LAWRENCE — Political handicapper Charlie Cook said President Donald Trump is poised to carry Kansas by a single-digit margin but will be a longshot to hold off Democrat Joe Biden, while Republicans’ grip on the U.S. Senate appears to be slipping away in a campaign cycle that even put Kansas’ open seat in play.
Outcome of the presidential vote in red-state Kansas could be viewed as a fall from grace for Trump after destroying Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 by a margin of 20.5 percentage points.
Cook, a nonpartisan forecaster of elections for the Cook Political Report, said one week before the 2020 election the presidential campaign was a referendum on Trump’s term in office. His fate has been sharply influenced by the COVID-19 crisis and the willingness of Democrats to rally around Biden, a former vice president who struggled to wow Americans early in the crowded national primary.
During an event with the Dole Institute of Politics at University of Kansas, Cook said another key factor in Biden’s favor was the decision by left-leaning people to pour vast amounts of money into the Biden effort — or, more precisely, the campaign to beat Trump. It means the GOP president is closing out the race while dragging an unimpressive approval rating and at a financial disadvantage unusual for Republican incumbent.
“I think he’s pretty much a longshot,” Cook said. “I don’t want to say it’s over, but it’s tough. My theory has been when it’s an incumbent, it’s a referendum. Up or down. Do you want to renew a president’s contract for another four years? Yes or no?”
Biden, viewed by some people as too old for the job and as a reliable gaffe machine, has at the moment a national polling cushion necessary to prevail in the Electoral College. In 2016, Trump lost the popular vote to Clinton but took the Electoral College.
He said Biden was surpassing expectations in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania and carved daylight in Arizona, Florida and North Carolina. Biden surprised the electorate by making Trump uncomfortable in Georgia, Iowa, Ohio and Texas.
“I’m not a Grateful Dead fan, but what was that song? Well, it was an album, ‘What a Strange Trip It’s Been,'” he said. “Somebody’s going to write a book about Joe Biden’s campaign and how this happen, but boy it’s weirder than heck. Nobody would have predicted this. Nobody.”
“Now, if Democrats had nominated Bernie Sanders we’d probably be having a very different conversation right now.”
He said Democrats could add to their majority in the U.S. House and might be able to rip the U.S. Senate away from Republican control. Originally, he said, it didn’t look like the U.S. Senate would be more than a ho-hum affair. Republicans didn’t appear vulnerable to forfeiting the full 53-47 majority, he said, but events conspired to put as many as nine GOP seats in jeopardy.
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, decided to retire and opened up a wild race leading to nomination of Republican Roger Marshall and Democrat Barbara Bollier. It’s been since the 1930s that a Democrat won a U.S. Senate campaign in Kansas, but Marshall has been sweating through a campaign against Bollier, a Republican-turned-Democrat.
Cook surmised Marshall was ahead by as much as 3 percentage points, but declared it a race that could lead to a last-minute Bollier victory.
“God didn’t really intend for Kansas to be a Democratic state, but sometimes things can happen to a party that just endanger them,” he said. “I think there was a lot of backlash against Sam Brownback’s administration. Cutting taxes is a good thing, but you can have too much of a good thing. You obviously know the Kansas budget issues better than I do. He left. The state was a mess financially. It had to be a mess for a Democrat to get elected governor two years ago.”