The battle to get to 270 electoral votes will be largely determined here.
Five critical swing states
After the Democratic and Republican national conventions wrapped up in August, Hillary Clinton opened a comfortable lead in the polls of 6 to 8 percent. Pundits were predicting that the former secretary of state would beat Donald Trump in a landslide.
Two months later, the landscape changed. Polls tightened, especially in key battlegrounds where Trump and Clinton are fighting for the lead. Now Clinton has regained a significant lead, but unpredictable events could change the race again. Here’s a look at the five most important swing states, which will be crucial to winning the White House in November.
With 29 electoral votes up for grabs, Florida is perhaps the most important battleground in this election. The conventions gave Clinton a decent bump here, but in mid-September—amid the news reports about her pneumonia diagnosis and the Clinton Foundation’s potential conflicts of interest—Trump erased that lead. But after the first debate, and a week of unremittingly bad news for Trump, Clinton has surged back into a 2.8-point lead in the RealClearPolitics.com aggregation of multiple polls. A new Newsweek story reporting that Trump may have violated the U.S. embargo against Castro’s Cuba by trying to do business there in the 1990s might hurt him with a crucial voting bloc— anti-Castro Cubans in Miami. President Barack Obama barely beat Mitt Romney in the state in 2012, eking out a victory by 0.9 percent. What makes Florida, a state with a Republican governor and a GOP-led legislature, so competitive? The state has roughly the same numbers of registered Republicans (4,459,087) and Democrats (4,733,359). Another 3.3 million voters remain independent of any party affiliation. Clinton is hoping to win big among the state’s large Hispanic population, and is reportedly spending 50 times more money on television ads than her GOP rival. If she wins Florida, Trump’s path to 270 electoral votes becomes extremely narrow.
Ohio is a critical state for Trump. Ohio’s manufacturing sector has been hit hard by both the forces of economic globalization and the 2008 financial crisis, making the state an important test for whether the Republican’s vow to bring back lost jobs from abroad will resonate with the electorate—especially white, working-class voters. Trump is campaigning heavily in the state, making nine stops here in the past month. No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio, which has 18 electoral votes and has backed the winner in 28 of the last 30 elections. Clinton, on the other hand, is hoping to keep President Obama’s winning streak in the last two elections here going. With polls showing Trump opening a lead of four or more points, her campaign is now saying she doesn’t need Ohio to get to 270 electoral votes. Clinton hasn’t given up on the state, campaigning there this week and sending her husband, Bill, to appeal to working-class voters.
The past six years saw the Tar Heel State turn from purple to bright red as voters installed Republican majorities in the state legislature, elected Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, chose Romney over Obama, and ousted Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan. But the consolidation of power led to HB2, one of the more controversial bills to come out of a statehouse in recent years. The so-called bathroom bill has upended North Carolina politics, as the fallout from the legislation has caused a number of organizations to boycott the state. The recent protests and rioting after the police shooting of a black man in Charlotte have deepened divisions. Young, collegeeducated voters and older, evangelical voters are now engaged in a furious battle over North Carolina’s future. Clinton, who hopes to inspire a big turnout by African-Americans and young liberals, has heavily invested in her ground game here, and is operating more than 30 campaign offices. Trump recently opened a campaign office in the state and plans to air ads here. RealClearPolitics.com shows the race essentially tied.
Clinton almost certainly has to win Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral votes to reach the White House. For months, she had a double-digit lead in the state, but in the RealClearPolitics.com average, it’s dwindled to just 3.5 points. Her campaign is spending close to $19 million on television ads here in the last several weeks of the election (Trump is spending $1.5 million), while both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have been dispatched to fire up Democratic supporters. The eastern part of the Keystone State is especially voter-rich for Clinton, who chose to deliver a speech appealing to Millennials from Philadelphia—a city where Obama won 85 percent of the vote in 2012. The state’s big urban centers, with their large percentage of black voters, lean heavily Democratic, but Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-trade, pro-coal platform appeals to the mostly white, rural parts of the state between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Obama comfortably won Nevada in 2008 and 2012, but this year’s race for the six electoral votes of the westernmost swing state is shaping up to be much closer. Despite a large and growing Hispanic population, Trump has been polling well in the Silver State, which was hit hard by job losses and foreclosures in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The slower recovery and the low number of college graduates—fewer than a quarter of Nevadans have bachelor’s degrees—play to Trump’s strengths this election cycle. His populist message has been well received in a state that has an unemployment rate of 6.3 percent—1.4 percent above the national average. Polls have seesawed in recent weeks, but this week showed Clinton with a slight lead. Clinton is counting on the fact that there are about 107,000 more registered Democrats than registered Republicans in Nevada. And she has the backing of the powerful state party machine built by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.