May 15, 2020 172 days to Nov 03, 2020
The Surge

Slate’s guide to the presidential candidates everyone’s talking about this week.

Welcome to the Surge, where, when we’re not obsessing over when we might finally be able to go to a bar or stand awkwardly around a terrible party or fly anywhere again, we rank things. This week, we’re ranking presidential swing states, because until we hear otherwise from Jared Kushner, the election’s still on.

Joe Biden has a great string of new swing state polls going for him, as his competitor continues to struggle by not being qualified to serve as president. And since polls in May of a presidential election year are always correct, we’d like to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden on his comfortable victory over President Donald Trump. You did it!  

Donald Trump and Joe Biden in front of a map of Florida.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Drew Angerer/Getty Images, Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images, and Getty Images Plus.

Rank 1

1. Florida

We meet again, old foe.

We’ve grown accustomed to a trend in election night coverage of Florida: The early results look great for Democrats, who proceed to get their hopes up. If we’re doing that well in Tampa, then it’s over! Then the rest of the state starts to fill out, and Republicans take the lead. From then on, it’s a competition in outstanding votes between Miami-Dade County and the Panhandle, but is it really much of a competition at all? Around 9 p.m., CNN’s John King looks at his magic map and says, “There’s just not enough vote left in South Florida,” and Republicans win. Should you expect that to happen again in 2020? Absolutely, because managing your personal expectations is the most important part of politics. But Joe Biden has been doing well in Florida polling since locking up the nomination, leading by an average of 3 percentage points. One reason to take that lead somewhat seriously has to do with a detectable change in the coalition: While Biden is polling worse among young voters than Hillary Clinton did, in Florida and elsewhere, he’s polling better among seniors, who are not big fans of the United States’ uncontained COVID-19 pandemic—and who also happen to rule Florida, America’s retirement home.

Rank 2

2. Wisconsin

Has the state Supreme Court named Trump the winner already?

Ground zero for Democrats’ 2016 trauma is working hard to hold onto its title for 2020. Biden maintains a narrow polling lead over Trump here, too, with some wild age splits: According to the most recent, gold-standard Marquette Law School poll that had Biden up by 3 percentage points overall, Biden’s lead among 18- to 29-year-olds is only 10 points, while he led those over 60 by 18 points. Here is the thing about Wisconsin, though: The Surge does not trust it whatsoever. Democrats have the governorship, but the state’s Republican Legislature will not let the governor do anything, nor will the state Supreme Court. Wisconsin Republicans are really something else. And while the composition of the state Supreme Court will moderate once recently elected judge Jill Karofsky is sworn in—Lord knows how state Republicans let THAT happen—this state has become a messy bitch who lives for drama, and Democrats should find a suitable backup before going all-in on it. Well, any more all-in on it.

Rank 3

3. Arizona

Hey, look, a backup.

Wisconsin: cold, messy, weird, untrustworthy. Arizona: hot, messy, weird, untrustworthy! Wisconsin: 10 dumb electoral votes. Arizona: 11 sensational electoral votes! Wisconsin: 2.7 average percentage point lead for Biden. Arizona: 4.4 average percentage point lead for Biden! The Biden campaign should migrate Southwest, where there’s an extra electoral vote, plenty of retirees, and a firmly established vote-by-mail system. While there, maybe catch a trip to the Grand Canyon, visit London Bridge in Lake Havasu, or enjoy a round or two at any of Scottsdale’s destination golf courses? Just a suggestion from the Surge, presented this week by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce.

Rank 4

4. North Carolina

Some promising in-state trends for Democrats.

Here’s another regular heartbreaker for the Democrats, a state with whom it’s risky to become emotionally involved. Barack Obama narrowly won North Carolina in 2008, and Democrats sought to cement it as part of their Electoral College coalition by holding their convention in Charlotte in 2012. But then Romney carried the state by 2 percentage points in 2012, and Trump carried it by nearly 4 in 2016. In 2020, Republicans will be holding their convention in Charlotte as they seek to cement it as part of Trump’s Electoral College coalition. Can Democrats take it in 2020? Some recent developments within the state would suggest so. First, Democrats are fielding a competitive Senate candidate, Cal Cunningham, to compete against the state’s unpopular incumbent, Sen. Thom Tillis. The state’s Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, who’s also on the ballot in November, has seen his approval rating improve significantly under his management of the state’s coronavirus situation. Finally, the state’s other senator, Richard Burr, had his phone taken by the FBI this week as part of an insider trading investigation, an unwelcome atmospheric development for North Carolina Republicans broadly. Combined, these are either solid reasons for the Biden camp to invest heavily in North Carolina, or a baroque, almost cruel twist on North Carolina’s pattern of tricking Democrats out of their money.

Rank 5

5. Texas

FINE, let’s talk about it.

Texas. The big fella. Republicans have it, Democrats want it. But as they say in Texas, where everyone is a cartoon cowboy, “Yee-haw! Republicans’ underlying strengths in the state are likely too much for Democrats to overcome by 2020 despite favorable demographic trends [fires two six-shooters in the air]!” Trump is leading in the state by 2.5 percentage points in the polling average, and polling for Democrats always looks better in the spring before an election, which is also before reliable likely voter screens are applied. The Texas Republican Party has never been, and will never be, all that interested in ensuring access to the ballot for likely Democratic voters, either. Also: If Democrats were to win Texas this cycle, it would mean they’ve already comfortably won the Electoral College. So, ignore it! Yes, you, the dingbat glossy magazine editor who just can’t help assigning the big cover story about how Biden could win Texas—stop it! Send your reporters to sunny Arizona, thriving land of enchantment for people of all ages, instead.

Rank 6

6. Michigan

Seems safe. Probably best to just ignore it, right?

Joe Biden has led in every head-to-head poll ever taken against Donald Trump in Michigan, with his average polling lead sitting at 5.5 percentage points. Well! That’s about all we need to hear. Democrats and the Biden campaign should assume that he’ll win Michigan and devote little attention to it from now on. If he really wants to, Biden could make one stop there in the days before the election, but he probably doesn’t even need to. He should devote zero dollars in advertising there, since it is such a safe state to win. There’s no need for him to expend energy mobilizing turnout in Democratic precincts. He should actively take Michigan for granted. It is a state that always goes for Democrats, an untouchable brick in the Blue Wall. Same for Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is a safe Democratic state that Republicans cannot win ever.

Rank 7

7. Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire

Can Trump flip any?

We’re lumping these three states together because (a) we can, it’s our newsletter, and (b) these are “safe” Democratic states that Clinton only narrowly won. These three states, as FiveThirtyEight wrote this month, have high non-Hispanic white populations, and Democrats could overlook them “because they might assume Biden won’t lose where Clinton won four years ago.” Polling is scant in the three, but let’s look at where Trump would be starting in these upset bids. A recent New Hampshire poll showed Biden up by 8 percentage points there. Biden was up 12 in a head-to-head with Trump in a Minnesota poll conducted last October. A Maine poll from March showed Biden leading Trump by 10. In other words, according to these individual, dated polls, we can firmly conclude that these states are safe for Biden, along with Michigan and Pennsylvania. Democratic officials should spend no money defending them and should spit on voters from these states if they see them, which, God willing, they never will.