Coronavirus Failures Put “Safe” GOP Seats In Play

As the coronavirus takes hold in red states, a reckoning is brewing for Republicans who failed to take the crisis seriously.
President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House COVID-19 Coronavirus task force – – Thursday, April 16, 2020. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House COVID-19 Coronavirus task force – – Thursday, April 16, 2020. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

It’s clear the 2020 election was always going to be a referendum on Donald Trump’s troubled presidency and incompetent governance. Coming out of the crowded primary, Democrats were jostling for position to take back the Oval Office and, if they were lucky, unseat the Republican Senate majority. But as coronavirus swept the country in March and April and the pandemic began to take hold in the United States, that campaign calculus changed dramatically.

After more than four months of rampant virus spread, over 140,000 dead, and economic upheaval that resembles the stuff of dystopian nightmares, the 2020 election is shaping up to be much more than a referendum on the hateful rhetoric and policies of Donald Trump. Today, it is an opportunity for voters to pass judgment on the GOP governors and local officials whose politicization of public health policy is worsening the COVID-19 outbreak.

Trump’s incompetence may have made the race much more competitive and essentially served up the Senate to the Democrats, but the GOP hasn’t been helping themselves much either. In the absence of national leadership, states like Texas, Georgia, and Florida have found themselves on the front lines of the pandemic in recent weeks. Moves to downplay recommendations from health officials, hide data, refuse to issue mask mandates, and prematurely lift lockdowns have earned many GOP governors widespread condemnation as infection rates within their states spiral out of control.

In addition to exposing inept leadership at the state level, the pandemic may have also awakened many voters to the treachery within their own local government as GOP-led city councils and state legislatures veto mask ordinances and endanger the public in their push to open beaches, businesses, and schools. In May, Gallup reported an unprecedented 78% of Americans were dissatisfied with the direction of the country. This may be fueling a huge swing in party affiliation with Democrats up double digits as half of U.S. adults report that they identify or lean Democratic. Will this widespread despair and anger allow Democrats to not only gain the upper hand in the Senate but also flip governorships and state legislatures?

Let’s take a closer look at the numbers and the opportunities Democrats have to reshape the landscape of US politics this fall as the pandemic rages on.

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State legislatures hang in the balance

It’s become increasingly clear that one of the most successful tools in the GOP toolbox is the effort to commandeer state legislatures and enforce gerrymandering. This tactic has enabled Republicans to continue to win elections, suppress voting rights, hold back progressive policies, and perpetuate minority rule. In 2020, Democrats not only have an opportunity to control Congress and the White House but a chance to flip control of state legislatures.

Currently, there are thirty states where Republicans control both the house and senate. Democrats have identified six battleground states where they could potentially flip the balance of the state legislature including Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. But as the pandemic has devastated additional red states across the country, Democrats are also eyeing opportunities to make significant gains in Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Montana, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Democrats are unlikely to flip the Arizona State Senate in 2020, but they’re just two seats away from seizing the House, where Democrats haven’t held a majority since 1966. Iowa is also surprisingly competitive with Democrats just four seats away from breaking up a RepublicanRepbulican state trifecta where the GOP controls both houses of the legislature and the governor’s seat. Michigan, where Democrat Governor Gretchen Whitmer broke up another Republican trifecta in 2018, is a solid opportunity for Democrats with just four seats required to flip control of the Michigan House. In Minnesota, Democrats could cement their own trifecta by flipping just two more seats to take control of the state senate.

Control of the North Carolina legislature hangs in the balance this fall with just single digits required to flip control of both the state and house of representatives and cement another Democratic trifecta. This is a much heavier lift but it would be a truly remarkable rout for Democrats who have generally struggled to win elections in the GOP dominated South due to a potent combination of voter suppression and gerrymandering. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is also within reach for Democrats with just nine seats required to flip control of that chamber and Trump down nearly double digits in state polling. However, a legal challenge from Trump’s campaign may make Pennsylvania ground zero for mail-in voting rights and create complications for Democrats ahead of the election.

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Governor seats up for grabs

There are only eleven governorships up for grabs across the country, nine of which are held by incumbents. Any gains in controlling the state executive offices are to be celebrated since currently, Republicans control 26 of the governorships across the nation. Out of the seven governor seats currently held by Republicans up for re-election, just a handful show signs of being competitive races that could flip for Democrats.

This is largely because not all GOP governors are created equal and many of them did not stick their heads in the sand or parrot Trump talking points when the virus began to spread. Some GOP governors, like Phil Scott of Vermont and Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, have avoided politicization of the pandemic and prioritized protecting their constituents. Democratic governors like Roy Cooper are enjoying the same effect as careful handling of the pandemic in North Carolina has increased his approval numbers and improved his path to re-election in November.

However, some Republicans like Mike Parsons of Missouri are facing surprisingly competitive races in traditionally red states where voters disapprove of the governor’s handling of the pandemic. Parsons, who was up nearly double digits in polling at the beginning of the year, has fortunes that seem to be closely aligned with Trump’s plummeting approval numbers. And the failure of Missouri to expand Medicaid, in large part because of GOP opposition, has likely played a role in worsening the pandemic there.

In Montana, the race for governor is a toss-up as the current Democratic governor Steve Bullock vacates his seat to run for Senate. Currently, Mike Cooney, a Democrat and lieutenant governor of Montana, is polling slightly behind but within the margin of error against Greg Gianforte. You may remember Gianforte as the Montana Congressman and Trump supporter who grabbed headlines when he was convicted of assaulting a reporter in 2017.

In recent surveys, 47% of voters in Montana disapproved of Gianforte while 48% of said they weren’t sure about Cooney, which suggests the largest obstacle for Democrats in the governor’s race is simply name recognition. Another factor that may improve Cooney’s chances is that Montana voters are largely pleased with the effective coronavirus response in their state from a democratic governor.

The Rantt Rundown

Increasingly, there is evidence that prioritizing the economy over the welfare of their constituents is not paying off for GOP politicians. In addition to Trump’s plummeting approval ratings and the potential loss of a Senate majority, Cook Political moved twenty House districts this week from solid or likely Republican wins towards ratings more favorable to Democrats. Many of them are in states hard hit by the virus such as Arizona, Ohio, and Texas. Up and down the ballot, Republicans appear to be suffering not only from the unfavorability of their President but also from the wrath of constituents who are unemployed, frightened, and increasingly frustrated with GOP leadership.

This pandemic doesn’t have much in the way of silver linings. But it has presented an opportunity to come to terms not only with our shortcomings as a nation but to bring about a reckoning for a political system desperately in need of a revolution. It’s hopefully a chance to bring progressive policies that reflect majority rule to fruition.

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News // Donald Trump / Elections / Republican Party / State Government