Campaign

Here’s where things stand 200 days before Election Day

Democrats are growing more confident about their chances of retaking power in Washington with 200 days to go before Election Day.

It’s an election that both sides now see as turning on the coronavirus pandemic and the American public’s views on how President Trump steers the country through the worst public health crisis in modern memory.

Recent polls suggest a tight race, but also give Democrats hope that former Vice President Joe Biden can top Trump in states such as Florida and Arizona that are crucial to his reelection chances.

Democrats are also feeling upbeat about the Senate, where a handful of races will determine whether they can wrest away control of the chamber from Republicans. 

Republicans, for their part, think the well-funded Trump campaign can help reelect the president to another four-year term, an outcome that would greatly increase the party’s chances of retaining the House majority.

And the GOP is hopeful a Trump win could provide the momentum needed to pick up 20 House seats and end Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) second Speakership.

Here’s a look at the three battlegrounds.

White House 

Biden has never seemed like an unbeatable candidate, to say the least.

Polls show his supporters are not as enthusiastic as Trump’s, his gaffes are the stuff of legend and the progressive base of the Democratic Party was hoping other candidates would win the party’s primary.

Yet Democrats do have reason for optimism this week.

The party, desperate to end Trump’s presidency at one term, is uniting around the former vice president quickly.

Former President Obama, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have all endorsed Biden this week, giving him an advantage over 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton, who didn’t see the party begin to unify around her candidacy until the summer.

Biden leads Trump in a number of national polls, as well as in the swing states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. 

Trump has a big cash advantage at this stage of the race, along with the power of incumbency.

But for the president, the key is almost certainly the coronavirus crisis and the recession it has caused.

Trump was hoping he would ride a strong economy into reelection. Now he must convince voters that his stewardship is the best to steer the country back to economic success.

He’s signaled he wants to begin opening the economy as quickly as possible. He’s also noted that U.S. deaths from the coronavirus are far lower than some projections, which the White House argues is evidence of the success of his policies.

Trump’s argument, an echo in some ways of former President George W. Bush’s in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, is that it would be wrong to change the nation’s leader at this critical time.

The coronavirus crisis also promises to make the election campaign uglier.

Trump has signaled he’ll make Biden’s age and his son Hunter Biden’s business in Ukraine campaign issues. He’s ripped Democrats on personal terms for opposing decisions he’s made during the battle against the pandemic.

Biden and Democrats, for their part, will argue fewer Americans would have died if Trump had taken quicker action.

Senate 

Democrats must gain the White House and a net three seats to win back the Senate — an uphill climb that is not impossible.

In reality, Democrats probably need to take four Republican seats to win the Senate. Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) is a huge underdog in a state Trump is likely to sweep to victory in November.

That means Democrats will probably have to defeat Sens. Martha McSally, Cory Gardner and Susan Collins in Arizona, Colorado and Maine, respectively, and then win a fourth seat as well.

In all three of those contests, Democrats seem to have a decent chance of winning.

Gardner is in the fight of his political life. Not only has Colorado turned bluer in recent years, he’s facing a potential challenge from former Gov. John Hickenlooper, the prohibitive front-runner in the state’s Senate Democratic primary.

In Arizona, McSally is up against Democrat Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut who has shattered fundraising records since launching his Senate bid early last year. McSally lost her state’s last Senate race in 2018 before Gov. Doug Ducey (R) appointed her to fill the vacant seat of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). 

Collins is also in a tough race in a state where Biden will be favored to take electoral votes in November.

The best chance for Democrats to pull out a fourth victory might be in North Carolina, where Democrats think GOP Sen. Thom Tillis (N.C.) is vulnerable.

If they can’t win there, they may look to Iowa, where Democratic outside groups are spending millions to oust Sen. Joni Ernst (R).

Republicans hope they can take out Sen. Gary Peters (D), who has a relatively low name ID. Trump pulled a surprise win in the state in 2016, giving the GOP hope he could do so again and that his coattails could help down the ticket.

Democrats believe that they may be able to bring three other states into play: Kentucky, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) is facing a well-funded Democratic opponent in Amy McGrath; Texas, where Democrats are energized after a near-win against Sen. Ted Cruz (R) in 2018; and Georgia, where both of the state’s Republican senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, will face voters in November.

Each of those states will likely prove challenging for Democrats, and party operatives concede that while their chances there have improved, they’re still a reach. 

House

The House is the least likely chamber to flip in the general election.

Republicans need a net gain of 20 seats to take back the majority. Republicans also have to take into account the redistricting in North Carolina, which will endanger two GOP-held seats, as well as retiring Rep. Will Hurd’s (R-Texas) district, which Democrats are favored to take. 

It would appear Republicans are well positioned with Democrats holding 30 seats in districts Trump carried in 2016, but not all of those races are competitive. The Cook Political Report rates Rep. Angie Craig’s (D-Minn.) district, which Trump won by 1.2 percentage points, as “lean Democratic.”

Meanwhile, Cook rates Reps. Mikie Sherrill’s (D-N.J.) and Ron Kind’s (D-Wis.) races as “likely Democratic.” Trump won Sherrill’s district by 1 point and Kind’s district by 4 points. 

Having Biden as their presumptive presidential nominee could also play to House Democrats’ advantage in November. Vulnerable House Democrats, such as Rep. Joe Cunningham in South Carolina’s 1st District, had voiced concerns about the prospect of Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, at the top of the Democratic ticket. 

However, Republicans do hold an advantage in a number of key districts. Cook changed the rating for the race to fill former Rep. Katie Hill’s (D-Calif.) district from “lean Democratic” to “toss-up”; California Assemblywoman Christie Smith (D) and former Navy fighter pilot Mike Garcia (R) will face off in the vote-by-mail special general election there on May 12. 

Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s (D-Va.) race in Virginia’s 7th District, which was also won by Trump in 2016, is considered a “toss-up” by Cook. The website also rates Rep. Lucy McBath’s (D-Ga.) seat in Georgia’s 6th District as a “toss-up.” That district was won by Trump in 2016 and was formerly held by former Rep. Karen Handel (R-Ga.), who is running again for the seat. 

The coronavirus pandemic could have the biggest impact on the race. The crisis has forced candidates in all races to resort to virtual campaigning.

Republican candidates could see an enthusiasm and fundraising advantage with Trump at the top of the ticket. However, Democrats will likely be given another opportunity to run on health care, an issue with which they solidly won the House in 2018. 

Tags Abigail Spanberger Bernie Sanders Cory Gardner Donald Trump doug jones Elizabeth Warren Gary Peters Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Joe Cunningham John Hickenlooper John McCain Joni Ernst Karen Handel Katie Hill Kelly Loeffler Lucy McBath Martha McSally Mikie Sherrill Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Ron Kind Susan Collins Ted Cruz Thom Tillis Will Hurd

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