Trump Expands Map; Clinton Team Swarms Battlegrounds
Buoyed by recent polling but still facing a perilously narrow path to victory, Donald Trump will broaden his gaze in the final week of the presidential campaign, expanding from the central battleground states to others currently favoring Hillary Clinton.
The strategy, his campaign says, seizes on shrinking polling margins in states like Michigan, New Mexico and Colorado, and comes on the heels of fresh questions about Clinton’s private email server and news that Obamacare premiums are poised to rise dramatically in many states next year.
"Michigan is up for grabs," Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, told CNN on Monday, a day when Trump made two stops there. The RealClearPolitics average shows Clinton leading in Michigan by 6.3 percentage points.
Clinton likewise maintains a solid polling advantage in Colorado and New Mexico, states that twice backed Barack Obama but where Trump has traveled in recent days. On Tuesday the Republican nominee will make a swing through Wisconsin, where a Republican presidential candidate has not prevailed since Ronald Reagan. In RCP’s average, Clinton leads there by nearly six points.
“We’re expanding the map,” said Boris Epshteyn, a senior adviser to Trump. Were the GOP nominee to successfully flip one or two of these more ambitious targets, it could afford him a greater margin for error elsewhere on Nov. 8.
Trump’s campaign has insisted it would transform Rust Belt states from Democratic strongholds to Republican turf — and he has made strides toward that goal by rallying white working-class voters in Ohio and Iowa, among others, to his candidacy. But Trump has also struggled to win over the white college-educated voters who have formed the GOP’s reliable base in past elections; meanwhile, his harsh rhetoric on immigration has alienated Hispanic voters and put in play Arizona and Georgia, where Mitt Romney won in 2012.
In a nod to a few red states in which Democrats think they are competitive this year (or aim to drive down voting for Trump), Clinton is expected to headline an event in Phoenix on Wednesday, followed by Kaine on Thursday. Her running mate is expected to give a rare stump speech entirely in Spanish while in Phoenix. In Tucson, the Virginia senator will urge voters to back the Democratic ticket during the final day of in-person early voting in the state. Arizona, which has not backed a Democrat since Bill Clinton won there in 1996, appears statistically tied at the moment between Clinton and Trump in four-way polling that includes third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.
Still, Clinton and top Democratic surrogates, including President Obama, are maintaining a focus on the key battlegrounds, sprinting in a frenetic loop through Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina during the final week of the campaign.
Clinton’s team has ample funding to zoom in and out of key states, run ads and follow a clear playbook aimed at capturing 270 electoral votes on Nov. 8. The strategy: first, encourage early voting and gin up enthusiasm for Clinton; second, work to refashion the winning Obama coalition consisting of minorities, women and young people; and, third, discourage fence-sitting voters from siding with Trump.
Battleground Ohio, where Trump in October has held a slight lead in the RCP average, was in Clinton’s GPS coordinates Monday, when she appeared in Kent and Cincinnati. Obama is expected in Columbus Tuesday.
The Sunshine State appeared neck-and-neck in polls at the start of the week, which explains why Floridians will see Hillary Clinton in Tampa, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, while Bill Clinton campaigns for his wife on the same day in Florida City (Miami-Dade County), Immokalee (Collier County), and St. Petersburg (Pinellas County). Vice President Biden will pitch in for Clinton in Tampa and West Palm Beach on Wednesday, while Obama will campaign for his former secretary of state in Miami and Jacksonville Thursday. Without a victory in Florida, Trump cannot win the White House.
Clinton on Monday held a three-point lead in North Carolina. Kaine visited Sanford and Jacksonville in the state on Monday. To help his former Senate colleague Clinton, Biden will be in Charlotte Tuesday; Obama will appeal to younger voters during an event at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Wednesday, and the president will be in Fayetteville and Charlotte on Friday. Clinton returns to the state on Thursday.
Kaine on Tuesday will appear in Appleton and Madison in Wisconsin, a state in which voters say they do not swoon for Clinton, but are nevertheless leaning toward the Democratic ticket.
On Wednesday, Kaine will make Iowa stops in Dubuque and Des Moines. Trump’s Iowa lead has been consistent since the summer, but it is narrow.
Obama, who enjoys a job approval rating of 53 percent in the RCP Average, has been aiming his appeal in particular at African Americans and millennials, and all who backed him overwhelmingly in 2008 and 2012. The president — who repeatedly assails Trump as unfit to be president and champions Clinton as the most experienced candidate in a generation — is expected to add campaign stops in the final few days of the election in locations where a few thousand votes could tip the scales for Clinton.
Her team of powerful surrogates, including the president and first lady Michelle Obama and popular Democratic Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, lend another distinct advantage over Trump, who relies solely on his running mate, Mike Pence, as an extension of his campaign. Clinton has also harnessed musical acts including Jay-Z and Katy Perry to stage get-out-the-vote concerts.
Trump’s advisers have shrugged off these efforts. “Their surrogates are representatives of the old, rigged system that America wants to change,” Epshteyn said.
But Trump has also taken a markedly different approach from Clinton overall, spending only a fraction of what the Democratic standard-bearer and her allies have on advertising, and forgoing a traditional ground operation. Instead, he has relied on Republican Party resources on the ground, and on his rallies and the media to amplify his campaign messages.
His expanded focus on blue-leaning states in the final stretch of the campaign, however, puts him in the same company as Romney, who took a similar tack in the last days of the 2012 election as he, too, faced a difficult electoral map outlook.
“We had internals showing a tighter race in Pennsylvania and Minnesota than some public polls, so we spent some time and resources in both of those locales during the closing weeks,” said Kevin Madden, a former senior adviser to Romney.
The pro-Romney Restore Our Future PAC also invested $1.8 million in ads in New Mexico and Minnesota during the home stretch of the 2012 election.
In addition to Wisconsin, Pennsylvania will also be on Trump’s radar Tuesday, where he and Pence will deliver remarks on Obamacare before returning to the more competitive states of Florida and North Carolina on Wednesday and Thursday. Trump’s travel itinerary beyond that has not yet been made public, although his campaign insists he will keep an intense schedule.
Said Epshteyn, “This is a candidate who has energy and stamina.”