The Morning Jolt


Which States to Watch

Campaign signs for President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden in Erie, Pa., October 20, 2020. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

On the menu today: everything you need to know about Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, not necessarily in that order, and a good summary of where to find more of a writer who probably seems overexposed already.

As noted, the easiest path to victory for Trump comes down to four swing states: Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, and in most cases, a Trump win in the state comes down to keeping it close in a few key suburban counties and then maximizing the margin in the redder, more rural counties.

The Keystone State — the Keystone to the Whole Presidential Election

I try to pay attention to the Philadelphia suburbs, particularly Bucks County, with good reason. The conventional wisdom about statewide races in Pennsylvania is that Democrats win the cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Republicans win most of the “T” in between those cities, and the race comes down to those suburbs. And that’s still more or less true. Back in 2016, Delaware, Chester, Montgomery, and Bucks counties collectively cast 742,226 votes for Hillary Clinton, and 553,873 votes for Trump, giving Clinton a margin of 188,000 votes in the suburbs.

But I was recently reminded by a GOP consultant with a lot of wins under his belt that Western Pennsylvania, outside of Pittsburgh, had a lot of pro-Trump counties where Trump ran up big margins and evened up the statewide totals. He won Westmoreland County by almost 57,000 votes, Butler County by almost 36,000 votes, Washington County by about 25,000 votes, Beaver County by 16,000 votes, and Armstrong County by about the same amount. Those counties gave Trump a roughly 150,000 vote margin, putting him back in contention for the rest of the state.

Also, once you get beyond the Philadelphia suburbs, into those counties with smaller cities, Trump ran up big, crucial margins. Trump won York County by 60,000 votes, Lancaster County by almost 47,000 votes, and Berks County by 18,000 votes.

The popular perception is that Hillary Clinton lost a lot of swing states such as Pennsylvania because turnout in the big cities was down, particularly among African Americans. That may be the case in other states, but it doesn’t really tell the story in the Keystone State. Philadelphia’s turnout wasn’t that much lower. In 2012, 66 percent of registered voters in Philadelphia cast a ballot; in 2016, it was 64 percent. In 2012, Barack Obama won 588,806 votes in the City of Brotherly Love. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won 584,025.

If you had to point to the one issue most likely to generate contentious legal fights, it is the Pennsylvania supreme court’s ruling that ballots could be accepted and counted if they arrived after Election Day, even if they didn’t have a postmark indicating they had been mailed by Election Day. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court split, 4–4, allowing the state court’s rule to remain in place. Chief Justice John Roberts and his three liberal colleagues voted in favor of the Pennsylvania court ruling.

But now, with Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett on the Court, it is likely some Pennsylvania Republicans or the Trump campaign will try to get the Supreme Court to take another crack at it. A similar issue came up in Wisconsin, where the state requires an absentee ballot to arrive by Election Day to be counted. A federal judge ruled that that was unfair in light of the pandemic and extended the deadline to November 9. On Monday night, the Supreme Court ruled 5–3 to reverse the judge’s extension of the deadline. John Roberts, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh all wrote separately to “emphasize that federal courts should not be making last-minute changes to state election rules.

One more wrinkle to the complicated situation in Pennsylvania. Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh and is the second-most populous county in the state, accidentally sent out 29,000 copies of the wrong ballot to voters earlier this month, giving people ballots for races in other districts. The county is sending out replacement ballots. But if someone sends back the incorrect ballot and doesn’t send back the correct one, should it count? Should it only count for the races in their district? If someone sends back both the incorrect one and the correct one, will any accidentally get double counted?

Today Nate Silver writes that Joe Biden can win the presidential election even if he loses Pennsylvania, offering a scenario where Biden wins Michigan, Wisconsin, and perhaps most importantly, Arizona.

Mind the Gender Gap in the Grand Canyon State

Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, has the distinction of being the only county with more than a million residents that Donald Trump won in 2016. Four years earlier, Mitt Romney won the county by 148,000 votes; Trump won it by 44,000 votes. Two years later, Democratic Senate candidate Kyrsten Sinema beat Republican Martha McSally in this county by 60,000 votes. What’s more, if a candidate loses Maricopa County, there just aren’t many other places in the state to make up the margin; 61 percent of Arizonans live in Maricopa County.

In 2016, across the state, Trump narrowly carried white, college-educated women over Hillary Clinton, 48 percent to 46 percent. Two years later, Arizona’s white, college-educated women picked Sinema over McSally, 56 percent to 44 percent. To have a shot at winning Arizona, Trump has to keep it close among white, college-educated women, and it’s a similar story in the Senate race. Then Trump and McSally have get every vote they can among friendlier demographics such as blue-collar men, both white and Latino.

