Is Gretchen Whitmer’s Michigan a solid Democratic state again?
Photo: Rebecca Cook/REUTERS

In 2020, Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by flipping a number of battleground states that the Republican carried in 2016, namely Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. One of the reasons Republicans were optimistic about winning back the Senate this year is that several key contests were in these states. If the states were very close in a presidential year, surely they would turn red in a midterm when an unpopular Democrat was in the White House, right?

Wrong, for the most part. Democrats defended a seat in Arizona (and another in Nevada, a state Trump hadn’t carried but nearly did in 2020), flipped a Republican-held seat in Pennsylvania, and held the lead in Georgia going into a December 6 runoff (similar to the two January 2021 Senate runoffs Democrats won). Biden’s party didn’t win the Senate race in Wisconsin, but it was close, and it did win the gubernatorial contest there, as in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona.

So if Republicans were wrong to count on these states in 2022, are Democrats justified in counting on them in 2024, when presumably conditions will return to whatever is considered “normal” in these turbulent days? Even if the White House backlash didn’t emerge as expected, it does seem that Republicans did better than they would have if they didn’t have a relatively unpopular President Biden to kick around. So at this very early point, and without knowing what external factors will develop in the next two years, it’s reasonable to argue that Democrats begin this presidential cycle ahead. After all, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin together have 71 electoral votes or, to put it another way, one electoral vote more than megastates Florida and Texas have together. Sounds pretty good, eh? Almost as good as the “Blue Wall” Democrats supposedly enjoyed in 2016 in states that hadn’t gone Republican in many years, like … Michigan and Pennsylvania, last red in 1988, and Wisconsin, last red in 1984.

Perhaps the Democratic Party is building a fresh advantage in some of those states that were lost to Trump in 2016. But the situation is probably too fluid to make any neat assumptions. And there’s also a possibility that a big part of what happened in 2022 was simply voter inflexibility in a period of extreme partisan polarization and gridlock; we may not have the big swings between midterm and presidential votes we’ve grown accustomed to in the past. If so, that obviously helped Democrats in 2022, but might help Republicans just as much in 2024.

For all the disappointment they experienced in this year’s results, there were also some positive developments for the GOP. They continued to trend upward among non-white and especially Latino voters. If this latter trend continues, not only would the red hue of Florida and Texas intensify, but Republicans could gain a renewed advantage in Arizona and Nevada while becoming more competitive in New Mexico and Colorado (and eventually even California).

So let’s see what the 2020 and 2022 battleground states do in 2024 before shifting them into competitive or less-competitive groups and deciding either party is well on the way to an enduring majority.

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