Politico: Hillary Clinton’s Path To Victory
Originally posted at Politico by Shane Goldmacher and Annie Karni.
Hillary Clinton’s super PAC has begun spending $145 million on ads in eight states through November — and there’s a realistic path for her to win the White House even if she carries only one of them.
It’s a sign of how strongly tilted the Electoral College map is in Clinton’s favor, as she begins a general election campaign building upon the demographic and geographic coalition that President Barack Obama rode to two electoral landslides. Donald Trump, in contrast, must dramatically reimagine and redraw the political landscape to capture the presidency.
Rather than expand the 2012 map in any significant way, the Clinton campaign and its allies want to replicate it. They are obsessed with choking off Trump’s narrower path, hoping to strike a decisive victory in Florida (multiple Clinton officials declared there is nearly no path for Trump without it) while aggressively defending the Democratic-leaning states in the industrial Midwest that Trump has talked most about flipping — most importantly, Pennsylvania. Campaign officials say they think Clinton can turn out more female voters than Obama did. But they see one surrogate in particular as key to recreating the Obama coalition: Obama himself.
Clinton has a multitude of paths, as her allies and advisers see it. Trump has a single route: ginning up disaffected, non-college educated, working-class white voters — many whom may never have voted before — to sweep across the Rust Belt, in places like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio.
“I don’t think he has anything outside a Rust Belt theory,” said a Democratic strategist with close ties to the Clinton campaign. Clinton allies also note that Trump is an “organization-lite” candidate who is driven by message, but, they argue, that is a risky strategy for getting out people who typically don’t vote.
Clinton’s top campaign officials note there are 19 states that have voted Democratic in each of the past six presidential elections that account for a total of 242 electoral-college votes. Add New Mexico, whose population is 40 percent Latino and which has gone Democratic in five of the past six contests, and that is 247 of the 270 votes needed to get to the White House.
“It’s a massive, massive electoral advantage,” said Mitch Stewart, who served as battleground-states director for Obama in 2012 and who estimated that Republicans begin 2016 with closer to 191 mostly safe electoral votes. “Even if you take out Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, it’s basically like a Florida head start.”
Collectively, the solid Democratic states since 1992 have become known as the “blue wall,” and if Clinton wins them and adds only Florida and its 29 electoral votes among the traditional battlegrounds, it’s enough to become president.
That means Clinton could conceivably win the White House while losing Ohio (18 electoral votes), Colorado (9), Virginia (13), Nevada (6), New Hampshire (4), North Carolina (15) and Iowa (6) — all states that Obama carried twice, besides North Carolina, which he won only in 2008. Those are the seven states, along with Florida, in which Clinton’s super PAC is advertising. And with Trump’s heated rhetoric about Hispanics, Democrats see their support consolidating in fast-growing and increasingly Latino Western states such as Nevada and Colorado.
“What remains true today, like it did in 2008 and 2012, is that we have many more pathways to get to 270 than Donald Trump,” said a Clinton campaign official.
The urgent task for Trump, then, is to bust up the blue wall. So far, his campaign has signaled it is focused on most seriously contesting three of its states: Michigan (16 electoral votes), Pennsylvania (20) and Wisconsin (10).
In Trump’s defense, the notion of a “blue wall” is more a historical artifact than a predictive map, and the idea that parts of it could crumble is not nearly as far-fetched as many Democrats would like to believe.
Pennsylvania, for instance, was the sixth-closest state in 2012, with Obama winning by 5.4 percent — a smaller margin than in so-called battlegrounds like New Hampshire, Iowa and Nevada. And unlike other states with booming Latino populations that are becoming more Democratic, the Cook Political Report recently calculated that Pennsylvania has been trending Republican, driven by western Pennsylvania’s conservative tilt.
Notably, Trump and Clinton campaigned in the Pittsburgh area last week during their first campaign swings since the former secretary of state became the presumptive Democratic nominee.
