How coronavirus surges could destroy the GOP's chances this November

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Roughly three-quarters of new coronavirus cases are from states Trump won in 2016, where the backlash against his response could hurt GOP candidates up and down the ticket.

Coronavirus cases are still skyrocketing in the United States, with the outbreak moving from the Northeast to Arizona, Texas, and Florida, states that are critical to Trump's reelection chances.

Multiple political handicappers told the American Independent Foundation that coronavirus surges in those states, where recent polls show voters disapprove of Trump's handling of the virus, are imperiling his reelection bid. Without winning those three states, it would be almost impossible for Trump to put together a winning Electoral College map. And the experts say Trump could even take the GOP's control of the Senate with him.

"I think this second round of COVID, let's call it the southern-western COVID, is generally hurting the president with swingier voters, and even with some soft Republicans," Stuart Rothenberg, Stu Rothenberg, a political analyst who has been covering elections for decades, said in an interview. "It's the general sense of ineptness on the issue."

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States like Florida are setting records for new cases. And Arizona saw a spike in deaths on Tuesday, reporting another 117 — the highest single-day death toll in the state so far, according to the Arizona Republic.

Amid this news, the Washington Post reported that the Trump administration's new strategy on the virus is simply to "hope Americans will grow numb to the escalating death toll and learn to accept tens of thousands of new cases a day."

But Democratic operatives question that strategy, especially as the virus continues to spread and governors in hotspot states start to scale back reopening plans.

"The definition of insanity is repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different result, but Donald Trump saw the devastation that Coronavirus caused in places like New York and decided to let it happen again in places like Arizona, Florida, and Texas," Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic political strategist, told the American Independent Foundation. "While the initial failures were indefensible, failing again is inexcusable."

There is also evidence that the GOP's proposed strategy of hoping people will just accept the coronavirus is not working.

Since March, when the pandemic began, Trump has seen his support decline, both nationally and in new coronavirus hotspot states.

Polling showed Trump either ahead or within the margin of error back in March, when the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold in the United States.

As of March 1, Florida was a virtual tie, with presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden holding a 0.3% lead; and Trump led in both Arizona and Texas by 3.8% and 3.9%, respectively, according to polling averages from FiveThirtyEight.

Now, however, Biden has opened up a 3.1% lead in Arizona, and a 6.3% lead in Florida, according to FiveThirtyEight. Trump leads in Texas, a state Republicans have won in every election since 1980, by a slim 1.3%.

Polling taken before those states became new problem areas for virus growth in the United States has already found that voters disapproved of Trump's coronavirus response.

A New York Times poll of Florida from early June, before the state's coronavirus surge began, found 52% of voters disapproved of Trump's handling of the virus. The New York Times also polled voters in Arizona, 55% of whom disapproved of Trump's handling of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, a Fox News poll of Texas released June 25 found Biden leading Trump by 1 point when respondents were asked how they would vote "if the presidential election were today." In that same poll,  a majority of voters also said they trusted Biden over Trump to handle the virus.

Political handicappers said aside from hurting his own reelection bid, voters' disapproval of Trump's virus response could also take Republican senators down with him — possibly even handing control of the Senate to Democrats.

Arizona plays host to a key Senate race, where appointed GOP Sen. Martha McSally is running against Democratic candidate Mark Kelly to serve out the remainder of the late-Sen. John McCain's term. And Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas is running for a fourth term.

"There's definitely a correlation between Trump's performance at the top of the ballot and down-ballot races," Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of the nonpartisan political handicapping outlet Inside Elections, said in an interview. "The more Trump struggles to reach his 2016 performance, the more vulnerable GOP candidates will be in other races down the ballot."

Rothenberg added that Republicans will have a hard time distancing themselves from Trump's poor response.

"The Republicans in Congress just haven't cut a sharp enough profile to demonstrate that they differ with Trump on anything, even something like COVID," Rothenberg said. "They may have said along the way at some point that people should mask up, but I think the issue will be used against them no matter what they said or how they said it." 

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.