The 2020 election may see the highest turnout in decades, though it comes at the same time as vast uncertainty about voting systems, mail ballots and the role of courts. For the second consecutive cycle, Republicans see a path to victory that doesn’t include the popular vote. And for the third cycle in a row, Democrats have designs on control of the Senate — but can win it only by flipping seats in states where President Trump is favored.
The electoral map is the largest in a long time, with once reliably blue states like Minnesota being contested by Republicans and once reliably red states like Georgia getting a hard look from Democrats. All 435 House seats are up for grabs, with Democrats favored to retain control thanks to their supercharged fundraising and the president’s political weakness in most suburbs. Thirty-five Senate seats are up, 24 of them held by Republicans.
While just 11 states are electing governors this year, there are fights for control of state legislatures ahead of next year’s planned redistricting — a chance for Republicans to hold on to their 2011 gains, or for Democrats to erase them. Voters in 32 states will weigh in on 115 ballot measures, deciding everything from whether Mississippi will adopt a new state flag to whether California’s ride-share drivers can work as independent contractors.
But the most money and organizing has been poured into the race for president between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden. The map of swing states has expanded since the start of the year, but every state where the gap between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was fewer than four points remains competitive, and potentially decisive: Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. (We have guides to most of those, plus Georgia, Texas and Ohio.)
Plenty of states give Republicans bigger margins than Alabama, but few are more loyal to the party: Sen. Doug Jones is the only Democrat to win statewide since the introduction of the iPad. While the state will allow voters to request mail ballots if they cite the coronavirus as a reason, Democrats rarely win outside the Black Belt that runs across the state and, more recently, in the Jefferson County suburbs that surround the city of Birmingham. The Senate race is the only federal contest both parties are seriously contesting.
Republicans have easily won Alaska in every election since 1968, and the state’s scale, its distance from “the outside” and three electoral votes made campaigning here rare even before the pandemic. Still, Democrats are often competitive in statewide races, and the president won just 51 percent of the vote here in 1996, the weakest Republican vote in 20 years. That has a lot to do with the state’s willingness to back independents and third-party candidates, five of whom will share the ballot with Biden and Trump. Democrats are trying to take advantage of that down the ballot, backing independents in the House and Senate races.
One of the heartlands of the modern Republican Party, Arizona has remained stubbornly out of reach for Democratic presidential candidates this century, giving them 44 percent to 45 percent of the vote. The president’s weakness with suburban voters has shaken things up, with Phoenix’s Maricopa County, where more than half of ballots are cast, changing from safely red territory to a toss-up. Republican Sen. Martha McSally has trailed in most polling. Two House districts that cut into Maricopa County, the 1st and 6th districts, could see close races, and Democrats are trying to take over the state Senate ahead of 2021’s redistricting.
The four political states of Arizona
In just a few years, a state run by moderate Democrats became one of the most safely Republican places in the South. Outside of the Mississippi Delta and the greater Little Rock area, Democrats now lose everywhere, and the party lost its only challenger to Sen. Tom Cotton, who’s cruising to his first reelection. Only the 2nd District, which contains Little Rock, could be competitive.
Trump began his presidency by accusing Californians of casting millions of illegal votes against him, and relations have gone downhill from there. Republicans aren’t really competing for the state’s electoral votes and are focused on winning back the seats lost in the 2018 midterms. They picked up (and are now defending) the 25th District northwest of Los Angeles; they are trying to win back the 21st, 39th and 48th districts, as two other seats that flipped two years ago drew weak Republican challengers.
The steady expansion of Denver and its suburbs turned a red state into a purple state, then into a blue state where Republicans struggle to win. Sen. Cory Gardner is now the only statewide Republican elected official here, and Democrats recruited popular, if awkward, former governor John Hickenlooper to face him. Gardner won’t get much help from the president, who has not seriously competed for Colorado this cycle, and while independents outnumber members of either major party, registered Democrats now outnumber registered Republicans by close to 100,000, up from a near-tie in 2016.
