Crunch Time Report: State-by-State Breakdown

In mid-2019, EveryDistrict analyzed the opportunities for Democrats in 28 chambers across the country. Our Purple States Report laid out the competitiveness and demographics of key districts and set a roadmap for our work in Mississippi and Virginia and now 2020. With two weeks to Election Day, here’s our review of what’s happening in the states and how November 3 and the days that follow might end up.

Our analysis builds on our Legislative District Index and demographic analysis with fundraising data from the cycle and polling data from the past few weeks. Working closely with leaders on the ground in these states, we have a unique eye on the trends in communities across the US. The states where we have the deepest insights are our target states, noted below.

Arizona (EveryDistrict target state)

Democrats entered the 2020 cycle with a narrow, but challenging, gap to overcome. Democrats need two seats in the State House and three seats in the State Senate to claim both chambers. That is the easiest path to a two-chamber pickup in any state in the country – on its face. Looking deeper, this has always been a tough path. Only one seat is in a district that Hillary won in 2016. While Kyrsten Sinema won four out of the five seats, these are not places that have been consistent Democratic areas. All the districts voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 by at least eight points.

In addition to the challenging terrain, Arizona has a narrow path. We keep talking about the five seats that Democrats need to win and there are only approximately seven competitive races for R-held seats right now. Everyone knows where the battle lines are. Notably, Democrats in Arizona are employing the “bullet voting” strategy in the House. The House has two members per district. Democrats have only put forward one candidate in the hopes of voters coalescing around them.

We give a slight edge to the Arizona House, where particularly well-funded Democratic challengers can take advantage of the “bullet voting strategy.” But, there’s little room for error. There’s no evidence that Republicans are running away with it in the Senate – this chamber is a pure tossup – and if the right races go our way Democrats can take the majority. Given Arizona’s absentee ballot rules, we expect that both chambers may not be decided until well after Election Day. We see a path to two Democratic house pickups and one senate pickup. We expect the other competitive Senate districts to be decided by the narrowest of margins.

Senate Rating: Toss-Up

House Rating: Lean D

Florida

The Florida Senate was always going to be challenging this year. More competitive seats were up in 2018 – half the chamber is up every two years. Democrats need five seats to flip the chamber, and unfortunately came up short in a bunch of winnable seats in 2018. There are only two viable seats this cycle. We expect one of those seats to go for Democrats.

The Florida House was an outside shot – 14 challenging districts based on our Purple States Report analysis. Florida election rules provide no favors for Democrats – late filing deadlines and primaries make it hard for national groups to get a lay of the land – but big recruiting gaps and limited fundraising compared to the Florida GOP juggernaut mean this is unlikely to be a breakthrough year for Democrats.

What could facilitate a few surprises? The unique dynamics of Joe Biden’s campaign. If the polling is right and Joe is able to create a strong coalition with senior voters, he may help take a few unexpected districts over the finish line. We think a more likely, though still optimistic, scenario is a pickup of 5-8 seats.

Senate Rating: Safe R

House Rating: Likely R

Georgia

Georgia has a challenging map due to gerrymandering and the clustering of the new Democratic coalition in the Atlanta area. There are two Senate districts that may be competitive, with Democrats favored to pick up one of the two.

However, the dramatic transformation of Georgia that helped propel Lucy McBath in the 6th District and made it one of the next Senate and presidential battlegrounds could create some real opportunities in the State House. In the primary, Democratic turnout surpassed Republican turnout in 16 State House seats, the number of seats needed to claim a majority.

At this point, we don’t think Democrats have a serious shot at a majority, despite these promising signs of growth. Our model points to a 4-6 seat pickup this fall. However, with the surge of Democratic vote share in the state, we could see some Atlanta-area districts become surprise upsets for Democrats. If Districts 35 or 109 are in the Democratic column, big things could be ahead as the results come in.

