In the Midwest, Republicans are counting on Senate wins in Missouri, Indiana, and in nearby West Virginia to keep the Senate. But nobody's talking about Trump's collapse in the states that proved decisive to his Electoral College win two years ago: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa are states Trump won, all with GOP state legislatures and all but Pennsylvania have GOP governors.
That is expected to change drastically next month as Midwest Democrats are openly running against Trump and winning.
A number of Republicans running for governor or senator in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, including several who hitched their wagon to Trump’s political movement, are behind in polls by double digits, a remarkable turnabout in swing states that were key to the president’s 2016 victory.But Hillary's not on the ballot. Donald Trump's failures are. And they're killing the GOP.
If current polling averages hold, Democrats will maintain all their Senate seats in those states, pick up a handful of House seats and, in some cases, retake the governors’ mansions. In nearby Iowa, a state Trump won by nearly 10 points, the Democratic candidate for governor was running about even with the Republican governor in a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll. Polling this week found Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) trailing his Democratic opponent, Tony Evers.
The dramatic shift has forced political strategists to reevaluate their post-mortem lessons from the 2016 election, while raising new questions about Trump’s staying power in 2020. Democratic strategists, who worried that Iowa and Ohio were slipping away from them in presidential years, are now heartened and have begun to return their attention to the traditional bellwethers.
“One false assumption that was made was that a Trump voter from the 2016 election was necessarily a Republican voter,” said John Brabender, a GOP consultant who is working with Barletta. “We forget about the power of Hillary Clinton being on the ballot in 2016. If Hillary was on the ballot, Republicans would probably be doing better in all of these states.”
There is a clear historical precedent for such a shift. Then-candidate Barack Obama swept the industrial Midwest in the 2008 elections, only to find his party battered in his first midterm contest two years later, when Republicans retook governorships in Ohio, Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin, along with Senate seats in Indiana and Wisconsin. Obama was nonetheless able to come back and win those same states, with the exception of Indiana, in his 2012 reelection.
Pollsters do not rule out Trump repeating that success in 2020, especially if the economy remains strong. “He could certainly do what Obama did,” said Berwood Yost, the polling director at Franklin and Marshall College, which tracks Pennsylvania voters. “Trump’s approval rating in our state is about the same place Obama’s was in 2010.”
Still, the short-term impact is dire for Republicans. After surprising the nation in 2016, Trump appears to be driving turnout this year that will largely benefit Democrats, as moderate voters, and college-educated women in particular, seek an outlet for their frustration with his policies and behavior. Trump’s aggressive campaign schedule for Republicans in these states has so far failed to turn the tide.
Republicans were talking about taking 60 Senate seats a year ago, that Debbie Stabenow in Michigan, Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Bob Casey in Pennsylvania and Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin were all vulnerable and ripe to be picked off. They're all well ahead, and Republicans are also in real trouble in Governor's races in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and even Iowa.
There are going to be a lot of surprised Republicans in three weeks, but we have to vote.