The Battle for the Battleground States - "The Sunday Political Brunch" - June 7, 2020


CHARLESTON, W. Va. – Well, the 2020 Election is just five months away, as we continue to stagger through the primary season – including West Virginia this week. A lot of national polls and state polls show bad news for President Trump, but Democrats may want to cue up the old classic from The Who - “We Won’t Get Fooled Again!” There are 13 so-called battleground states where this race will be decided. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“Crash and Burn?” – If you look at the latest composite poll from Real Clear Politics, it does not look good for the incumbent. The national poll has it at 49.2 percent for the presumptive Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden. Republican President Donald Trump comes in at 42.2 percent. The problem for Democrats is that in 2016, Trump managed to win the Electoral College, but not the popular vote. So, a national popularity lead at this point may not be that significant.

“The Big Three” – As I have been harping on in my column for months, the Democrats' path to the White House resides in winning back all three of the traditional “blue states” Trump swept away in 2016, namely Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Here are the latest RCP composite polls for all three: Pennsylvania, Biden 48 percent to Trump 44 percent; Michigan, Biden 47 percent tot Trump 42 percent; and, Wisconsin, Biden 46 percent to Trump 43 percent. If Biden wins back all three, plus all states Hillary Clinton won in 2016, he’ll be president.

“The Linchpins for Trump” – The things to watch on election night are the early East Coast trends, which were bellwethers for Trump in 2016. Some of the first states to report are places Trump needs to win again. Right now, the RCP composite poll in Florida has it 48 percent for Biden and 45 percent for Trump. In North Carolina, the poll average has it 46.4 percent Biden 45.6 percent for Trump, statistically a dead heat. But my election night advice is this: if Biden wins either, or both, Florida and North Carolina, turn off the coffee pot and go to bed. There’s no reason to pull an all-nighter.

“Rust Belt Rules” – The ultimate bellwether state for any Republican is Ohio. No Republican has ever won the White House without carrying the Buckeye State, too. The RCP poll has it close with Biden at 46 percent and Trump at 45 percent. I long thought that Senator Sherrod Brown, (D) Ohio had a shot for the vice-presidential slot on the ticket, to help take back his state. Right now, he doesn’t even appear on Biden’s list, since the nominee promised a female running mate. Breaking that promise, just to win Ohio, would be the kiss of death. Don’t plan on making any Biden-Brown bumper stickers or yard signs!

“First in the Nation Station!” – Much is always made of the ‘first in the nation” status of the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary, both of which are battleground states in November. Last time around, Clinton won New Hampshire and Trump took Iowa. Right now, it looks like a repeat. The latest RCP composite poll in New Hampshire has Biden up over Trump, 48 to 44 percent. In Iowa the numbers flip, with Trump at 48 percent to 44 percent for Biden.

“The Non-Factors” – I was surprised that Virginia and Texas were listed as key battleground states this year. Texas has long been a GOP stronghold and I doubt that will change. Virginia was always a solid GOP state, too, but that has changed. Barack Obama carried it twice, and Hillary Clinton won big in 2016. The huge growth in the Washington, D.C. suburbs of Arlington, Alexandria and five other urban Northern Virginia counties has moved this state to the blue column. The latest RCP poll has it 49 percent for Biden, 39 percent for Trump. Texas, though, looks closer. The latest RCP poll has it 46 percent Trump to 44 percent Biden. Obviously, Texas is a Republican linchpin. It remains so.

“The Outliers” – The final three battleground states this year are Minnesota, Arizona and Nevada. Minnesota is traditionally blue, but the last few cycles were close. Right now, the RCP poll shows Biden at 49 percent to Trump’s 44 percent. Therefore, I’m still convinced Biden will choose Senator Amy Klobuchar (D) Minnesota as his running mate. Arizona is another Sunbelt state showing a possible color change. The reliably red state is showing shades of a blue shift with Biden at 47 percent and Trump at 44 percent. If we get west of the Mississippi River without a clear winner early on election night, this could be the deciding state. Also out West, Nevada hangs in the balance. Long a red state, now trending blue, the latest poll has it 48 percent Biden, to 44 percent Trump.

“Things Have Changed?” – I always tell folks that polls are just a snapshot in time. It’s a “freeze-frame” of one day in June 2020. There are five months until the election and a lot can happen. As an aside, all these polls were taken before Friday’s good economic news, where unemployment dropped two full percentage points, 2.5 million jobs were created, and the Dow Jones surged past 27,000 points. If those trends continue, that helps the incumbent, especially in states where it is close. These polls also offer another potentially important clue. While Biden leads in most of them, he hasn’t broken the 50 percent majority barrier in any of them. The undecided voters are going to be pivotal. Remember, the overconfidence of Democrats based on similar polling data led to their defeat in 2016. It’s a mistake I am sure they don’t want to repeat.

How are things looking in your state? Just click the comment button to let us know!

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five neighboring states, and most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He is a National Contributing Political Writer for The White House Patch at

© 2020, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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