Texas and Georgia join North Carolina and Florida on list of 2020 presidential swing states
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
(CFP) — Twenty years ago, George W. Bush became the first Republican to sweep the entire South in a non-landslide election, and in the five presidential elections since, a Democrat has carried Virginia three times, Florida twice, and North Carolina once.
Every other state in the region went for the Republican, every time. If you add it up, that’s 64 state wins for the Republican, to just six for the Democrat.
But if the pre-election polls are correct, the GOP’s lock on the South — which has been a bedrock of the party’s Electoral College fortunes — appears to be loosening, albeit slightly, in 2020. So election night may not be as much of an afterthought in the South as it has been for the past two decades.
Indeed, the results in three Southern states that report results early could point toward who is going to win the White House, even as the rest of the country finishes casting ballots.
Virginia seems almost certain to go Democratic for the fourth election in a row. North Carolina and Florida are, as expected, toss-ups, as they have been in the last three elections. But in 2020, the races in both Texas and Georgia are within the margin of error, which could complicate–if not end–Donald Trump’s hopes of winning re-election if Joe Biden wins either one.
Polls even show that in South Carolina, which hasn’t gone for a Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976, Trump’s lead may be in single digits. And while a win in the Palmetto State still seems like a stretch, a close race between Trump and Biden would be a sign that the president’s political fortunes have dipped even in a region he swept four years ago.
The 2020 race is also unusual in another respect — it is the first presidential race since 1972 where neither party has a Southerner on its ticket.
The list of four Southern swing states in 2020 echoes 2016, when Trump took them by single-digit margins while rolling up double-digit victories everywhere else. He won Florida by 1 point, North Carolina by 4, Georgia by 5, and Texas by 9.
In the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats made gains in the suburbs around major cities in Georgia and Texas, which is the template Democrats are using for 2020. However, they had less success in North Carolina, where Republican candidates held up better.
The Biden campaign has been up with ads in Georgia and has spent a token amount in Texas, although it has yet to commit any substantial resources to either state. Both Biden and Trump have campaigned in Georgia, although they have not yet barnstormed Texas.
These Southern states are much more important to Trump than they are to Biden, who can win the White House without them if he flips Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan back into the blue column. While Trump could survive losing either Georgia or North Carolina, if he can hold the line in the Upper Midwest, a loss in either Florida or Texas would be catastrophic.
Florida and Georgia have two of the earliest poll closing times in the country, at 7 p.m. Eastern (the Florida Panhandle stays open another hour), and North Carolina closes a half hour later. So those three states could be among the first places where winners can be declared, unless the races are extremely close.
If Trump wins these states, the result won’t tell us much about the eventual outcome. But a Biden win in any of them — particularly Florida — will point to a Democratic victory, and we will likely know the Florida result before the results in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
No matter what happens in 2020, the results will almost certainly change how the presidential game is played in the South in 2024.
Four years from now, Texas and Georgia will be seriously contested by both sides, particularly if Biden wins or comes close this year. That will add two new large states where campaigns have to add significant resources, particularly in Texas, which has more than 20 TV markets.
For Republicans, who have not had to worry about the South at the presidential level for decades, more competition in the region complicates their path to the White House. For Democrats, the ability to win in the South gives them additional paths to 270 that reduce the number of must-win states elsewhere. So the long-term consequences of this election could be enormous.
That’s why, on Nov. 3, the South will matter as it hasn’t mattered in the last 20 years.