Senate Rating: Safe R

House Rating: Likely R

Iowa (EveryDistrict target state)

Written off after 2016 due to Trump’s impressive margin, Iowa is back as a critical swing state with three competitive US House races and the Ernst-Greenfield US Senate race. Many have also identified the Iowa House, where Democrats need four seats to flip the chamber, as a top pickup opportunity. Iowa, like Minnesota, will be a particular test of the future of the Democratic Party in the Midwest. Real gains in Iowa depend upon the same suburban story seen everywhere combined with a consistent ability to win in rural districts.

We start with the Iowa State Senate, where we have found a continued faulty logic in Democratic state legislative decision-making. Outright flipping the Iowa Senate this year was always going to be a challenge, especially given that only half of the districts are on the ballot this year. However, there are a strong set of candidates this year backed by a hard-working Caucus who haven’t gotten the funding they deserve because national Democrats haven’t done enough to make long-term investments. Them’s the breaks. Still, we see four seats going to Democrats this fall that can be built upon to win back the majority in future cycles.

In the Iowa House, the picture is rosier, provided that Democrats can hold onto some challenging territory. Democrats have a path to win five seats to take the chamber, with these districts spanning throughout the state – with the exception of the notoriously conservative northwest, home of soon-to-be-former Representative Steve King.

At the same time, though, Democrats are defending nine seats that lean Republican. While the relatively favorable conditions in the state should help many of these candidates stay in place, any losses could imperil the opportunity to flip the chamber.

Senate Rating: Safe R

House Rating: Lean D

Kansas (EveryDistrict target state)

There are two stories to tell about Kansas. The first is of the political implications of policy overreach. The Sam Brownback Administration implemented a tax and economic model that devastated the state. This led to revolts within the GOP in deep red Kansas, drove Democratic state legislative victories, and helped propel Democrat Laura Kelly to victory in the 2018 gubernatorial race.

The second story is about college-educated voters. Through this analysis and all analyses about the election, you keep hearing about college-educated voters, particularly women, shifting to Democrats. Well, in good news for Democrats, the key state legislative districts in Kansas are highly-educated, some of the most-educated in the states that we are working in. This dynamic is particularly meaningful in Johnson County, the suburbs around Kansas City. Do not be surprised if we see an explosion of Democratic votes for both Barbara Bollier, the candidate for US Senate, as well as state legislative candidates.

Despite the recent good news for Democrats, Republicans continue to hold supermajorities in both chambers. Democrats need to win three seats in the Senate and one seat in the House to overcome them. Our model estimates that Democrats will win four seats in the Senate and have a chance at up to six seats in the House.

Democratic gains may be tempered by the defense that they have to play. In both chambers, Democrats hold R-leaning districts, including a few rural districts, which may be challenging to retain. House District 72, for example, has a partisan lean of R+18. Still, at this juncture, we see Democrats as favored to make the necessary gains to erase the GOP’s supermajority in both chambers.

Senate Rating: Beating R Supermajority

House Rating: Beating R Supermajority

Michigan (EveryDistrict target state)

With no State Senate races on the ballot, all eyes are on the State House as the chamber to watch in Michigan this year. And Democrats have a strong opportunity to pick up the chamber. As in Arizona, the biggest challenge for Democrats is the very narrow map. Most agree that, with four seats needed to win, there are five top tier competitive races. Based on our modeling, Democrats are in position to win 4-6 seats in November.

As in other states, the majority of the opportunities lie in the suburbs – namely those around the Detroit metropolitan area. However, races in Kalamazoo and Traverse City somewhat expand the universe of contests this year. Polling for Biden has been consistently good in Michigan and we feel bullish that Michigan is in a good position for Democrats to make the necessary gains.

House Rating: Lean D

Minnesota

Minnesota is a state going two ways at once. The traditional Democratic strongholds in the Iron Range and the south of the state have given way to the GOP. At the same time, Democratic strength in the Twin Cities area continues to grow in the suburbs. In 2018, the Minnesota DFL discovered the “One Neat Trick” for winning state legislative seats: get candidates a heck of a lot of money. They massively outraised the GOP en route to flipping 18 GOP-held seats in the House.

