For the GOP, Much More Than the White House and Senate Hangs in the Balance

The focus of political America this week will be on President Trump, not so much on the rest of the Republican Party. Indeed, the quadrennial national GOP confab this time will be less a party convention than simply a virtual convening of Trump’s base.

In the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted earlier this month, 49 percent of Republicans and independents who lean Republican reported considering themselves more supporters of Trump than of the Republican Party in general. As extraordinary as that seems, that figure is actually lower than the 52 to 54 percent who said the same thing in the NBC/Wall Street Journal’s March, April, June, and July surveys (they skipped polling in May).

The intensity of his support (and opposition) cannot be overstated. It makes you wonder whether, when Trump leaves office either this coming January or in January 2025, he will hold his own annual conventions, akin to the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meetings when Warren Buffett’s devotees make their pilgrimage to Omaha.

Going into the Republican convention, Joe Biden’s lead over Trump is 7.6 points in the RealClearPolitics average and 9.4 points in the FiveThirtyEight weighted average of polls, the latter closer to the 10-point average lead we’ve been seeing in live telephone interview surveys.

On Monday afternoon, the highly regarded Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg released a live telephone (mostly cell) poll of registered voters conducted for Democracy Corps. It showed Biden’s lead at 10 points, 52 to 42 percent, in 16 key battleground states.

There is a good reason for Republicans to be concerned, but not just at the top of the ticket. With virtually all of the political air in the room consumed by the battle for the White House and control of the Senate, there isn’t much left for the 435 congressional, 11 gubernatorial, nine lieutenant-governor, 10 state-attorney-general, seven secretary-of-state, and 5,876 state legislative seats on the ballot this year. (Special elections boost the total even further.)

With both the redistricting process and many of the details of the once-arcane world of election administration becoming increasingly partisan, who is sitting in a governor, state-attorney-general, or secretary-of-state office can matter a lot, to say nothing of who controls the state legislative chambers.

Just as controlling the White House, U.S. House, and Senate is the trifecta for each party, the same goes on the state level. The incredibly talented folks at the indispensable Ballotpedia go in depth into which states have party trifectas and supermajority trifectas as well those with a triplex—when a party in a state holds the offices of governor, attorney general, and secretary of state.

Former Clinton White House political director Doug Sosnik is reminding clients that with roughly 80 percent of the country’s state legislative seats up this fall ahead of redistricting next year, this is a pivotal election. State-legislative-elections guru Tim Storey of the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures points out that the extent of presidential-election victories closely correlates with gains and losses on the state legislative level.

The inestimable Louis Jacobson contributed to The Cook Political Report in January a preview of the 2020 state legislative racesupdated last month, which joins Jacobson's analyses of the secretary-of-state and attorney-general races.

But beyond the implications of downballot offices for policy, the election process, and redistricting, it should be remembered that a party’s health and future is dependent on the development of a farm team. Far more often than not, those who hold the highest political offices came up the ranks of elective office (Trump is a notable exception). A wipeout or near-wipeout election can cost a party the better part of a generation of future leaders. For Democrats, 1980, 1994, 2010, and 2014 were massacres, just as Republicans took big hits in 1974, 2006, and 2018. Like a farmer losing seed corn, it’s a costly loss.

“If you are a political party, you never want to have a really bad election," I once wrote. "But if you’re going to have one, you really don’t want to have it in a year that ends in a zero.” The last election before the decennial reapportionment and redistricting is key, as Democrats learned in 2010 when their state legislative losses provided destructive aftershocks felt for an entire decade afterward.

This story was originally published on nationaljournal.com on August 25, 2020