Impact of COVID-19 on Agriculture

The State: of Campaigning in the Battlegrounds

News / The State May 1, 2020

Through a series of articles we call The State, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Advocacy and Political Affairs team is providing analysis related to "the state of" various aspects of the 2020 campaign season, including the race for the White House and key elections around the country.


In this article, the three authors of The State – Cody Lyon, Randy Dwyer and Michael Sistak – discuss whether the governor’s party affiliation will influence President Trump’s campaign in various swing states. Lyon, Dwyer and Sistak are the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Advocacy and Political Affairs team.

Cody Lyon:  The state of campaigning in key battleground states will be one to follow in the months ahead.  I’m interested in how President Trump will differ his campaign approach in states with Republican governors versus those with Democratic governors.

Donald Trump, who has reportedly challenged his campaign staff to start a national ad campaign, remains vulnerable in the key states in which he had narrow victories in 2016. In some of those states, like Arizona, Trump has a natural ally in the Republican governor. In others, like Michigan, led by a Democrat, he may not be so welcome, at least in the state capital.

And, of course, we can’t overlook the impact of COVID-19 on everything campaign-related, from the suspension of traditional campaign activities, to perceptions of Trump’s leadership and his relationships with governors throughout the country.

Randy Dwyer: I think as states move to reopen - and if it works to open the economy and everyone stays healthy - it'll be the decisions made by each state’s governor that make the local headlines. If it’s a governor with a “D” after their name, they most certainly will be trying to push President Trump aside and take credit for doing a good job and getting things moving again. 

Governors are taking a page from President Trump’s daily briefings to promote their management abilities. I can see some governors taking credit for the success and leaving all the second-guessing about testing, etc., to the president.

Michael Sistak: I agree with that, Randy. And President Trump will have to lean on governors to give him kudos. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the first place he’s traveling to since this all started is Arizona in early May. It’s a state in which he struggles , with a Republican governor who is getting high marks right now.

A recent article in The Hill highlights this point (Governors in all 50 states get better marks than Trump for COVID response).  The president’s current troubles and the need to change the prospects for his reelection hopes are tied to low approval ratings in the swing states that sent him to the White House in 2016.  If you look at Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, all with Democratic governors, the president’s approval is far lower than the governor’s. However, a state like Arizona has a Republican governor who could help him shore up his standing in a critical swing state with 11 electoral votes. Those three Democratic governors, who collectively have 46 electoral votes, will have no reason to help him out.

Cody Lyon:  The president’s campaign strategy will be interesting to watch in these key states.  I believe it’s going to break down along these lines: President Trump spends time with GOP governors and saturates the airwaves and has massive rallies in states with Democratic governors.

For example, he has picked a fight with the Democratic governor of Michigan, whose approval is 63%, compared to the president’s 36% approval rating among the state’s voters. 

Still, I am also positive that if President Trump were to travel to Michigan – and if gatherings could be held – he would bring out over 15,000 people!

Michael Sistak:  If the pandemic continues to require even moderate social distancing requirements, it’s unlikely that large rallies or even the summer conventions will be what we are used to. So, the new normal for the 2020 campaign will be a digital and socially distant front porch campaign. Eat your heart out, Warren Harding! We could see Joe Biden hosting a lot more televised small gatherings that play to his strength of making personal connections. President Trump, on the other hand, would likely turn to more televised townhalls, which will give him the opportunity to use the freewheeling style that is one of his campaign strengths.

Randy Dwyer: The “old normal” would have the president visiting all the battleground states on a regular basis, regardless of a D or an R in the governor’s mansion. But the “new normal” may very well minimize the large rallies the president is well known for holding to generate enthusiasm in his base. It remains to be seen how this will play out. 

What I’m really curious about is this scenario: A third quarter bump in the economy and a rising stock market, a true flattening of the curve, and being on the cusp of a COVID-19 vaccine - this trifecta may be a difficult reach, but doable. If this is the case, I can see voters feeling positive about themselves and the direction of the country. As such, they may not see a need to bring someone new into the White House.

Cody Lyon is AFBF’s managing director of advocacy and political affairs.

Randy Dwyer is AFBF’s director of advocacy & grassroots development.

Michael Sistak is AFBF’s director of grassroots program development.

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