Why, despite the summertime chatter, putting resources into these states makes little strategic sense
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
The last time a Democratic presidential candidate carried Georgia, The Cover Girls (remember them?) were wishing on a star. The last time a Democrat carried Texas, people were still wearing bell bottoms.
Every four years, the pundit class and Democrats in these states insist that this time will be different — this year, finally, these states are going to flip. And every four years, Republicans scoff at their wishful thinking and hubris.
It’s deja vu all over again. Joe Biden’s campaign is making noises about competing in the Peach and Lone Star states, committing significant resources for a serious ground game in places where one hasn’t been seen in a generation.
So what are the chances this will actually happen? Probably pretty slim — not because it isn’t possible for Biden to win these states but because, if they are within reach, winning them won’t be necessary.
First, the numbers. Donald Trump carried Georgia by slightly more than 5 points in 2016, the smallest winning margin for a Republican since Bob Dole won by less than 2 points in 1996 in a three-way race. (By way of contrast, George W. Bush won by nearly 17 points in 2004.)
In Texas, Trump’s margin was larger, just under 9 points, but that was also the smallest winning margin for a Republican since Dole. (Bush won by more than 20 points.)
Clearly, the trend lines are headed in the Democrats’ direction, as even Republicans in these states would concede. These states are within (a long) reach.
However, in considering Electoral College strategy, it is helpful to think of the presidential race as a tug-of-war, with states arrayed along the rope in order from most Democratic to most Republican. The goal is to pull the rope far enough that there are at least 270 electoral votes on your side.
In 2016, six states on Trump’s side of the rope were closer than Georgia — the Southern states of Florida and North Carolina, along with Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona. Those six and Ohio were closer than Texas.
So, if Georgia is truly within reach for Biden in 2020, six Trump states are likely already in Biden’s hands; make that seven if Texas is in play. And if Biden is already carrying all of those states, he won’t need to bother with Georgia or Texas. He’s already won.
This is why, strategically, it would make little sense for the Biden campaign to put resources into Georgia and Texas. But there are three reasons we might see them do it anyway.
First, engaging in these states could help drive up Democratic turnout, which could help in U.S. Senate and down ballot races. However, presidential campaigns aren’t known for their altruism; we’re only likely to see this if the race is a blowout for Biden and he can spare the resources to benefit other candidates.
Second, making a play for Texas or Georgia could be an insurance policy in the event that something unexpected happens in one of the closer states, as happened to Hillary Clinton in 2016 in Michigan and Wisconsin. However, given that experience, Biden won’t be caught napping like Clinton was, making such a surprise less likely.
And third, putting resources into Georgia or Texas could be a way to troll the Trump campaign and force it to engage in these states. Even talking about the possibility forces the Trump forces to consider countermeasures.
However, if Trump needs to shore up either of these states come November, his battle is already lost, and what happens in Texas and Georgia won’t matter (although Biden could make a play for them to run up the score.)
So, all this summertime chatter about competing in Georgia and Texas may make interesting cable news conversation, but the smart money says that in the end, Biden won’t bite.
Then again, betting on presidential politics these days might, admittedly, be a bit of a fool’s errand.