Now, Democrats have the opportunity to finish the job in the State Senate. While there are two Democratic seats that will be challenging to defend, we believe that Democrats are in a strong position to pick up around seven Republican seats, for a five-seat net gain. Achieving this outcome will depend on continuing the dominance in the Twin Cities, but it will also mean rebuilding in the Iron Range and in the Rochester area. As a political entity that believes in Democrats competing and winning in – you guessed it – every district – we’re hopeful that in-roads can be made in these communities, too.

Senate Rating: Likely D

Montana

Montana is a state with an outside chance of some Democratic pickups this year. Montana is one of the most “elastic” states in the country. That is, it is a place in a highly polarized era that consistently shows big swings between federal and state results. It is a place that Democrats should continue to invest in. A growing, but small, state with a track record of electing Democrats, it has the opportunity to be a piece of the puzzle for the future of the Democratic Party. This year, tight gubernatorial and US Senate races are further reminder of this fact.

This year, however, we don’t see big gains for Democrats. There aren’t enough good Senate seats up this year, so Republicans are certain to retain a majority. While there are enough competitive seats to get Democrats within a seat or two of the majority in the House (nine needed), we see Democrats only claiming a net gain of up to five seats.

Senate Rating: Safe R

House Rating: Likely R

Ohio (EveryDistrict target state)

Many people wrote off Ohio (wrongly, in our minds) after the GOP’s good nights in 2016 and 2018. And while a Democratic majority in the legislature is highly unlikely this year, growth is still possible. With an increasingly extreme Republican legislative supermajority and a corruption scandal engulfing GOP leadership in the legislature, Democrats breaking these supermajorities, even with a Republican Governor in Mike DeWine, could help reshape the policymaking landscape in the Buckeye State.

In 2018, Ohio House Democrats picked up six seats. They need to net two more seats this year to tackle the supermajority. Our models indicate around four seats as likely pick-up opportunities. That will allow them to withstand two particularly likely losses, including the R+28 HD 96. Meanwhile, while the Senate Democrats need to pick up three seats, we think that a two seat pick-up appears most likely there, falling just short of what’s needed to take out the GOP supermajority.

A reason for more optimism: the tremendous corruption of the Ohio GOP. The ongoing scandal involving Larry Householder, the Speaker of the House, embroils the entire Ohio GOP political machine. As we have written about previously, voters’ distaste with the current political establishment could move more seats to the Democratic column.  

Senate Rating: R Supermajority Retained

House Rating: Beating R Supermajority

Pennsylvania (EveryDistrict target state)

One of the biggest prizes of the night could be in Pennsylvania, where Democratic victories could create a trifecta for Democrats. Across both chambers, there are clear indications that Democrats have a number of opportunities to make this happen. In the State Senate, Democrats have done the fundraising they need to do to compete in these million-dollar races. That was not the case in 2018. In the House, Democrats have a large map to get to the nine wins needed to flip the chamber. There are, after all, over 30 GOP-held seats that Governor Wolf or Senator Casey won in their 2018 races. In the House, we see Democrats getting to at least ten seats in taking over the chamber. We see a clear path for three Senate victories, with the critical fourth seat needed for a tie hanging in the balance as too-close-to-call.

The challenges that still confront Democrats in making progress in the Keystone State are two-fold. First, the Senate map is narrow and R-leaning. There is literally no margin for error. In a close race in a strange political environment, things can always happen. I think we’ve all heard (and seen) enough about naked ballots by this point. Second, Pennsylvania Democrats have had a challenging time taking advantage of some of their most Dem-leaning districts. The mythos of the moderate Republican who can still win the suburban voter has kept a few nationally very blue districts out of contention. As in Virginia in 2017 and 2019, we expect that to change.

