Utah has been consistently red since 1968. Like other states with small populations, the margins are small—just 200,000 votes between Trump and Clinton represented a massive 18 point lead.
In 2016, independent candidate Evan McMullin drew 21.5 percent in his home state—presumably from “Never Trump” Republicans like himself. He’s not running again this year, and he’s endorsed Joe Biden.
Trump is currently leading by 10 points—he’s likely to win it, but not by the overwhelming margins that Republicans are used to receiving in Utah. There’s clearly still a sizeable proportion of “Never Trump” Republicans in Utah!
Texas is a red state with some purple and blue spots, like Austin and Houston. It’s gone red in every election since 1980, but there are some signs of change—if not this year, then in the near future. In 2016, Hillary lost by the smallest margin of any Democratic candidate since 1996. Beto O’Rourke’s challenge for Ted Cruz’s Senate seat was ultimately unsuccessful, but it broke national fundraising records and showed the strength of the Democratic Party in Texas. Hispanic/Latinx communities have turned Southwest Texas blue—it’s no longer just the blue island of Austin sitting alone in a sea of red. Incumbent Republican Senator John Cornyn looks set to win re-election, and he’s distancing himself from Trump.
That said, I’m sceptical about the effort to “Turn Texas Blue”. There are still a lot of rural areas, a lot of evangelicals, and a lot of lifelong Republicans who aren’t going to be swayed. Trump won by over 800,000 votes in 2016. Trump is currently polling an average of 2 points ahead, which is a big shift downwards for a state he won by 9 points, but at the end of the day, he’s still in the lead and it’s still Texas.
Tennessee is a safe Republican state, voting red in every election since 2000. I have always thought it was terrible that they didn’t go for native son Al Gore, even though they voted for Bill Clinton twice! It’s also one of 11 states that voted twice for Bill but voted against Hillary, which is just rude. Trump is currently leading in the polls by around 15 points.
The Senate race in Tennessee is also a safe Republican hold. Incumbent Republican Senator Lamar Alexander is retiring after 3 terms, and the Republican candidate, former Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, is leading by around 20 points.
Tennessee will always have special significance for me on election night—in 2004, the first election I could vote in, I was an 18 year old freshman at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. I hated it—I didn’t fit in and I didn’t want to. I have a love-hate relationship with the South—love the food, music, hospitality; hate the conservative politics, sticky hot humidity, and racism. I had high hopes for Kerry on election night 2004. Bush was unpopular, and my media diet of Jon Stewart and Michael Moore convinced me that everyone else wanted Bush to be a one-term president like his father.
On the other hand, I was on a very red campus in a very red state. I was surrounded by privileged white Southerners who were voting for him by default—“because my parents are big Republicans…they host dinners, stuff like that, you know, ” an Alabaman girl on my hall said, shrugging, when I asked why she was voting for Bush. I had a Kerry-Edwards sign in my ground floor dorm window, and one night a drunken frat boy peed on it, shouting “I’m pissing on Edwards, Edwards is a bitch!” I opened the blinds and he ran off. That incident, and the crushing shock of seeing an unpopular president get re-elected, made the 2004 election a formative experience for me.
I don’t trust the judgment of the American people. Why did they re-elect someone with a consistently low approval rating? It makes me very nervous for the current election…
It made me passionate about politics and elections. I have never missed a vote—I always submit my ballot, even for little local elections, school levies, primaries, etc.
It made me understand an important lesson about how the opposition felt—they disliked Kerry as much as I disliked Bush, and vice versa. That’s become even truer now. There are people out there who hated Obama as much as my circles hate Trump. Whichever candidate wins, around half of the country will be devastated, like I was in 2004 and 2016, and like the Republicans were in 2008 and 2012. If we all understood that about each other, maybe our politics wouldn’t be so divisive and losses wouldn’t be so devastating.
It was the tipping point for me at Vanderbilt. People chanting “Four More Years” when you’re angry about the status quo is deeply painful. I became even more depressed than before the election, and eventually the only glimmer of hope that I could muster was the thought of transferring to the University of Washington and going home. I did, and looking back, the whole terrible experience was so important for my development —I had to leave home to learn to appreciate it, and I had to experience an election in a red state to understand politics.
