mexico.

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Thanks to the booming economies and low housing costs of metropolitan areas like Dallas and Houston (both home to roughly 7 million people), the rapidly growing suburbs of Texas are home to a large number of college-educated, non-Hispanic White people. As suburban White women with college-degrees become increasingly hostile to the Republican Party in the era of Trump, the opportunity has arisen for Democrats like Beto O’Rourke to make Texas competitive by reaching out to these suburban White voters while boosting turnout among people of colour and young people. Even if Beto fails to unseat Cruz (as seems likely), Texas will continue to become more diverse, and this ought to keep the state’s Republicans awake at night.

To be blunt, Texas Hispanics are a sleeping giant. If Democrats like Beto O’Rourke (or Kamala Harris, their frontrunner for 2020) succeed in boosting turnout among them, African Americans and younger voters, they will in coming election cycles be able to build a lasting majority in the state which can doom White Christian nationalism which has become the dominant tendency in the national Republican party.

Republicans could make up for losing states with large and growing Hispanic populations like Nevada, Colorado and Arizona by winning the populous, disproportionately White and traditionally Democratic-leaning states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin which Trump did in 2016. Yet it is difficult, if not impossible to imagine any kind of scenario where they can elect a President without having Texas in their column.

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Hispanic and Latino population by counties in the U.S. (2010 US Census)

If the Republicans are to survive as a party of government going into the future, they are going to have to be able to do better among Hispanic voters. If they cannot improve their margins among Hispanics in Texas, they will not be able to in Nevada, Colorado or Arizona either. Yet Republicans even trying to reach out to Hispanic voters in the future is not a given. Donald Trump’s nativism is wildly popular among the party’s primary voters and will likely remain so even after he goes, if he ever goes. I predict that future Republican Presidential candidates are likely to maintain Trump’s anti-immigration policies but present them in a more polished, establishment-friendly package that is less toxic to college-educated, non-Hispanic White voters in the suburbs.

Many people have described the Republican’s base under Trump as a cult, and cults tend to double down on their beliefs when they are confronted by reality. It is entirely possible that the party will become even more extreme and continue to rely on turning out a radicalised minority of White nationalists and White Evangelical Christians (85% of whom turned out in 2016, and 81% voted for Trump) against the Democratic-leaning majority. A majority which has not only the raw numbers but the passage of time on its side in an increasingly diverse America. If the Republican party as we know it is going to die, Texas will be the nail in its coffin.

Read Next: Trump’s Base? Middle-Class, White Christian Nationalists

 

 

Key Mid-Term Races to Forecast 2020: Florida Governor

This short series will highlight some notable 2018 mid-term races whose results will offer some tea leaves to read as to Trump’s 2020 re-election prospects. It will begin by covering gubernatorial races in states Trump narrowly won in 2016, Florida and Wisconsin, before covering Georgia’s gubernatorial and Texas’s Senate race, two states which are likely to become swing states in future election cycles.

Florida Governor: Ron DeSantis (R) v Andrew Gillum (D) – +1.2% to Trump in 2016

With Florida’s incumbent Republican Governor retiring to make a tilt at the Senate, the country’s most important swing state, with a population of 21 million, now has an open race for its Governor’s mansion. For all of the right and wrong reasons, the state’s gubernatorial race is a peek into the long-term future of American politics, pitting a race-baiting nationalist Trump ally against a progressive person of colour endorsed by Bernie Sanders.

The Republican, Ron DeSantis, is running on a nationalist Trumpian platform and called on voters not to “monkey this up” by voting for his African American opponent, Andrew Gillum. He also attended a far-right political conference four times between 2013 and 2017. DeSantis has gone all in on portraying himself as an outspoken Trump acolyte to rally the Republican base around candidacy. Going viral with a campaign ad showing him indoctrinating his children into Trumpism, which would be ridiculously funny if not for what it suggests about the health of the country’s democracy where a leader could enjoy such a cult of personality from his supporters.

Meanwhile, Gillum, the serving mayor of the state capital Tallahassee, has been accused by his opponent and parts of the media of being a socialist for positions such as supporting Medicare-For-All, a $15 minimum wage, removing Confederate monuments, impeaching Donald Trump and raising corporate taxes. Yet Gillum is leading in all the polls (mostly with a lead in the mid-single digits), in a state which went not only went for Trump, but where his approval ratings have so far held up reasonably well by Trump’s standards for a swing state.

For a left-wing African American to win the single most important swing state in U.S politics, and the third most populous state overall (after California and Texas) would be a clear sign that Trump is in trouble for his re-election. While a loss would signal that to Republicans that they can continue to go down the path towards White nationalism while still winning elections. In a match-up the Financial Times event we so far as to describe as “the perfect contest — between a proxy for Donald Trump and a proxy for Bernie Sanders”, a lot more is at stake than just Florida state politics.

Quick Thoughts on the Government’s Leadership Drama

If you’ve been following the news lately, you might think the reason that the Liberals are once again experiencing leadership speculation are disagreements over energy policy and emissions reductions. The real cause, however, are the results of the July 28 Longman by-election. About half of the swing seats in play at the next election will be in Queensland and Liberal National Party (LNP) strategists have realised it will be impossible for them to win when so much of their primary vote in Queensland has deserted them for One Nation. Since the last election, LNP’s primary vote fell in Longman from 39.01% to 29.61%, while One Nation climbed from 9.42% to 15.91%. It is simply unheard of for the Coalition’s primary vote to not be in the 30’s. For context, at the 2016 election, they had a primary of 42% nationwide and 43% in Queensland.

By switching to the more conservative Peter Dutton, who is himself a Queenslander, the LNP would hope to win back disaffected conservatives who have drifted away from them under the leadership of the more moderate Turnbull. While Dutton is more appealing to conservatives, he is much less popular than Turnbull is among the general public. As such a Dutton led Coalition would likely perform worse in New South Wales and Victoria than it would under Turnbull. This would offset, at least partially, some of the advantage gained in Queensland by changing leader.

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A Dutton supporting Liberal MP has told the media that Dutton has the numbers in the party room to topple Turnbull. If that were true, Dutton would be using them to become Prime Minister as I write this article. If I were Malcolm Turnbull, I would call the conservatives bluff and call a spill of the Liberal party’s leadership, betting that no one would put their hand up to challenge him. This would buy him time to try and turn around the party’s polling numbers, keeping him safe at least until Parliament returns from the Summer break in February 2019.

At this point, however, it is difficult to see the Coalition being returned to a third-term under either leader. Yet the prospect of Peter Dutton being the Leader of the Opposition after the next election, whether he becomes Liberal leader before or after the election, is worrying as it would give him an even greater platform to indulge in his nationalistic, racebaiting rhetoric.