The Republicans have been able to depend upon the red southern states for a while under its Electoral College system, but changing demographics are threatening the GOP’s dominance in these states.
The Lone Star State of Texas provided George W. Bush and Donald Trump with winning margins in the 2004 and 2016 presidential elections respectively. In 2011, Hispanics, who traditionally vote for the Democrats, accounted for 38.1 per cent of Texas’s population. Worryingly for the President, a Gallup poll discovered only 39 per cent of Texans approve of the job Trump is doing. Certain electoral battles in this state have become more marginal, like Senator Ted Cruz defeating Beto O’Rourke in 2018 with a difference of 2.6 points.
Last Tuesday, the Republicans experienced setbacks in two states in off-year elections. A staunchly pro-Trump Kentucky Governor called Matt Bevin was deeply unpopular in the state, home to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Meanwhile, Virginia Republicans fighting to maintain their one-seat margin in each of their legislative chambers lost them to the Democrats, who gained full control of state government for the first time in 26 years. These elections were embraced by Trump and the GOP as key tests of the President’s popularity.
Trump’s 2020 performance in the red states depends upon who the Democrats select as their presidential candidate. With Elizabeth Warren’s popularity surging in the Democratic primary races, many in her party are wondering if her radical ideas may be what is needed to defeat Trump. But political commentator Charlie Cook told the Financial Times that many moderate Democrats are worried if they stray away from a moderate agenda, they will fail to defeat the Republicans.
Warren’s appeal as a single mother with radical policies like making college free, cancelling student debt and a host of other progressive ideas have appeal. At rallies in New Hampshire and Iowa, the Massachusetts Senator was introduced to crowds by young women whose experiences mirror those of Warren’s. In Iowa, she has 22 per cent support against 16 per cent for Joe Biden. In New Hampshire, she has a four per cent lead over the former Vice President. Polls show that many voters, including Republicans, are sympathetic to her ideas.
But the Massachusetts Senator faces hurdles. Cook says her healthcare proposals and wealth taxes would not be enough to fund her domestic policy programme. Her support among African Americans lags her popularity among white voters. In red states like South Carolina, where black voters are critical, Biden leads her by 30 points to 19. But among African-American electors, the gap increased to 39-12. A moderate Democrat like Biden can win in GOP states like South Carolina, which has voted Republican in every presidential election from 1964 to 2016, with the exception of 1976. This is why Trump should worry if the Democrats select the former Vice President as their 2020 candidate.
The President is trailing behind Democratic candidates like Biden in national polls and whilst his party can no longer take the red states for granted like it used to, in the swing states, he is performing better than expected. The New York Times conducted surveys in six states that Trump won most narrowly in the 2016 election- Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina. The former Vice President beats Trump by just one percentage point. But the President beats Warren and Bernie Sanders in these battlegrounds by just one point. Therefore, the Republicans’ 2020 campaign is in good shape so far, but it does add credence to the argument only a moderate Democrat can defeat Trump.
The Republicans’ best hope in winning 2020 depends upon the Democrats selecting a radical like Warren or Sanders. Changing demographics and recent elections prove that the red states are gradually becoming more marginal. 2020 might prove to be the first year where the GOP has to treat every state as a potential battleground.