Despite some gains in local and state legislative races, Republicans remain in the deep minority here, and the president has barely paid attention to the state. (He has not visited it at all since 2017.) Much of the state moved toward the GOP in 2016, but the suburbs of New York City raced in the other direction, and the president lost overall by 14 points, pushing the state off the map this cycle.
When Biden first was elected to the Senate here, Richard Nixon was carrying the state by 21 points. That kind of ticket-splitting is unheard of now, and Delaware’s Republicans have been sidelined during the Trump era, with Democrats now in command of every statewide office. The First State has just three counties; Biden has homes in two of them, and neither party doubts he’ll win easily.
Yes, yes, it’s always close. Since 2010, no candidate for president or governor here has won by more than one point or cracked 50 percent of the popular vote. The only one of those races won by a Democrat — Barack Obama’s reelection campaign — put together math that may not work for the party anymore, as the state’s conservative southwest and northwest turn out massive Republican margins. The GOP’s socialism-centric campaign is trying to cut Democratic margins in South Florida (while taking back two House seats), while Democrats are trying to stretch their 2018 suburban gains further into places like Sarasota and Jacksonville.
The six political states of Florida
The last time Republicans seriously worried about losing this state, Democrats ran the state government and saluted a flag that incorporated the Stars and Bars. That was in 1992, and Georgia has added more than 2 million voters since, most of them in Atlanta and its increasingly Democratic suburbs. Republicans are trying to flip back the 6th District, while Democrats are trying to win the neighboring 7th District they nearly flipped in 2018. If there’s one state where Democrats see a path to victory but worry voting laws and election administration could cut it off, it’s Georgia.
The six political states of Georgia
Sixteen years ago, Republicans were so bullish on this state that they dispatched Richard B. Cheney there for a rally. No GOP nominee since has won more than 30 percent of the votes here, and none of its down-ballot races are competitive.
Republicans never have to worry about winning Idaho’s four electoral votes, but in 2016, the state’s Mormon population struggled with the nominee: An independent (and Latter-day Saints) presidential candidate got into the double digits in some counties.
Biden will be the first Democratic nominee since 2004 who doesn’t have some personal connection to Illinois, but the state won’t be competitive — Democrats now ride out of Cook County with a margin of 1 million votes or more, and once-red suburban counties have abandoned the Trump-era GOP, more than erasing Republican gains in downstate areas.
Barack Obama won it in 2008, but the state’s conservative Democrats have moved at warp speed toward the GOP, putting it out of reach for Biden’s party. The state isn’t being seriously contested, but the open House seat in Indianapolis’s suburbs could be.
As every Democratic candidate for president reminded Iowans, their state’s red shift, with working-class towns leaving the party en masse, was the harbinger for 2016. The state is more competitive now, and three of its four House seats are hotly contested, but big swaths of rural Iowa that backed Barack Obama are hostile to his party now.
The president won handily here in 2016, but his 56 percent of the vote was the lowest for any Republican nominee in more than two decades. Democrats gained ground in 2018, winning one House seat and the race for governor, and they recruited a moderate former Republican, state Sen. Barbara Bollier, to run for U.S. Senate this year.
Biden has appeared on two Democratic tickets that lost Kentucky by landslides, and that’s unlikely to change this year. Democrat Amy McGrath is running an expensive race against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, though polling has shown him safe despite middling personal popularity.
Antiabortion Gov. John Bel Edwards is the only Democrat to win statewide here since 2008, and the national Democratic brand is a non-starter; the party struggles to win votes outside of the major cities and, increasingly, the suburbs of New Orleans.
One of just two states to split its electoral votes by congressional district, Maine is increasingly divided between a conservative, rural north, and liberal and wealthier south, especially around Portland. It’s also the one state to let voters rank their choices in federal races, which could matter in Sen. Susan Collins’s close reelection race.
