Hypothesis Largely Disproven

Todays will be one of the less exciting but more scientific (as in political science) articles. If you are looking for entertainment I suggest you look elsewhere today. If you want to explore the political asset allocation process please read on.

While watching the seemingly wall-to-wall coronavirus coverage I was struck with a thought. What effect will governors’ races have on the other two top of the ticket (president and U.S. Senate) outcomes in 2020? I’m old fashioned and believe in coattails. There is a drop off as you go down the ballot; in states that use paper ballots being on the second page is a huge factor. Likewise if people consistently vote for the candidates of a political party at the top they are likely to continue that down the ballot.

I accept the assumption that 15 states are battleground states in the Electoral College with all other basically decided before the “game” starts. (The presidential election is largely a collection of 51 contents – the states and the District of Columbia. Maine and Nebraska make it a bit more complicated, but I don’t care to go there today.) I am convinced that the handling of the coronavirus pandemic will be a major factor influencing voters’ decisions of whether to vote and for whom. Trump has largely abdicated his responsibility in the pandemic putting governors on the hot seats. When things go badly, as it looks that they will, Trump will blame them. (Can anyone remember Trump actually taking responsibility for any of his many failures?)

Now we get to reality 2020 style. Of the 15 battleground states only two (New Hampshire and North Carolina) have a Governor’s race in 2020. Interestingly both have a pivotal Senate seat up.

In North Carolina the three top races are set: Donald Trump-Joe Biden, Thom Tillis-Cal Cunningham and Roy Cooper-Dan Forest. New Hampshire’s presidential primary is history but the primary for Governor and U.S. Senate isn’t scheduled until September 8th. Therefore the field is not set and any polling would be really suspect.

I happen to have come across some good North Carolina polling last week and incumbent Democrat Cooper looks to be in very good shape. The presidential race is in margin of error territory and Cunningham’s lead over Tillis is too small to bank on this far out from Election Day. I have to think that Cooper’s popularity (at least relative to Forest) is helping his “teammates”. This will come as no surprise but with 15 Electoral votes and a very possible Senate flip in play both parties will pump a bunch of money into North Carolina. The fact that Cooper is doing one of the good jobs in the South relative to the coronavirus will help the “team”.

The only race that is set in New Hampshire is the presidential. Incumbent Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen is one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrat up in 2020 but the conventional wisdom is that she will win reelection. Her opponent is yet to be determined but it won’t be Trump favorite Cory Lewandowski. Turning to the Governor’s race Republican Chris Sununu is seeking his third consecutive two-year term. He is also the third most popular governor in America (behind Republicans Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Larry Hogan of Maryland.) Sununu is not one of the nut case Republican governors with regard to his dealing with the coronavirus pandemic so there is no opportunity to attack him on that issue.  With only four electoral votes at stake and a popular Republican Governor with a history of winning relatively close contests I don’t see this being a place to pour in more money than what is needed to defend Shaheen’s seat.

Conclusion: My hypothesis is largely disproven, for 2020 anyway. What we did learn is that if you want to make money in political advertising setting up shop in the Tar Heel State might be a good move over the next few months.

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