Florida, the Land of Trump Boat Parades

Speaking of those potential ugly recount battles in Pennsylvania, plugged-in Republicans think Florida will see the kinds of problems in Palm Beach and Broward counties that they saw in 2018, when the closely contested governor and Senate races came down to five-digit margins out of more than 8 million votes cast.

(An interesting observation: Miami-Dade County is the county that traditionally has the most votes for Democratic candidates. It’s just south of Palm Beach and Broward counties, and yet . . . Miami-Dade County rarely has slow counts or significant issues. Their recount in 2018 was fairly quick, with few controversies or objections from Republicans. It’s not that every urban, heavily Democratic jurisdiction has vote-counting problems; Palm Beach and Broward are just particularly bad at this.)

Out of the big four swing states we’re discussing, Florida seems like the easiest for Trump to keep in his column. The president just narrowly pulled ahead in the RealClearPolitics average, and both Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott overperformed their late polling two years ago. Polling indicates that the Cuban-American community, which had started to drift away from the GOP, is coming back with a vengeance, and they’re bringing Venezuelan Americans, Nicaraguan Americans, and Colombian Americans with them. Trump may not win the overall Latino vote, because Democrats are trying to maximize turnout among the Puerto Rican community — a demographic that grew in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017. The right Republican can win votes among Florida’s Puerto Ricans — Rick Scott courted them consistently, and they may have made the difference in his race in 2018 — but Trump may not be the right Republican.

The state’s reputation for wackiness — “Florida Man” — means Trump’s nontraditional style doesn’t cause as much friction as in, say, Virginia or Connecticut. As one consultant put it to me, “The issues for Trump that cause problems in other states aren’t really an issue in Florida. His brashness? Floridians are used to it. He’s on his third wife? Floridians have seen that. He’s a condo salesman? Floridians run into them all the time.”

Are North Carolina’s Black Voters Just Not That Enthused about Joe Biden?

One note to add about yesterday’s Corner post about North Carolina: The early vote among the state’s blacks is down a bit from 2016 so far, which is a slightly ominous sign for Joe Biden, Senate candidate Cal Cunningham, and other Democrats.

This is not a dramatic drop; if 61,559 blacks vote in the final four days of early voting, then the turnout will match the level of four years ago. But in the circumstances of this ongoing pandemic, with much higher levels of interest in early voting across all demographics, the level of black turnout remaining about the same as 2016 would still be something of a bad sign. Four years ago, a total of about 3.14 million North Carolinians used absentee voting. So far this year, 3.4 million North Carolinians have voted early, and they can continue to do so until Saturday. You would think the number of blacks voting early would be increasing, proportional to the rest of the state, and so far, it isn’t.

Democrats are more encouraged by the fact that the number of young North Carolinians voting early has skyrocketed. Eleven days before Election Day in 2016, 88,600 voters from ages 18 to 29 had cast ballots. By the same time this year, 331,900 voters in this demographic had cast ballots.

In 2016, North Carolina blacks chose Clinton over Trump, 89 percent to 8 percent. The margin among young voters that year still favored the Democrat, but by not nearly as wide a margin, 58 percent to 36 percent. A recent SurveyUSA poll measured young voters a little more broadly — ages 18 to 34 — but it showed Biden ahead, 53 percent to 44 percent, among this demographic.

In 2016, Trump won the state by 173,315 votes. If, compared to four years ago, the share of the electorate that is black is down by a few percentage points, and the of the electorate that is young is up by a few percentage points, Democrats are effectively trading a demographic they won 11 to 1 for a demographic they won 1.6 to 1 or, if SurveyUSA is correct, 1.2 to 1. Joe Biden had better hope he’s doing significantly better among other demographics if he wants to win the Tarheel State.

ADDENDUM: I noticed Kevin Williamson has a good summary of where to find his work at the end of his weekly newsletter, “The Tuesday.” (If you need help figuring out which day it comes out, you’re probably also curious about when they tape Saturday Night Live.)

You can buy my forthcoming novel, Hunting Four Horsemen, here. It is a thriller about the very real-life potential of engineering viruses to target particular genes, featuring a small Central Intelligence Agency team that tries to obscure its often-lethal work by hiding within the Byzantine organizational structure of the U.S. intelligence community. Hunting Four Horsemen is a sequel to 2019’s Between Two Scorpions, which envisioned terrorists trying to tear up America’s social fabric through paranoia-inducing attacks and trying to get Americans to see every stranger as a potential deadly threat and avoid contact with anyone outside their household. Good thing that idea remained fictional, huh?

My Amazon page is here, with links to my satirical novel about the federal bureaucracy, The Weed Agency, and my nonfiction book co-written with Cam Edwards about growing up, getting married, and having children, Heavy Lifting.

My National Review archive can be found here.

You can listen to the Three Martini Lunch podcast with Greg Corombos here, the pop-culture-focused Jim and Mickey Show here, and for those who need more suffering in their lives, I periodically talk about the Jets with Scott Mason here.

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