20 Jun.

Al Hunt: Biden Needs the Blue Wall to Stay Blue

Previously published on the Politics War Room Substack

By Al Hunt

National polls suggest a slight lead for Donald Trump in the Presidential race.  Ignore them.

If the race remains close, focus on the six or seven battleground states where Trump also has a better hand. Remember it’s a multi-candidate election- not a two way contest- and will be decided by the Electoral College, not the popular vote.

The starting point, based on the 2020 election, is Biden with 303 electoral votes, or 33 more than necessary.

Four and a half months out,  Biden is struggling in the sunbelt states he carried: Georgia, Arizona and Nevada as well as in his closest defeat, North Carolina. If that doesn’t change, he can’t lose any other state he won before.

The key to a Biden victory, then, would be the Blue Wall: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, all of which, starting in 1992, went Democratic in every election until  2016 when they went Red- paving the way for the Trump upset.  They came back four years ago. We’ll analyze them as of today.

Like everywhere, there are keys for both candidates: Biden has to improve his sluggish standing with young voters and voters of color. Trump has to retain the advantage he had last time with white women and win over Republicans and Independents who voted this year for Nikki Haley.  Democrats want a focus on abortion, Republicans on immigration.

Decisive may be the record number of voters, according to the Pew Research Center, who dislike both candidates, the “double-haters.”

Polls show Trump with a small lead in the Blue Wall states. Based on those and my reporting, I believe he is ahead in Michigan, maybe a little behind in Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania is a jump ball. The specifics include:

PENNSYLVANIA: Biden won the Keystone states by 80,000 votes after Trump eked out a 44,000 vote victory in 2016.

The temptation is to look at bellwether counties: Erie in Northwestern Pennsylvania and Northampton in the East.  I think there are more instructive guides. Biden’s big margin in Philadelphia is certain to shrink some, and it’ll be hard to replicate the big voting surge in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh.)

But, Biden won last time because of the four populous Philadelphia suburbs — Montgomery, Chester, Delaware and Bucks — which cast more votes than Philadelphia and Pittsburgh combined. Once the heart of Republican country, they are fast-growing, more diverse, well-educated and socially progressive. Biden increased Hillary Clinton’s winning margin by 104,471 votes- more than his statewide margin.

Democrats worry those numbers will be hard to match. However, there may be two energizing  issues:  guns (after a rash of mass murders) and abortion, especially. Since the Supreme Court ended abortion rights in 2022, Democrats have flourished politically.  In the U.S. Senate race that year, Democrat John Fetterman, attired in a hoodie and shorts, and with tattoos, was not a central casting candidate for upscale suburbs.  But with abortion front and center, he won those counties overwhelmingly.

2016              2020

Pennsylvania: Trump: 48.17% to 47.45%              Biden: 50.1% to 48.84%

Michigan: Trump: 47.6% to 47.3%                          Biden 50.62% to 47.84%

Wisconsin: Trump: 47.22% to 46.65%                   Biden 49.45% to 48.42%


MICHIGAN: Biden won Michigan more comfortably, but he has run into headwinds. Even Democrats doubt they can match turnout or Biden’s 68% of the vote in Wayne County, (Detroit). The Black vote is expected to decline and Muslims who voted decisively for Biden last time, are souring on him due to the Gaza war.

Bill Ballenger, who writes a political newsletter, says most indices favor the Republican candidate now. One small exception: there is “some evidence,” he says, that Robert F. Kennedy, jr may be starting to take more votes from Trump.

Biden is likely to again win the state’s second largest county, suburban Oakland, and, as in 2020, Trump should be stronger in more working class Macomb County.

The top battleground may be Kent County, centered in Grand Rapids, long dominated by Republicans like former President and Congressman Gerald Ford. It went for the Democrats four years ago.  In a recent New York Times article from Kent County, voters were negative about the choice. The double haters may be the deciders.

WISCONSIN: In the past two presidential elections, no state has been so closely contested as Wisconsin, Trump winning eight years ago, Biden in 2020, both by less than a percentage point.

Democrats can’t count on a big vote in in Milwaukee, home of the GOP convention next month, a city Trump called “horrible.”  Actually Dane County, centered in Madison, home of the University of Wisconsin and the state capitol, casts more votes and is very liberal. Biden needs another impressive  2020-like vote in Dane.

Conversely, the Republican margins are at stake in the conservative-leaning suburban counties like Waukesha. Trump won there last time, but his margin declined.

An intangible in this year’s presidential race is that Wisconsin Democrats may be hungrier.  The Supreme Court rejected the deeply gerrymandered State Assembly giving energized Democrats a chance to win control for the first time in 14 years. The party’s Ben Wikler is one of the most aggressive and innovative state chairs in the country.