South Dakota is not only solidly Republican, it’s specifically pro-Trump as well. It has some of the highest rates of Covid-19 and the lowest rates of mask-wearing, and Republican Governor Kristi Noem is pro-NRA, anti-choice, and a big MAGA supporter. It’s a safe red state and its Senate race is a safe Republican hold, too—current polls for both the Presidential race and the Senate race have the incumbent Republicans 20 points ahead.
South Carolina is a leaning red state with a potential to flip a Senate seat. Like Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham is facing a strong challenger who might just mobilize enough voters to flip the seat. Jaime Harrison is young, black, Ivy League educated, a married father of two—all things that Graham is not. Graham’s support for Trump, an unpopular president, has decreased his own popularity—and Graham’s past criticism of Trump, praise for Biden, and his past statements about Supreme Court nominations in election years have exposed Graham as a hypocrite.
Rhode Island is as deep blue as the South is deep red. Margins of 20-30 points are common—Hillary Clinton’s 15 point lead was actually the smallest margin of victory the Democrats have had in Rhode Island for decades.
Biden is currently ahead by around 30 points, so Rhode Island’s 4 electoral votes are confidently expected to go to Biden.
Pennsylvania is another one of the swing states to watch this year. Long considered a safe blue state, it was a shock in 2016 when it was called for Trump—he won Pennsylvania by just 44,292 votes, or 0.72%. It was a sign of things to come, as Michigan and Wisconsin were called for Trump (with similar tiny margins) in the hours that followed.
Biden is currently leading by 6 points in Pennsylvania, but it’s still going to be a tense one to watch on election night—either the start of a real blue wave or a signal that Trump has held on to more working class voters than expected.
As is the case with several other states, registration and turnout are crucial for the Democrats in Pennsylvania. Turnout has been below 65% in every presidential election since 1968, with the lowest point at 48.9% in 1996. For the first time, voters have been allowed to request absentee mail in ballots for any reason, and early voting started in mid-September, so the state has certainly done what it can to help turnout. Now it’s up to Pennsylvanians to turnout and elect the ‘Scrappy kid from Scranton’!
Oregon is a safe blue state, consistently supporting Democratic candidates since 1988 (one of just 10 states and DC that went for Dukakis!). Biden is currently leading by 23 points. In the Senate, incumbent Democrat Jeff Merkley is 20 points ahead, so that’s a clear Democratic hold.
They’ve been voting by mail in Oregon since 1987, and for Presidential elections since 2000. As Trump tries to undermine the integrity of voting by mail with accusations of fraud, it’s been useful to look at Oregon as the state with the longest history of voting by mail. Since 2000, over 100 million ballots have been mailed out and there have been around 12 cases of proven fraud—that’s a rate of fewer than 0.00000012%. Oregon proves that voting by mail is safe, easy and effective.
Oklahoma is a very safe red state, where Republicans win by big margins. In the last four presidential elections, the Republican candidates have won by over 30 points.
Trump held his first post-lockdown indoor rally in Tulsa on June 20th. Here’s a chart of the state’s daily new covid-19 cases, with the rally date marked:
Now, I’m not saying it spiked because of the rally, but looking at that chart, Oklahoma doesn’t seem like a good place to hold a crowded, indoor event during a pandemic. (That said, the poor turnout made social distancing possible!)
The ultimate swing state and bellwether, Ohio has voted for the overall winner in every election since 1964. Elections are usually quite close—Trump’s 8 point lead in 2016 was the largest margin of victory in recent years. Turnout is pretty consistent, around 70% of registered voters. The first week of early voting saw record turnout—in many areas, twice as many as 2016’s early voting turnout.
Former Republican Governor John Kasich has endorsed Joe Biden over his 2016 primary rival. Polls are very close, with Trump just 2-3 points ahead.
Why are so many Ohio voters still behind Trump? I recently finished reading Hillbilly Elegy, by Ohio-native with Kentucky roots J.D. Vance. It explores the complicated issues facing the white working class voters in Ohio—decline in manufacturing, opioid epidemic, domestic violence, etc. For whatever reason, they felt seen by Trump in a way that they didn’t by Hillary Clinton. What puzzles me, though, is how a state can go for Obama twice and then for Trump. Even after reading the book, I still haven’t figured that out.