The Gongwer Blog

Frantic Finish To Election 2020 Is Finally Here

By Zachary Gorchow
Executive Editor and Publisher
Posted: October 30, 2020 3:10 PM

President Donald Trump by all indications is trailing Democrat Joe Biden for Michigan's 16 electoral votes, but Mr. Trump can ill-afford to lose this state and it shows in his virtually setting up camp here in the final week of the election.

In a 15-day span, Mr. Trump will have made six stops in Michigan – Muskegon, Lansing, Waterford, Washington Township in Macomb County, Traverse City and the Grand Rapids region, the last five of those coming in the final week of the campaign. It is an unheard of to see an incumbent president focus so much time on a single state. Mr. Biden has had multiple stops as well during the final weeks.

Winning Michigan will not singlehandedly deliver an Electoral College majority to Mr. Biden. He would still need 22 electoral votes, achievable by also returning Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to the Democratic fold, flipping Florida or flipping a combination of other states like Arizona and Georgia or North Carolina.

But it is very difficult to put together a path for Mr. Biden that does not include Michigan. If Mr. Biden cannot win Michigan, it also almost surely means he also loses Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and definitely forget about Ohio. That would force Mr. Biden to win multiple states in the sunbelt that historically have favored Republicans even if they have become much more competitive. One caveat: Texas alone would be enough to reach 270, but I can't imagine Texas flipping and other southern states not doing the same.

So how is Mr. Trump doing in Michigan?

Take it away, Pete Campbell:

Mr. Trump won Michigan by just 10,704 votes last time and it took everything going just right to win that race over Hillary Clinton by a whisker.

Based on the Democratic tsunami building in Oakland County, Mr. Biden looks poised to net gain a minimum of 55,000 more votes out of that county than Ms. Clinton did and it's entirely possible that number could reach or even surpass 100,000. In either case, it's more than enough to make up the nearly 11,000-vote deficit from 2016, especially when multiple sources in both political parties have told me they do not expect Mr. Trump to run up as big a win in Macomb County as he did in 2016. Mr. Trump cannot afford to lose votes out of Macomb, but by all indications he will, it's just a question of how much.

There's zero energy behind the minor party candidates, who siphoned away more than 200,000 votes in 2016. There's a lot of national polling data indicating that voters who say they backed a third party candidate in 2016 who are not going to do so this time heavily favor Mr. Biden. That's more help for him and trouble for Mr. Trump.

And Kent County, which narrowly went for Mr. Trump four years ago, almost surely is going to go for Mr. Biden this time.

Four years ago, Ms. Clinton netted 47,000 fewer votes out of Detroit than President Barack Obama did in 2012. For Democrats, there are some worrying numbers in the absentee ballots out of Detroit, which has one of the lowest return rates of any major city in the state. Based on his other gains, Mr. Biden probably does not have to get more votes out of Detroit than Ms. Clinton did, but U.S. Sen. Gary Peters probably does need more robust turnout to fend off John James.

Mr. Trump, along with Vice President Mike Pence on his behalf, have been making stops in areas that were essential to their 2016 victory – Muskegon, Saginaw and Grand Traverse counties. If one subtracts the larger metropolitan and university counties (Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, Kent, Kalamazoo, Ingham and Washtenaw), Mr. Trump won the remaining 76 counties 60 percent to 39.7 percent over Ms. Clinton.

The president simply must clean up in those 76 counties by an even bigger margin to counter Mr. Biden's gains elsewhere. There has been a huge effort by Republicans to register new voters in these areas, and they must deliver. Mr. Biden showed strong statewide appeal in the March Democratic primary unlike Ms. Clinton four years earlier. Just peeling off a couple of percentage from Mr. Trump would be a knockout blow.

Besides Detroit, the other wild card going into election week is absentee ballots. There's still about 724,000 absentee ballots issued to voters that have not been returned. The consensus is the bulk of absentee voters this year are Democrats. How many make the mistake of mailing their ballots too late to arrive before 8 p.m. Tuesday and see their votes not count? Assuming roughly 3 million absentee ballots are cast, how many voters using the absentee mechanism for the first time mess up their signature and run the risk of seeing their ballot disqualified?

For some time, I've felt Mr. Biden was the clear favorite in Michigan. What has been unclear to me is whether Mr. Trump can keep it close, to less than 4 percentage points, or if this turns into a rout of 8 points or more. Four years ago at this time, it was clear the door was wide open for Mr. Trump to win Michigan. I didn't think it would happen, but it was apparent it would be very close. This time around, the door is wide open for Mr. Biden. A lot would have to go wrong, and at this stage there are no warning signs of it, for him to lose this state.

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