Welcome back to the regularly scheduled 2020 elections. Now that Vice President Joe Biden survived the valley of the shadow of electoral death and is the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination, we’re on the doorstep of the general election. It’s sooner than expected but looks a lot like what we thought it would look like.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the front-runner for most of the race is poised to be the Democratic nominee. But the former vice president’s ability to survive miserable showings in the early states, including New Hampshire, where he finished just 5 points ahead of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and 11 points behind Sen. Amy Klobuchar, was stunning. And no one predicted the crowded Democratic field would consolidate so quickly.
The general election race between President Donald Trump and Biden will be competitive. When it comes to electoral potential, it’s clear the president has a high floor with a devoted base and a low ceiling because of a Democratic Party determined to defeat him. The vast majority of Americans have already decided whether they’re going to vote for or against Trump, leaving few truly persuadable voters.
The presidential battlefield is largely set and the race will likely be decided in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Arizona, Florida and North Carolina. Hillary Clinton won just one of those seven in 2016, and Biden likely needs to win four to be elected in November.
Senate, House outlook
The Senate majority is in play, and the White House result is directly connected to the outcome. Democrats have 10 takeover opportunities to gain four seats for a majority but they can control the Senate by gaining three seats and winning the White House, because the vice president would break tie votes. Republicans have just two takeover opportunities to balance potential losses elsewhere. And their fate is likely connected to the president’s ability to win Arizona and North Carolina again, and by wide enough margins to pull two senators across the finish line.
Democrats are likely to hold the House. This has been the case for the entire cycle, except for a couple of weeks in February, when Bernie Sanders was seemingly surging to the top of the ticket and cast doubt on that narrative. With eight months to go, Republicans just aren’t prepared with candidates and resources necessary for a district-by-district battle with Democrats, on even political terrain, to net the 18 seats necessary for a majority.
Coronavirus is an obvious wild card in the race. The spread, duration and impact on the economy are unknown but could affect the president’s standing, traditional campaigning and voter turnout in a way that could upend key races. That means there are likely some twists and turns ahead in those already interesting sets of elections.
Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst for CQ Roll Call.