The economic and political impact of the coronavirus crisis is beginning to reverberate across the presidential battleground states, creating unforeseen red-state opportunities for Joe Biden but also offering promise for President Donald Trump in several Democratic-leaning states where his prospects once seemed limited.
Interviews with more than 30 political strategists, campaign advisers and officials in both parties paint a portrait of an expanded swing state electoral map, upended by the coronavirus pandemic and the economic dislocation it has caused.
In the industrial Midwestern states that unexpectedly flipped to Trump in 2016, Democrats have more cause than ever to believe they can win back states such as Wisconsin and Michigan. In Arizona and Georgia, traditionally red states, party officials see the virus’ disproportionate effects on communities of color, helping to improve their chances of defeating Republicans.
At the same time, the widespread disruption has presented the president with an opportunity to boost his standing in competitive states such as Nevada and New Hampshire, where Trump was presumed to be at a slight disadvantage.
The only certainty about the fall election, it seems, is more uncertainty about the state of the post-coronavirus political landscape.
“In an economic and economic-only election like we’ve never in modern day seen, it certainly puts on and takes off some battleground states that didn’t previously exist,” said Jeff Roe, a prominent Republican Party strategist.
In states significantly affected by the pandemic’s economic fallout, he said, “it will certainly go to the economics, and when that happens, how those states fared, how many job losses and losses of life happen — that could be an opportunity to reshape the lens.”
Some of the first signs of electoral upheaval are materializing in Florida, where GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, a close Trump ally, is one of the few big-state governors who has seen his approval ratings erode over his handling of the pandemic.
The nation’s largest swing state — which Trump carried narrowly in 2016 — has become Democrats’ Exhibit A in their case for the GOP’s mishandling of the pandemic. Spring breakers were allowed to crowd the state’s beaches. The virus spread to the state’s nursing homes and to The Villages, a largely Republican retirement community. And as hundreds of thousands of Floridians applied for unemployment benefits, they were stymied by a system Republicans privately acknowledge was designed by the previous Republican administration to make it harder to get benefits — a measure to lower the state’s reported number of jobless claims.