Trump and Biden's Wild West showdown
High Noon. The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Fievel Goes West. Insert your favorite Western movie metaphor. Regardless of whether Donald Trump is a former marshall about to leave town with his new bride, an alcoholic Southern dentist on bad terms with local gangsters, or a whiny mouse from Russia by way of New York, he and Joe Biden are in for a showdown in Arizona, according to recent polls, which show the latter with an average lead of about five points.
This is not great for the president. Arizona is a state that Trump won by three and a half points in 2016, one in which (unlike Michigan or Wisconsin, for example) he had been consistently ahead in the polls leading up to his victory. It is arguably the best argument yet against the possibility that he will be able to defy the expectations of most pundits yet again and win re-election. If his campaign's recent decision to cancel a planned advertising offensive is any indication, this old gunslinger does not expect to come out on top of (depending upon which analogy you settled on above) Frank Miller/the Cowboy Gang/an evil cat voiced by John Cleese.
Can Trump afford to drop Arizona, though? The answer is yes, but what states will he need to hold on to in order to sustain the loss? Some combination of the following: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Losing only Arizona and Wisconsin would still give him a comfortable lead of 33 electoral votes; the addition of either Pennsylvania or Florida would put Biden on top. Meanwhile, Trump coming up short in Michigan and Wisconsin in addition to Arizona but holding Pennsylvania and Florida is one of a surprising number of at least conceivable scenarios that would result in a 269-269 tie, a pundit's dream.
How likely are any of these scenarios? In Wisconsin, the polls show Biden with a very similar lead to the one Hillary Clinton had at this point four years ago, around 7 percent. But as others have pointed out, Wisconsin tends to track closely in presidential elections with Minnesota, where Biden's lead would appear to be (barring an embarrassing failure by reliable pollsters) insurmountable. So Trump falling there is a definite possibility.
What about Michigan? Here Biden is very slightly trailing Clinton's 2016 advantage, which at this stage in the race was about 5 percent. One clue that suggests just how close the race has gotten is the fact that the Republican Senate candidate, the businessman John James, is within four points of Gary Peters, the incumbent Democrat. This is surprisingly close, especially in a state in which split-ticket voting for Republican presidential candidates and moderate Democratic legislators has been fairly common in the past. James' showing against Peters should be considered a kind of floor for Trump, who is still likely to have some supporters willing to back the incumbent. Like last time, Michigan is likely to be a near-run thing. But I'd give Trump the benefit of the doubt in the Wolverine State.
That's two down. Last time in Pennsylvania, Clinton enjoyed a comfortable eight-point lead until well into October. Today the race there appears to be much closer than many believed it was four years ago, with Biden ahead by about what he is in Michigan. If Trump loses Pennsylvania in addition to Wisconsin, the shy Tories of Michigan and Florida (where he appeared to have a narrow last-minute lead in 2016) will be of no avail.
That is, of course, unless Arizona holds, in which case he can lose both Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and still eke out a victory. Time to saddle up, Don.