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These Three States Will (Probably) Decide the 2024 Elections

These Three States Will (Probably) Decide the 2024 Elections

April 2024

By Nathan Gonzales,
Inside Elections Editor and Publisher
Public Affairs Council Senior Political Analyst

With an evenly divided country and narrow majorities in the House and Senate, neither Democrats nor Republicans can take any state, seat or district for granted in races for president or Congress. But a trio of states will be critical to the parties’ path to power and provide windows into larger dynamics playing out in the 2024 elections.


After flipping from Barack Obama in 2012 to Donald Trump in 2016 and back to Joe Biden in 2020, Michigan is one of the key swing states. Biden won the Wolverine State by nearly 3 points in the last presidential race, but he got to run against an unpopular incumbent. This time, Biden is the unpopular incumbent, bearing the blame for the country’s ills.

If Biden continues to struggle in Arizona and Georgia, where he won in 2020 by less than one-half of 1%, he likely needs Michigan’s 15 electoral votes in order to win reelection (along with Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Nevada).

Winning Michigan again won’t be easy because Biden can’t afford any slippage among Black voters (12% of Michigan’s 2020 electorate) or Arab Americans (2.2% of the state’s voting age population), particularly with the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

Michigan is also hosting a competitive Senate race. It’s reasonable to believe that an incumbent would outrun Biden, but this seat is open because Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow is not seeking reelection. It will be more difficult for the likely Democratic nominee, Rep. Elissa Slotkin, to overperform the top of the ticket significantly, which will be a problem if Biden loses Michigan.

Democrats can’t lose Stabenow’s seat because they have no room for error in the fight for the Senate, since the party is going to lose Joe Manchin’s seat in West Virginia. If Trump wins, this Senate race won’t matter as much because the new vice president could break tie votes and give control to Republicans. But if Biden wins, then holding Michigan is essential for Senate Democrats. Republicans will choose a nominee on Aug. 6.

There are also a handful of important House races in Michigan. Democrats need to at least break even on competitive races to have any chance of gaining the four seats they need nationwide for a House majority. That includes holding the open 7th District, currently held by Slotkin, which is rated as a Toss-up by Inside Elections, and the open 8th District, held by retiring Rep. Dan Kildee, which is rated Tilt Democratic. Democratic Rep. Hillary Scholten in the 3rd District (rated Likely Democratic) also needs to win re-election. If Democrats can knock off GOP Rep. John James in the 10th District (rated Lean Republican), they’ll likely be on their way to a majority, but it’s not necessary for control.

Even though candidates pay less for their television ads than the party committees or super PACs, all of the activity will make advertising more expensive for everyone.


With just six electoral votes, Nevada might seem insignificant, but it’s an important piece of Biden’s electoral equation. As veteran Nevada-based analyst Jon Ralston says, “We matter.”

Democratic nominees have won Nevada in the past four presidential elections, but Biden is at risk of losing the state in 2024. He won it by 2.4 points last time but is in a fundamentally weaker position this cycle. Part of that softness in his support is among Hispanic voters.

Latino voters made up 17% of the Nevada electorate in 2020, according to the exit poll for the media consortium, and Biden won those voters 61% to 35%, a margin of 26 points. Biden is running closer to 18 points ahead of Trump among Latino voters in national head-to-head surveys against Trump, according to former Democratic pollster Adam Carlson. If that dynamic exists in Nevada, the state will be uncomfortably close for the president. Similar to Michigan, Biden probably needs to win Nevada if he doesn’t carry Arizona and Georgia as he did in 2020.

Biden’s struggles are potentially problematic for Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen. In 2020, Maine was the only state to split its ticket by voting for Biden for president and Republican Susan Collins for Senate. That dynamic could concern Democratic senators in states Biden won’t, or might not, carry in 2024, including Rosen, Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Jon Tester in Montana, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin and Bob Casey Jr. in Pennsylvania.

In 2018, Rosen ran 4.6 points better than a typical Democrat in Nevada, according to Inside Elections’ Vote Above Replacement (VAR). She’ll probably need to do that again in order to win a second term. Afghanistan war veteran Sam Brown is the Republican front-runner, but the primary isn’t until June 11.

Three Democrats, Reps. Dina Titus (1st District), Susie Lee (3rd) and Steven Horsford (4th), are on the edge of the House battleground. Their reelection contests are rated Likely Democratic, which means that if they are locked in neck-and-neck races this fall, Republicans are likely growing their majority because there are 20 seats viewed as more vulnerable than the Nevada trio.

GOP strategists admit that Democrats did a good job of drawing a congressional map that locks in the Democratic incumbents, unless Trump wins Nevada by the largest margin for a GOP presidential candidate in decades.


Ohio is no longer a presidential swing state, but it’s important in the fight for the Senate and House.

With Manchin’s West Virginia seat shifting to the Republicans, Sen. Sherrod Brown and other Democratic incumbents around the country likely have to win reelection in order for Democrats to maintain control of the Senate.

Winning won’t be easy for Brown, considering Republicans have an 11-point Baseline advantage in the state and Trump won by 8 points in 2016 and 2020. Even if he doesn’t win the presidential race, Trump will carry Ohio again. That means Brown will likely need to duplicate his 2018 performance when he outran a typical Democrat by 9.3 points.

Republicans believe their nominee, wealthy car dealer Bernie Moreno, can get the job done. With a combination of personal money, fundraising and party support, Moreno won’t be outspent the way Brown dominated Rep. Jim Renacci in 2018. But Moreno is taking some lumps as a candidate with regard to his business record and stance on abortion, similar to other untested GOP recruits around the country. We’ll see if Moreno can keep all the Republican voters in the fold and appeal to enough independents to finally knock off Brown.

The first step to gaining seats is usually holding your own, and House Democrats need a trio of incumbents to win re-election to have a shot at the majority.

Republicans wanted the 1st District redrawn to endanger Rep. Greg Landsman in the Cincinnati area. But it wasn’t, Biden won the district with 54%, and the race is rated Likely Democratic. Rep. Emilia Sykes has a more difficult race in the Akron-area 13th District. Biden won it with just 51%, and the race is rated Tilt Democratic.

Longtime Rep. Marcy Kaptur might have the toughest race of all. Trump won her 9th District with 51%, and Republicans nominated state Rep. Derek Merrin, who doesn’t have as many flaws as 2022 nominee J.R. Majewski. That race is rated Tilt Democratic as well.

Kaptur and Sykes are good examples of the type of races Democrats need to win to have a shot at the majority. They need to win districts Biden won narrowly, whether it’s because Biden won them again or they overperformed, and they need to win districts Trump carried narrowly. That’s the winning formula.

Nathan L. Gonzales is a senior political analyst for the Public Affairs Council and editor of Inside Elections, a nonpartisan newsletter with a subscription package designed to boost PACs with a regular newsletter and exclusive conference call. You can also hear more on the Inside Elections Podcast. His email address is [email protected].

[Michigan, Nevada and Ohio] will be critical to the parties’ path to power and provide windows into larger dynamics playing out in the 2024 elections.

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