The Democratic Trifecta Opportunities in 2020

Since President Trump’s inauguration, Democrats have created nine Democratic trifectas (control over the governorship, upper state legislative chamber and lower state legislative chamber). All of these trifectas are in states that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016: Washington, New Jersey, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Illinois, New York, Maine, and most recently, Virginia. Only one state has created a Republican trifecta during this presidency so far: West Virginia, when Governor Jim Justice switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican.

These Democratic trifectas are passing legislation that Republicans have fought in some states for years, and in others for decades. Gun reform, voting rights expansions, minimum wage increases, LGBTQ+ right and marijuana legalization are just some of the hot button issues in these new blue state governments’ agendas. With redistricting just around the corner, Republicans are looking to prevent Democrats from further gaining power in state governments, and there are 5 states where they need to do so this year.

In Minnesota, Republicans will face an uphill battle in their attempt to stall the Democrats’ trifecta efforts. Democrats need a net gain of two seats in the Republican-controlled State Senate while holding onto their majority in the state’s House of Representatives (which they’re heavily favored in) to create a Democratic trifecta. At the moment, they’re slightly favored to succeed since they are well-positioned in two crucial Republican-held State Senate seats, one in the Twin Cities suburbs and another in St. Cloud (which will be the majority-maker). However, they still need to defend a difficult district they narrowly flipped in 2016. This district in Dakota County, just south of the Twin Cities, not only voted for Trump in 2016, but also the Republican candidate for Governor in 2018, Jeff Johnson, even while Tim Walz (D) was winning the election by double digits. In all other districts Democrats hold in the upper chamber, they are either moderately favored, heavily favored, or certain to win.

Vermont, though bluer than Minnesota in presidential elections, is actually a slightly harder target for Democrats in trifecta opportunities this year. Though Vermont Democrats are certain to hold both of the state legislative chambers they’ve controlled for a decade and a half, the state has a popular incumbent Republican governor who won re-election by double digits in 2018. Governor Phil Scott, a moderate Republican who often criticizes Trump, is only a slight favorite in his re-election bid this year this time around, because this time he’s actually facing fierce competition: his own Lieutenant Governor, David Zuckerman (D). Zuckerman won his first statewide election in 2016 for the office that then-Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott was vacating so that he could run for Governor. While Scott was winning by 8.74 points, Zuckerman was winning by 6.65. In their reelection bids in 2018, Zuckerman beat Scott’s performance: Zuckerman won re-election by 18.47 points while Scott won by 14.93 points. The gubernatorial election this year will be highly competitive, and if Democrats win, they’ll have a Democratic trifecta in the state again.

Another Bradyland trifecta opportunity for Democrats is New Hampshire. While Democrats flipped both state legislatures in New Hampshire in 2018, with a landslide win in the House of Representatives and a sizable win in the State Senate, Governor Chris Sununu (R) won re-election by 7.1 points. This is an improvement from his first win in 2016, which was by 2.2 points. Sununu, whose family has been dominant in New Hampshire politics for decades, will have a competitive election this year against either the majority leader of the State Senate or a member of the Executive Council, but remains moderately favored nevertheless given his popularity. A smaller hurdle that Democrats also face in their quest to create a trifecta in the Granite State is holding onto the state legislative chambers. Currently, the House of Representatives is rated as Likely D and the State Senate is rated as Lean D.

Democrats’ chances of creating a trifecta improved in North Carolina last year after the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that its legislative districts needed to be redrawn due to Republican gerrymandering. The crucial swing state is a top priority this year for Democrats, with competitive statewide elections, state legislatures and two US House seats which swung heavily leftward in recent redistricting (also mandated by the North Carolina Supreme Court because of Republican gerrymandering). Despite the improvement in Democrats’ chances in the battle for the state legislatures though, Republicans remain favored in both chambers, with each being rated as Lean R. Even if Democrats somehow manage to flip the state legislatures, they will need Governor Roy Cooper (D) to win reelection against Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest (R). This is an easier task for Democrats, as the gubernatorial race is rated as Lean D. Given the difference in ratings in the state legislatures and the gubernatorial race, it’s likely that North Carolina will remain a divided state government after this year’s elections.

Pennsylvania Democrats had tremendous victories in the midterms. They flipped 4 US House seats, won the gubernatorial and senatorial elections in landslides, earned a net gain of 12 seats in the state’s House of Representatives and a net gain of 5 seats in the State Senate. However, the gains the state party made were still not good enough to make them a very good trifecta opportunity this year though. Democrats came up short in 2018 in two critical State Senate seats in southeastern Pennsylvania which would have made their path forward to a trifecta far easier than it is now. In addition to their woes in the State Senate, State Senator John Yudichak switched his party affiliation last year from Democrat to Independent, caucusing with the State Senate Republicans. This party switch has ruled out any chance for Democrats to create an outright majority in the upper chamber, but if they have a net gain of 4 seats, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman (D) will act as a tiebreaker. Democrat headaches aren’t limited to just the upper chamber, however: they are currently projected to lose two Trump-loving rural districts in the House of Representatives and left a district in the Philadelphia suburbs that voted for Hillary Clinton uncontested. Democrats need to have a net gain of 9 seats (perhaps 8, depending on an upcoming special election in the Philadelphia suburbs) in the lower chamber to have a majority. So yes, there’s a chance that Democrats can create a trifecta in Pennsylvania, but it’s as small as a gnat’s eyebrow given the math.