The tense relationship between the president and Republican Gov. Larry Hogan says it all about this state: Even some members of Trump’s party here are uncomfortable with him in the White House. Trump did worse here in the 2020 Republican primary than almost anywhere else and ignored it in campaigning.
Republicans haven’t competed seriously here since 1984 and struggle even with the sort of working-class White voters they win easily in most of the country. Any TV ads in Boston are aimed at New Hampshire.
The closest of the key states in 2016, Michigan drifted away from Republicans in 2018 — the party’s gains in rural areas were overwhelmed by Democratic gains in suburbs. Republicans recruited John James, a Senate candidate who lost that year, to run again, but Trump has been a drag.
The six political states of Michigan
Tempting to Republicans, with a large number of rural White voters who have left the Democrats behind, Minnesota leans to the left of the upper Midwest. The large number of college-educated White voters is a factor, and refugee-fueled diversity in Minneapolis is another. But the Trump campaign invested heavily here after nearly skipping it in 2016.
This is one of the most racially stratified political states, with more than 80 percent of White voters loyal to Republicans and more than 90 percent of Black votes reliably voting for Democrats. While a higher percentage of Mississippi’s population is Black compared with other states, that’s not enough to make Democrats regularly competitive. Former agriculture secretary Mike Espy, a Democrat, is making a second Senate bid here after losing by single digits in 2018.
A bellwether state until 2008, when it narrowly rejected Barack Obama, Missouri has marched toward the GOP since then, with old Democratic strongholds in the Bootheel region and the center of the state flipping dramatically. Democrats have added votes in the suburbs of Kansas City and St. Louis but only enough to compete for a Republican-drawn House seat.
Unionized workers in the western part of the state have made Montana far more competitive than other majority-White parts of the Mountain West. Hillary Clinton lost here by 20 points, but Democrats reelected Gov. Steve Bullock that year, and he’s in one of the year’s most expensive Senate races for a seat Democrats held for decades.
Democrats aren’t very competitive in most of the state and have been beset by problems with candidate selection. But like Maine, Nebraska awards electoral votes to the winners of congressional district, and the Omaha-centered 2nd District has been competitive in every year since 2008.
Barack Obama won the state by a landslide in 2008, but Republicans have cut the margins since, running up the score outside of Reno and Las Vegas and winning when they pull ahead in suburbs like Henderson. Democrats swamped them in 2018, but the pandemic has complicated the party’s traditional canvass strategy — one that has led pollsters, for years, to underestimate the party’s advantage with Latinos.
In 2016, the closest Trump-Clinton margin in New England was here, with the Democrat prevailing by a few thousand votes. Republicans were helped by a third-party vote, which has collapsed since then, as Democrats have won locally in the Boston exurbs.
Tough for Republicans before Trump, the president’s policies have made it tougher — a backlash to his anti-immigration measures and elimination of a popular tax reduced the GOP to one of 13 House seats. Trump rallied here after one Democrat, Rep. Jeff Van Drew, switched parties, but while his race is close, the Trump-Biden race isn’t.
Republicans’ struggles with Latinos and suburbanites have wounded their party badly here, with no nominee since George W. Bush winning more than 43 percent of the vote. A Senate seat is open, but Republican losses around Albuquerque have made it hard for the party to get to 50 percent.
The president no longer votes in his home state and is historically unpopular in his hometown. In 2016, Republicans did better in Upstate New York and Long Island; in 2018, they lost House seats but held on to some of those gains. The presidential race is not competitive.
Democrats lost here for decades but narrowly won in 2008, and every race since has been close. Republicans have gained ground in rural areas but lost it in the cities, and a shift in the suburbs of Charlotte and Raleigh has closed up the race. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is seeking reelection and so is Republican Sen. Thom Tillis.
Republicans have taken over completely here, holding every statewide office. Democrats spent some money here in 2008 but haven’t returned, as the party’s environmentalism alienated it from energy industry workers.
