DES MOINES, Iowa – The numbers are stark for Donald Trump. Down in Colorado, Virginia and North Carolina.
Hillary Clinton is starting to spend a little money in Georgia and Arizona, states that any Republican running for president ought to be able to count on.
The road to 270 electoral votes – the threshold to clinch the presidency – increasingly looks to be a series of uphill climbs and dead ends for Trump in the usual collection of most competitive states.
The GOP nominee needs a place to reset the electoral map, and stops this past week in Michigan and Pennsylvania suggest he’s looking at the industrial heartland states on the Great Lakes. It’s a part of the country where he has said he can compete with Democrat Hillary Clinton.
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Trump will find the going there no easier than anywhere else.
“Trump has to start making some moves,” said Stephan Thompson, a senior adviser to Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis. “We need to see a positive week out of him to create a positive trajectory. You’re not seeing that anywhere, whether it’s in Wisconsin, Ohio or elsewhere.”
With three months to go until the Nov. 8 vote, the map for Trump is foreboding.
Early voting will not begin until next month, giving people ample opportunity to change their minds. But Clinton has a clear advantage in national and state preference polls at a critical moment in the campaign – after the conventions and as voters start paying serious attention to the race.
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If Clinton claims states such as Colorado, Virginia and North Carolina, where recent polls suggest she has a significant lead, Trump would need to win most of the states bordering one of the Great Lakes to have any chance at reaching 270.
That’s provided he wins in Florida. A loss there, and he’ll need to sweep all but Illinois and New York, states firmly in Clinton’s column.
Right now, Trump doesn’t have a lead in any of the states where he will need to win and where recent polling exists, and in several states, he’s significantly behind Clinton.
Trump in running against history, too.
While Ohio has tipped back and forth in recent decades, a Republican presidential nominee has not carried Wisconsin since 1984, and Pennsylvania or Michigan since 1988. It was in Michigan where Trump delivered his indictment this past week of trade measures enacted under recent Democratic presidents, especially the North American Free Trade Agreement.
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“Every policy that has failed this city and so many others is a policy supported by Hillary Clinton,” Trump told the Detroit Economic Club. “Trade deals like NAFTA, signed by her husband, that have shipped your jobs to Mexico and other countries.”
Clinton is quietly banking that voters once angry about NAFTA have accepted it or have retired since the pact was enacted two decades ago. She opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an Asian trade agreement she backed as secretary of state, but said at her own Michigan event this past week that “the answer is not to rant and rave and cut ourselves off from the world.”
Paul Maslin, a Democratic pollster in Wisconsin, said, “People have moved beyond trade, and fixing some old problem. They actually look for and respond more to future plans.”
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Trump angered suburban Milwaukee’s Republicans in April when he sharply criticized Walker before losing the presidential primary. Last month, Trump toyed with not endorsing House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., before the state’s Aug. 9 primary, when Ryan walloped a little-known challenger.
“In Wisconsin, Trump’s negatives are deeper and fresher,” said Republican pollster Ed Goeas. An independent poll released this past week by Marquette University found Trump down 15 percentage points among likely voters in the state.
Though Clinton’s team isn’t advertising on television in either Michigan or Wisconsin, she is hardly ignoring the states. The campaign has staff in both, and Clinton’s running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, was in Milwaukee this month.
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Clinton followed Trump to Michigan this past week, making a stop in the Detroit area that was more tactically precise than the billionaire’s speech to the city’s well-heeled business leaders. She spoke in Warren, the heart of working-class Macomb County, northeast of Detroit, at a former auto parts manufacturing plant now being used to make military aircraft equipment.
“The door is closing fast,” said Michigan Democratic strategist Amy Chapman, President Barack Obama’s senior Michigan adviser in his 2008 and 2012 campaigns. “If the numbers look like this in a month, I’ll feel better.”
Trump was playing to a wider industrial audience during his economic address in Detroit, promoting “American steel” and “energy mined from American sources” – obvious signals to nearby Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Winning there will require motivating an overwhelming number of white, working-class voters in places such as western and central Pennsylvania and southeastern Ohio. And overcoming his current gap with Clinton. While polls show Clinton with an edge in Ohio, they peg her with an outright lead in Pennsylvania.
Ray Zaborney, a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania-based GOP campaign operative who advises most of the state’s Republican legislative candidates, said Trump is doing the right things in Pennsylvania, adding staff and making smart travel decisions. Still, he said, Trump “has got to find his groove and stay on his message.”
“It’s on his shoulders to turn it in the right direction,” Zaborney said.