2020 Senate Races: Montana


I must admit to being a big fan of Sabato’s Crystal Ball from the UVA Center for Politics, and I was especially keen on the recent (Aug 5) 2020 Senate race rating (see map below).

Map UVA Sabato’s Crystal Ball

As a long-time observer of electoral geography, I must say the Crystal Ball is being a tad conservative on Montana—by which I mean that this is a winnable seat for Democrats and should be AT LEAST in the Toss-up category. I believe the Crystal Ball will move this to Toss-up by September. Why? This will be a Toss-up and likely a gain for Democrats due to the candidates, Montana’s electoral trends, as well as U.S. trends.

The Candidates

Steve Daines, a Republican, is the incumbent. Often incumbents in the U.S. Senate are hard to beat, but senators in their first term tend to be more vulnerable. A few reasons why this seat will likely go to the Democratic candidate: Steve Bullock.

Steve Daines (R) and Steve Bullock (D)

Why Senator Steve Daines will likely lose:

  • Daines was first elected in Nov 2014, facing a weak Democratic candidate. Democrat Amanda Curtis was handicapped by having  only 2 months to campaign and fundraise.
  • Daines raised $7.5 million for his race in 2014; Curtis raised $977,000.
  • In 2018, Montana reelected Democrat Senator Jon Tester, despite President Trump campaigning against Tester, confirming that Democrats can win here in the Trump era.
  • Also in 2018, Montana’s own #PlaidShirtGuy, Tyler Linfesty, shows some Big Sky skepticism to Trumpian rhetoric.


Why Governor Steve Bullock will likely win:

  • Bullock has won three statewide elections—once for Attorney General (2008) and twice for Governor (2012 and 2016).
  • Bullock won in 2016 despite his Republican opponent, Greg Gianforte, putting in $5.8 million of his own money in the race—in a year when Trump won Montana by 20 points.
  • Since declaring in March, Bullock has raised some $11 million, coming close to Daines war chest of $12.9 million that he has been accumulating for six years.
  • Bullock enjoys a high 75% approval rating as Montana governor.


Pundits characterize Montana as a red state, but recent statewide elections give it a more purple tint—plus the national trend indicates an exceptional voting pattern rather than a normal one. This exceptional pattern favors Democrats—as in 2008 at the twilight of the last Republican administration, when tax cuts for the rich, a ruinous recession, and health care loss enraged voters.

It looks like Steve Bullock will win the November election and go from the Governor’s residence in Helena, Montana, to the U.S. Senate in Washington, DC. It is also possible that Republicans will lose Montana’s electoral votes in November.

Does Geography Favor Clinton or Trump?

Candles cast light on election.
Candles cast light on election.

In honor of my son’s birthday and before things get too busy at college, I thought to put down a few words—and a map—predicting the presidential election on November 8. These humble predictions are built on a few premises:

  • Voter turnout will be high, averaging 60% or more of eligible voters.
  • The Clinton campaign maintains discipline and resolves computer vulnerabilities. With two successful senatorial campaigns under her belt, she presides over a fourth presidential campaign.
  • The Trump campaign continues its chaotic rampage, alienating key states and ethnic groups. He is a political novice, which appeals to those who despise the “political elite” but is disastrous in a presidential campaign.
  • The media should harass both candidates relentlessly (in their ad revenue race).
  • The polls paint a roller-coaster race, so pollsters can make money (plus polls are increasingly partisan and inaccurate).
States likely to vote for Clinton and Trump on November 8, 2016.
States likely to vote for Clinton and Trump on November 8, 2016.

The electoral geography currently favors Clinton, and she should win with at least 348 electoral votes, versus some 140 for Trump. A candidate needs 270 electoral votes to become U.S. President. A brief analysis of key states on the map:

Virginia. Details on why Virginia will go to Clinton can be found in my recent blog, Is Virginia a Swing State?

Florida. Trump has managed to offend the 3.2 million African Americans and 4.8 million Hispanics in the state. Even Cuban Americans, who normally vote Republican, will likely defect. Clinton has 33 more field offices in Florida than Trump. Independent voters should align with the larger Democratic electorate to win Florida for Clinton.

Ohio. At this time, Republican Governor John Kasich does not endorse Trump, meaning a divided GOP in Ohio. With some 35 field offices in the state, Clinton has more than twice the number of Trump offices.  Clinton won her primary in Ohio, but Trump lost to Kasich. All this adds to the likelihood that Clinton will garner the state, as Obama did in 2008 and 2012.

NorthCarolina BathroomCaptionNorth Carolina. Republican Governor Pat McCrory, deeply unpopular due to the “bathroom bill,” is in a close race for reelection; also, a federal appeals court overturned a new voter ID law. Dismissal of the voter ID law would help Democrats get more votes and a larger victory margin. Another close race pits Republican incumbent Senator Burr against Democratic challenger, Deborah Ross, which could determine control of the U.S. Senate. Currently, Clinton has 26 field offices in North Carolina to Trump’s 1 office.

Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District. Clinton should earn one electoral vote from Omaha, with its large minority population, as outlined in Electoral Geography 2016. The Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, is a key Clinton supporter.


States Too Close to Call (Swing States)

A generic Republican candidate would win the states below, but Donald Trump is a decidedly unconventional candidate and his campaign’s missteps could cost him a number of previously red states, as shown on the map.

Missouri. This state is a target for the Clinton campaign, as it has a history of electing Democrats statewide. The Obama campaign lost Missouri in 2008 by only 4,000 votes. Clinton’s running mate, Senator Tim Kaine, grew up in Missouri, and the state could be won with a large turnout in urban areas; however, this is where Rush Limbaugh country meets Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter. Democratic Governor Jay Nixon is popular, but neighboring Kansas Republican Governor Sam Brownback is the most unpopular governor in the nation due to conservative policies adversely affecting the Kansas economy–this will likely sway voters in Kansas City and western Missouri.

Montana. Obama lost this state by some 10,000 votes in 2008. Democratic Governor Steve Bullock is highly popular and is running for reelection. Clinton’s campaign organization and endorsements in the state are impressive, whereas Trump seems to be taking Montana for granted.

Indiana. Trump’s running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, could help keep this a red state; however, Democrat Evan Bayh is leading in the Senate race. In addition, the governor’s race is tight, meaning voter turnout should be high, which favors Democrats. Obama won this state in 2008 but lost it in 2012, when turnout was lower.

Arizona and Georgia should stay in the Republican column, even with their large minority populations, but polls show that the race is close in both states.

It’s All About Geography

From a geopolitical point of view, Hillary Clinton will likely achieve an electoral landslide, based on past presidential votes, statewide votes, campaign experience in critical states, and the strategic distribution of field offices. National polls, state polls, pundits, and partisan politics may portray this as a close election, but it should be a blue wave.