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Political analyst Charlie Cook predicts Biden-Trump rematch, but says both parties would benefit from a new nominee

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Political analyst Charlie Cook predicts Biden-Trump rematch, but says both parties would benefit from a new nominee

Nov 29, 2023 | 10:41 pm ET
By Robin Opsahl
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Political analyst Charlie Cook predicts Biden-Trump rematch, but says both parties would benefit from a new nominee
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Charlie Cook, founder of Cook Political Report, spoke about the 2024 election season at Drake University in Des Moines Nov. 29, 2023. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Political analyst Charlie Cook told Iowans at Drake University that he believes the country will be seeing a 2020 rematch in the 2024 presidential general election between President Joe Biden former President Donald Trump.

But he said both parties may be better off if they found a different nominee. Cook, the founder and former editor-in-chief at the Cook Political Report, spoke about his perspective on the 2024 primary and general election at an annual event hosted by the Harkin Institute, where he serves as a National Advisory Council member.

As the 2024 Republican presidential nomination approaches, presidential hopefuls are spending significant time on the campaign trail. Candidates including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy are barnstorming Iowa in hopes of pulling an upset against Trump. The former president holds double-digit poll leads  nationally and in early states.

While there are “talented people” seeking the nomination, Cook said he does not believe the race for the Republican ticket is competitive. There has been some rallying behind Trump alternatives among some influential Republicans in early state – with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Family Leader president and CEO Bob Vander Plaats endorsing DeSantis and the Koch Network endorsing Haley.

Cook said he understands why some influential conservatives are endorsing candidates who may better align with their political goals. But he said he does not believe these endorsements – or the move to consolidate a “Never Trump” vote at this point will make a significant dent in the former president’s lead.

“The Trump people – I mean, those people are all in, and if they’re not showing up to caucus it means they’re either dead or nonambulatory,” he said. “I mean, they are committed. And the Republicans that aren’t of the Trump variety, some of them are riled up, but a lot of them are more just kind of down and pulled back, and they’re not participating.”

He said although national polls do not necessarily offer a realistic view on an electoral college outcome, Trump’s position as a former president and popularity within the party gives him a clear edge over competitors. But he also said Trump is running a more traditional campaign than in previous election cycles.

“In 2016, I think Trump’s campaign was probably better than we all thought it was,” Cook said. “But they were still really, really lucky. It caught a lot of breaks. But I’ll tell you, this campaign this time, it is a heck of a lot better than it ever was in 2016 and 2020.”

Trump’s luck in 2016 came from facing off against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Cook said, saying that voters’ distaste for Clinton had a bigger impact on the election than support for Trump. A similar situation happened in 2020, he said – the election was more about resistance to Trump than it was enthusiasm for Biden.

But polls show Biden faces problems with crucial voters in swing states, as well as with independents, Cook said. He cited a recent New York Times/Siena Poll from battleground states that found Trump led Biden in five of six states that Biden narrowly won in the last presidential election.

While Cook said he liked Biden as a person, he believed the party would be more likely to win in 2024 if they chose a different nominee. There were scattered claps in the auditorium when he called for Biden to step aside and let the party nominate a more “formidable” competitor to take on Trump.

“We just take Joe or Jane, any generic current or recent Democratic governor or senator and stick them in the nominee against Trump – specifically against Trump – that person would win,” he said. “I mean, even with all the other problems that Democrats have, that person would win because that race would be about Trump.”

Cook Political Report’s current ratings show that 235 electoral college votes are currently leaning, likely or solidly Republican, while 247 votes are predicted to go to Democrats. Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin make up the 35 “toss-up” votes ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

When asked about a potential third-party candidate, Cook said he believed that another person entering the race would likely hurt Biden, as well as other Democrats, more than it would impact Trump. Many of the moderates and independents who supported Biden in 2020 because they wanted Trump out of office are also not satisfied with Biden, he said.

“A fairly substantial group of these people, they’re not really excited about voting for Joe Biden, they’re not,” he said. “But if there are like two names on the ballot, most of them are going to hold their noses if they have to, they’re going to go with Biden. But if you give them an exit ramp, if you give them another option – if it’s even remotely attractive, enough of them will take it.”