Senate Rating: Toss-Up

House Rating: Lean D

Texas (EveryDistrict target state)

Texas is notable this cycle for having one of the most disciplined approaches to making change at the state legislative level. While the GOP gerrymander makes progress at the Senate level limited, the Texas House is very much in play. After a big year in 2018, Democrats need to pick up nine more seats to win a majority. And as many of you know, Beto O’Rourke won nine State House seats that remained in GOP hands in his narrow loss that year. Democratic leadership in the state has effectively recruited and trained candidates and corralled boatloads of money to make a serious play for the House. The most astounding thing is just how quickly these districts are changing. The Republican gerrymander is backfiring and the GOP is struggling to respond.

A combination of public and private polling strongly suggests that Democrats are in the hunt for the majority they need, potentially leading in eight key districts. Some factors may stand in the way of a big night. While Democrats are obliterating fundraising records, Texas Republicans continue to pile on their resources and maintain a money advantage. Biden’s more lackluster numbers among the diverse Hispanic population in Texas may also complicate matters. And, of course, with so much reliant on the rapidly changing vote choice of suburban voters, we just don’t quite know how far down the ticket they’ll vote blue this year. That said, we think that Democrats should win a minimum of four seats and have a 50-50 shot to claim the nine they need.

Senate Rating: Safe R

House Rating: Toss-Up

West Virginia

Despite West Virginia’s dramatic Republican shift over the last two decades, we have had some fondness for the Mountain State. Once a Democratic stronghold, it was the canary in the coal mine of larger electoral changes that would presage the rise of Trump, but it is a place that would benefit from the policy focus of the modern Democratic Party. More analytically, Democrats in West Virginia showed signs of life in 2018. They picked up six seats in the House and two seats in the Senate, only two years after Trump won the state by 40 points.

This year, we expect that Democrats may net a few seats in the Charleston-Huntington area, particularly the historically Republican suburban areas of the Teays Valley in both the Senate and the House. Other than that, the headwinds from a likely Trump romp and the inability for a Democrat to make progress against a deeply unpopular Governor Justice mean that West Virginia Democrats are likely to stay even or drop a few more seats this fall.

Senate Rating: Likely R

House Rating: Likely R

Wisconsin (EveryDistrict target state)

The Wisconsin GOP has engineered one of the worst gerrymanders in the country. It’s so bad that in 2012 Wisconsin Democrats won a majority of the popular vote for the lower house, called the Assembly, only to see Republicans win a supermajority in seats. This year, however, there are some signs of the gerrymander starting to give way.

The Senate side of the Wisconsin story is straightforward: Democrats need to win three seats. Even if Democrats have a great night, we can only see them snagging two seats this year. They are also defending a tough seat won in a 2019 special election. A loss there would further dampen prospects in the Senate.

While the Wisconsin gerrymander was seen as something too challenging to overcome, which led to many groups foregoing efforts in the state, we continue to see a path to some good gains this year. Both Senator Tammy Baldwin and new Justice Jill Karofsky won in a majority of Assembly seats. By some estimates, Democrats need to win statewide by 57% to ease the path to winning a majority. So far, Biden is at 53% in the FiveThirtyEight average. In our model, we snag between 4-10 seats, indicating just how variable the results could be this year in the Badger State.

Stronger evidence for a big night exists in the district-level polling. In addition to strong performance in the Milwaukee suburbs, Democrats are competing in districts in Western Wisconsin, the swingiest region in America, as well as Green Bay. We continue to be positively surprised by the good polling news over the past two weeks.

We believe that candidates in Wisconsin are well-poised for a strong closing finish. We hope that many others’ decision not to invest in Wisconsin Assembly races, as well as initial decisions in-state to focus on a small subset of districts, will not result in missed opportunities. Still, our expectation is that we’ll make good gains but fall short of a majority.

Senate Rating: Likely R

House Rating: Lean R

Want to learn more?

Contact the state legislative experts at EveryDistrict: info@everydistrict.us.