Less than a week out from Election Day and President Donald Trump is playing catch-up. In 2016, he won 30 states (and Maine's 2nd Congressional District) and their 306 electoral votes. Today, just 20 states, worth 125 electoral votes, are safely in his column. Former Vice President Joe Biden is holding 24 states worth 290 electoral votes in his column.
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To win the election, Trump will need to win every state we currently have in the Toss Up column: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Iowa, Ohio, Maine's 2nd CD, as well as the newest addition, Texas. Even then, Trump would be 22 electoral votes short of 270. He would need to win at least two of the seven states currently sitting in Lean Democrat: Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada and New Hampshire. Trump carried all but Minnesota, Nevada and New Hampshire in 2016.
At this point, Ohio and Maine's 2nd District are probably the most promising for Trump, followed by Texas and Iowa. If he were to win all of those, he'd be at 188 electoral votes, still 82 votes shy of 270. Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina are pure Toss Ups with Biden ahead by anywhere from 1 to 2 points in those states.
Even if Trump were to win all of those states, he'd then need to move into the Lean Democratic territory where Arizona, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania offer the best opportunities. If you just looked at polling averages, Arizona would be the best opportunity for Trump. Biden has a small — but steady — 3 point lead. Even so, given Trump's unpopularity among suburban voters, it's hard to see how he makes up needed ground in Maricopa (Phoenix).
In Wisconsin, a huge spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations has led state health officials to plead with residents to leave home only when absolutely necessary. That COVID is the dominating issue in these final days of the campaign is a problem for the president. Charles Franklin, the Marquette University Law School poll director, told the AP recently that "approval of his handling of COVID is the next-strongest predictor of vote choice, behind voters' party affiliation and their overall approval of Trump's performance as president." In the most recent Marquette poll in early October Trump had an anemic 41 percent approval rating on his handling of the virus.
Picking up Arizona and its 11 electoral votes would get Trump to 259 electoral votes, 11 shy of 270. Picking up Wisconsin (10 EV) or Minnesota, where the Trump campaign is spending time and effort (10 EV), would leave both candidates stuck at 269.
This is where Pennsylvania becomes even more critical.
In Pennsylvania, the conventional wisdom, as well as the Trump campaign, see a tightening race. The FiveThirtyEight polling average puts Biden ahead by 5 points. But, congressional district polling paints a different — and more difficult — picture for the president. These polls find Biden expanding Clinton's margins in suburban Philadelphia, but also find Trump failing to put up the same kind of numbers he did in 2016 in central, western and northeastern Pennsylvania.
But, while Trump has a narrow path to 270, Biden is looking at several different pathways to 270. Biden can afford to lose states in Toss Up like Georgia, North Carolina or Iowa and still have plenty of different options to get to an electoral college victory. Of course, all three are hosting competitive Senate races that could tip the balance of power in the upper chamber. Notably, Biden is spending the final week of the campaign traveling to Iowa and Georgia.
Texas is a state that Biden doesn't need to win, but it is clear that it's more competitive than ever. Texas' shift from Lean Republican to Toss Up shouldn't come as a surprise. Recent polling in the state — both public and private - shows a 2-4 point race. That's pretty much in line with the hotly contested 2018 Senate race in the state where Sen. Ted Cruz narrowly defeated Rep. Beto O'Rourke 51 percent to 48 percent.
A huge surge in early vote (as of October 26th, almost half of Texas' registered voters had already cast a ballot) suggests that we could see record turnout in a state that has added many new residents since 2016. That also adds a level of uncertainty to the equation.
Statewide and district level polling show Biden running strong in and around metro suburban parts of the state, but underperforming with Latino voters. In his analysis of the New York Times/Siena poll (10/20-25) of the state, the New York Times' Nate Cohn writes that "Biden has a lead of only 57 percent to 34 percent among that group, somewhat beneath most estimates of Mrs. Clinton's support among Hispanic voters four years ago. The finding broadly tracks with national surveys, which have shown Mr. Trump improving among Hispanic voters compared with his 2016 standing. Similarly, Hispanic voters in the Times/Siena poll say they backed Mrs. Clinton by a margin of 60 percent to 29 percent."
But, it's also the case that we don't have a whole lot of experience with Texas as a battleground state. Neither do national pollsters. In an analysis of polling errors in 2016 and 2018, my colleague David Wasserman wrote this week that polls in the Southwest "undershot Democrats' final margin in 17 of 19 cases, including by an average of 1.4 points in 2016 and 4.2 points in 2018."
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