Sunday, May 5, 2019

Interference at KY Derby a Metaphor for Election

Lots of people are talking about the stunning results from Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. Of course, Donald Trump has tweeted his opinion, as well. I’m okay with that. There’s no reason he shouldn’t express his views. 

For the record, Trump believes the “best horse did NOT win” because “political correctness” influenced track officials to declare apparent winner Maximum Security (how could Trump not like a horse by that name?) interfered with other horses on the final turn (naturally, Trump would disagree with any suggestion interference affected the outcome of a race. He also took the time Sunday to opine that special counsel Robert Mueller should not testify before Congress. Obstruction, or as the Churchill Downs stewards called it, interference, was clearly evident in Trump’s post-election actions by anyone save sycophantic Republicans). Track judges stripped Maximum Security of the title and awarded the race to Country House who had finished second by about a length and a half. 

Let’s leave it to racing touts to work out the final results of the Kentucky Derby. I’m more interested in handicapping the 2020 presidential race.

First, a short review of 2016. Trump lost the popular vote but won the presidency by securing 304 Electoral College votes; 270 being the threshold required to win. Despite more voters preferring Hillary Clinton, she captured just 227 Electoral College votes. 

Conventional wisdom has it that Hillary lost the election by not attracting a combined 80,000 more votes in Michigan (16 EC votes), Pennsylvania (20 EC votes) and Wisconsin (10 EC votes). That would have given her 273 Electoral College votes, a slight but sufficient margin of victory.

By my calculations, the 2020 race will be determined by more than just the outcomes in those three states. Indeed, the field of battleground states is 12, divided equally between states Trump won and those that polled Democratic in 2016.

Trump starts out with a lock on 195 EC votes from states across the South and the middle of the country. He needs 75 more to win reelection. But 106 of his remaining 109 EC votes in 2016 can be considered in play. 

He won Florida’s 29 EC votes by (round numbers) 100,000; Michigan by 13,000; Pennsylvania by 44,000; Wisconsin by 20,000; North Carolina (15 EC votes) by 170,000; and Georgia (16 EC votes) by 200,000. Given the razor thin Republican gubernatorial victories in Florida and Georgia in 2018, it is conceivable Democrats could flip those states in 2020. Dems won governors’ seats in Wisconsin and Michigan in 2018 after flipping North Carolina in 2016. They retained the governorship in Pennsylvania in 2018. 

For the Democratic standard bearer the challenge begins with a lower sure-win number. He or she can expect 182 Electoral College votes mostly garnered from Northeast and West Coast states, 88 fewer than the needed 270. 

In 2016 Hillary Clinton amassed 227 EC votes. But 44 of those nods could turn to Trump in the following states: Clinton won Colorado (9 EC votes) by 120,000 votes; Minnesota (10 EC votes) by 40,000; Virginia (13 EC votes) by 200,000; Maine (2 EC votes) by 20,000; New Hampshire (4 EC votes) by 3,000; and Nevada (6 EC votes) by 27,000. 

What the numbers tell us is that it is waaaaay too early to provide meaningful predictions on who will emerge successful. It’s rather like the recent National Football League draft of college players. Experts try to rank the potential of players, but nothing is certain. For every “sure thing” top draft choice there’s a bust. Considered by many the best quarterback ever, Tom Brady was not drafted until the sixth round, almost as an afterthought. 

Your choices are to tune out political pablum and prognostications for the next 18 months or sit back and enjoy (Is that the right word?) the race, without, hopefully, any interference.