The Republican Trifecta Opportunities in 2020

While Democrats have created nine Democratic trifectas in state governments since President Trump’s inauguration, Republicans have yet to create any. This November, though, that may change. Republicans have a very good trifecta opportunity in Montana, a decent opportunity in Alaska and North Carolina and a longshot one in New Hampshire.

Creating these trifectas can give Republicans more redistricting power in 2020 and allow them to pass a conservative agenda, passing laws such as bans on sanctuary cities for undocumented immigrants, adding work requirements for Medicaid, right to work laws, and so on.

Montana appears to be the strongest contender for Republicans in trifecta opportunities: both of the state legislative chambers are safely in their control and incumbent Governor Steve Bullock (D) is term-limited. President Trump won the state of Montana by over 20% in 2016, Bullock won re-election that same year by 3.9% against businessman Greg Gianforte (R).

Gianforte was elected to the US House in a 2017 special election for Montana’s at-large congressional district, after President Trump appointed then-Representative Ryan Zinke (R) to his cabinet as Secretary of the Interior. Gianforte won by just 5.5% in that special election, and went on to win re-election in the 2018 midterms by a slightly smaller margin of 4.63%. This year, Gianforte is the frontrunner in the Republican primary for Montana’s gubernatorial election, where he is in a three-way race with Montana Attorney General Tim Fox (R) and State Senator Albert Olszewski (R).

On the Democratic side, Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney (D) is the likely nominee, running against weak opposition from businesswoman Whitney Williams (D) in the Democratic primary. Cooney has been in Montana politics since he was first elected to the Montana House of Representatives in the late 1970’s. After serving 4 years in the lower house, he became the Secretary of State from 1989 to 2001, then a State Senator from 2003 to 2011, then Steve Bullock’s Lieutenant Governor in 2016. He’s now looking for a promotion to become Governor, continuing the 16 years of Democrats holding the executive office in the state.

With both parties likely to nominate two very strong candidates, we have the Montana gubernatorial election as a pure Toss-Up. If Republicans win the election, they’ll have a trifecta in the state for the first time since 2004.

Republicans nearly created a trifecta in the Alaska House of Representatives after the 2018 elections when they flipped two districts into their column. However, a majority coalition of defecting Republicans, Democrats and Independents prevented this. Technically, this chamber could be the Republican Party’s earliest available flip opportunity this year. In August, when Alaska holds its primaries, several of the Republicans who caucus with the majority coalition will face primary opponents from conservative Republicans who promise to caucus with the regular Republicans instead of the majority coalition. If they beat 4 of the 6 majority-coalition caucusing Republicans, they will have a majority in the chamber.

Beating that many defectors is unlikely, though, as the defecting Republicans have a built-in incumbency advantage in their communities. But if they can beat 2 or even 3, they’ll have a decent standing for flipping the House of Representatives in the general election. Currently, there are 4 seats held by Democrats that are competitive: two Lean D and two Likely D. Due to the unique situation in Alaska’s House of Representatives, we have a chamber as a Toss-Up. This will likely change once the August primaries are over, and we find out how many defecting Republicans, if any, have lost re-election.

Both of the North Carolina state legislative chambers are Lean R in our chamber ratings. It is unlikely that Democrats will be able to adequately mitigate their disadvantage in either chamber before election day. That means that the only man standing in the way of a Republican trifecta is Governor Roy Cooper (D). Cooper is the favorite in the race, as he has a very high approval rating and has a consistent lead in the polls against his opponent, Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest (R). We currently have the gubernatorial election as Lean D; while Cooper remains the favorite, there is still a moderate chance he could lose in an upset.

In New Hampshire, the roles are nearly reversed. We have incumbent Governor Chris Sununu (R) as the favorite in a Lean R race for his re-election bid thanks to his strong approval rating. In the state legislatures, however, Democrats are the favorite, with our State Senate rating as Lean D and our House of Representatives rating as Likely D. Democrats flipped both the State Senate and House of Representatives in 2018 and are up again this year. In order to create a Republican trifecta in New Hampshire, Republicans would have to get Governor Sununu re-elected and win an uphill battle in the state legislative chambers. The chance of such an upset is slim, but not entirely impossible. As such, we have it as the lowest-ranked contender for a Republican trifecta.