Democrats misjudged Ohio in 2016, investing time and money into a place where one of the party’s bases — working-class Whites in the Mahoning Valley — had deserted it. The state went for Trump by nine points, with Republicans gaining ground everywhere but around Cincinnati and Columbus. Democrats have struggled for Biden’s attention this year after Ohio didn’t deliver many wins in 2018.
The seven political states of Ohio
After the 2008 election, Oklahoma Republicans sent a Christmas card that boasted of the state’s spotless record: Every single county had rejected Barack Obama. No Democratic nominee since Al Gore has won a county here, but Oklahoma County has trended left, and Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn is trying to defend the seat she flipped there.
Competitive for years, Oregon was pushed to the left by the growth of Portland. The president hinted he might compete there this cycle, and he briefly made the city’s protest culture into a focus of his campaign, but there is no sign of Republican opportunity.
Trump’s appeal in this state has slipped since 2016, when Hillary Clinton’s modest gains in the suburbs of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were outpaced by Republican gains in the northeast and northwest. Biden’s roots in Scranton were a selling point for Democrats in the primaries, as they hoped even a modest improvement in that region would break Trump’s coalition.
As in the rest of New England, Trump made gains with White working-class voters here while solidly losing non-White voters and suburbanites. Republicans are making no real effort to win it.
Republican strength in the upstate and along much of the Atlantic coast has kept the state safely Republican for decades. Democrats, who win Black voters by a landslide in the state, have made some inroads around the suburbs of Charleston and Columbia, and former party chair Jaime Harrison has raised more money than any Democrat in state history in his race against Sen. Lindsey O. Graham.
Like the rest of the Great Plains states, South Dakota had some Democratic loyalties last decade but swung hard toward the president in 2016. Republican Gov. Kristi L. Noem won narrowly in 2018 but has become widely popular since then, and the state has seen no presidential campaigning.
Al Gore’s home state is now almost entirely hostile to Democratic candidates, as voters in Appalachia and other rural parts of the state have abandoned the party completely. Democrats have made gains in the suburbs of Nashville but far from enough to make the state worth it for Biden to compete in.
Democrats’ designs on Texas were a source of Republican mirth for a decade. That changed in 2018, when Democrats made huge advances in the suburbs of every major city and the national party began investing to swing House seats. Biden’s campaign has talked up its commitment to the state without sinking much money into it.
The seven political states of Texas
The Mormon-dominated state was a surprising source of weakness for the president in 2016, with more than one in four voters backing a third-party candidate. But Trump won handily, and only a House race near Salt Lake City is competitive.
Bernie Sanders’s state has not been competitive in a presidential election since 1988; four years ago, when around 20,000 Vermonters cast protest votes for Sanders, it did not prevent Hillary Clinton from winning in a landslide.
Republicans have not won anything here since 2009, and Trump has given rocket fuel to the suburban liberals who now dominate state politics. The president has barely tried to win the state, but three House races — around Charlottesville, Richmond and Virginia Beach — are competitive.
The state was competitive for years, but the growth of Seattle and its suburbs has put the state out of reach for Republicans; no GOP presidential candidate has carried it since Ronald Reagan. Democrats are defending a House seat in the region they flipped two years ago, while Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler is defending a swing seat on the Oregon border.
The days of Mike Dukakis campaigning confidently through the hollers are over: This is now one of the country’s most Republican states, with Trump winning the state by the biggest margin of any GOP candidate in history.
Like the rest of the Great Lakes states that decided the 2016 election, Wisconsin backed Trump with less than 50 percent of the vote, then went for every statewide Democratic candidate in the midterms. But it was close, in part because Milwaukee’s suburbs, unlike those in many other Midwest cities, remained a fortress for Republican votes.
The adopted home of both Richard B. Cheney and Kanye West is a layup for Republicans. Democrats haven’t even cracked 40 percent of the vote here since 1964. Still, Hillary Clinton’s total here — 22 percent of the vote — was the worst any nominee of her party had performed since before the advent of “talkies.”