Even as Trump pushes to steal back some recent “blue” states, he is stuck protecting his flank — Republican states that Clinton could hope to peel off through a combination of the presumptive GOP nominee’s incendiary anti-Latino rhetoric and demographic shifts. The first is North Carolina, which Obama won in 2008 and which was the second-closest state in 2012. In a bad sign for Trump, Clinton’s super PAC announced a $9 million TV buy there on Friday, slated to run through Election Day. The other states Clinton could hope to steal are Arizona and Georgia.
Trump will campaign in all three of those states during the nine-day swing state tour he began Friday. (Trump has also flirted with completely ignoring the traditional political map, wanting to compete in New York, for instance, even hiring pollster John McLaughlin to survey a state that gave Obama his fourth-biggest margin of victory in the country in 2012.)
Among the traditional battlegrounds, the swing state that Democrats believe leans most in Clinton’s direction is Colorado, which strategists say offers a toxic demographic mix for Trump.
“Colorado has an influx of young people, a growing Latino population and a highly educated population — all of which are brutal for Trump,” said Craig Hughes, a senior adviser for Obama’s two campaigns there. “Colorado got tipping-point status in 2008 and 2012, but in 2016 it leans more left.”
The battleground state Clinton allies most fear falling into GOP hands seems to be Ohio. Obama, the thinking goes, more or less maxed out the African-American vote there. Mitt Romney’s opposition to the auto bailout drove down his numbers among working-class whites. And Trump has unique appeal to those voters, while Clinton has less room to grow in a state Obama carried by less than 3 percent in 2012.
“Ohio will be the most challenging,” Stewart predicted.
Clinton’s flash points of concern are her inability during the primary to energize millennial voters — even young women — who flocked to Bernie Sanders. “The only scenario to lose is Trump consolidates the Republican base, Sanders people and young people don’t come out to vote, and [Trump] overperforms among white voters in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa and New Hampshire — all disproportionately white,” said one veteran Democratic strategist with ties to the Clintons.
The Clinton campaign recognizes her weakness among working-class whites, particularly men. There is little expectation of winning them over, but Clinton’s team does want to limit her losses. “She could fare worse with white men than Obama and still win,” said a senior Clinton adviser.
A big question is just how large a share of the white vote Trump can garner. Romney carried 59 percent four years ago — the highest since Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. His performance with white men was even more commanding; Romney won 62 percent of that group. He still lost.
Clinton and her allies are hoping to cut into Trump’s numbers among white voters by appealing to those with college degrees, women in particular. The first television ad from her super PAC was a compilation of Trump’s controversial comments about women; the second featured a couple (from Ohio) taking offense at Trump mocking people with disabilities. Both appeared calibrated to woo suburban women.
Trump’s demographic challenge is that he needs to make significant gains among working-class whites, without hemorrhaging much support among college-educated white voters and minorities whose numbers are growing in many key battlegrounds, such as Florida, Colorado, Virginia and Nevada.
Virginia, for instance, had gone Republican in 10 straight elections, until 2008, when the diverse suburbs of Washington, D.C., and the bedroom communities of Loudoun County provided a Democratic counterweight to the conservative southwestern part of the state.
“The fastest-growing segments of [the country’s] population are nonwhites, and Trump has literally alienated all of them,” Stewart said.
That’s certainly true in Florida, which is expected to be the largest battleground state and the one to which Clinton’s campaign will devote the most resources. The Cuban population in South Florida has historically voted Republican but has been moving to the left, and Democrats say there are early indications the Cuban vote is falling apart for Trump. Trump’s goal: Offset those losses by increasing turnout among white, non-college-educated voters.
Clinton already has a 12-person senior staff on the ground in Florida, with office openings beyond the Tampa headquarters planned in coming weeks. Staff there, one senior campaign official said, could balloon past the 600 people Obama deployed in a push for a knockout punch.
“If the Republicans don’t win Florida,” a senior Clinton campaign official said, “they probably have no path to win.”
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