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Trump Faces Hurdles in 2020

Midwest Swings Back to Democrats

Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois flipped Blue Nov 6


In 2016, Donald Trump eked out a win in the electoral college by virtue of his strength in the industrial midwest. He did so by outflanking Hillary Clinton on the left, decrying trade deals that had cost factory workers their jobs and promising that he would return prosperity to midwestern states.

The strategy worked and Trump beat Clinton in Michigan (11,612 votes; 16 electoral votes), Wisconsin (27,257 votes; 10 electoral votes) and Pennsylvania (68,236 votes; 20 electoral votes). A total of 107,105 voters determined the presidential election. Had those 46 votes swung for Clinton, she would have won the election with 278 votes.

And that is why the midterm elections provide some potentially bad news for Trump’s election chances in 2020. Because the blue wave hit both Pennsylvania and Michigan quite hard, and Democrats also performed well statewide in Wisconsin.

In Pennsylvania, Senator Bob Casey was re-elected by a margin of 55-43. Governor Tom Wolf was also re-elected by a margin of 58-41. And thanks to a new map redrawn by the federal courts, Democrats picked up four house seats to give Pennsylvania a 9 to 9 delegation.

In Michigan, voters replaced Republican governor Rick Snyder (who was term limited) with Democrat Gretchen Wittmer. She beat Bill Schuette 54-44. Michigan voters returned Senator Debbie Stabenow to Michigan by a margin of 52-46. Democrats picked up two House seats in Michigan: Elissa Slotkin beat Mike Bishop in District 8, and Haley Stevens beat Lena Epstein in District 11. In Detroit, voters made State Representative Rashida Tlaib one of the first Muslim women to serve in Congress; she won with 84 percent of the vote.

In Wisconsin, Senator Tammy Baldwin comfortably beat ultra-conservative opponent Leah Vukmir by 55-45. The Governor’s race in Wisconsin was much narrower, but State Superintendent of Public Schools Tony Evers ousted conservative darling Scott Walker. The Republican governor had made opposition to organized labor the centerpiece of his political career. In both Wisconsin races, health care and public education were major themes. All five of Wisconsin’s statewide constitutional officers will be Democrats in January 2019, for the first time since 1986.

And while Ohio did elect Mike DeWine governor by a sizable margin, it also re-elected Senator Sherrod Brown by a 53-47 margin. Brown has been mentioned as a potential contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination. As a progressive populist with a long record of backing the rights of working people, Brown could win back many of the alienated working class voters who flocked to Trump in 2016. And Brown would almost certainly carry Ohio’s 18 electoral votes, taking Trump down to 285 if everything else remained equal.

Another Midwest factor comes into play: Soybeans. Trump’s trade war with China has resulted in the Chinese government shutting down all imports of soybeans, resulting in a 98 percent drop of US soybean imports into China. The largest producer of soybeans in the United States? Iowa, a state that Trump won 51-41 over Clinton. Almost all major soybean production takes place in the Midwest—Illinois and Minnesota, but also Missouri and Wisconsin. If farmers in Wisconsin and Missouri turn on Trump, he will have major problems.

The final factor is down South. On November 6, the voters of Florida approved Amendment 4, which changes the constitution of Florida to allow felons to vote. Restrictions on felons voting in Florida dated back to the Jim Crow era Constitution of 1885. The Amendment passed by a margin of 65-35. It is expected to enable up to 1.5 million Floridians to vote. Given that Trump only won Florida by 113,000 votes in 2016, this almost certainly swings Florida back into the blue column for 2020. Without Florida, Trump would have to thread a very fine needle in order to remain in the White House.

Does this rule out a Trump win in 2020? No, it is possible Trump could come up with an alternative strategy than winning the Midwest. But the resurgence of Democrats in the Midwest and the likelihood of Florida going Democratic make his path much harder than it was in 2016.