Presidential Campaign

Trump’s Electoral College path difficult, but not impossible

Greg Nash

Will Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton ride her current polling lead to the White House? Or, can GOP nominee Donald Trump still win?

The answer will be determined by events and, ultimately, the arithmetic of the Electoral College, that vintage institution created by the Constitution to elect presidents.

{mosads}National polls, we should be reminded, measure popular votes and reveal broad trends, but don’t tell us much about state electoral votes — the building blocks of a winning presidential campaign. Remember when Vice President Al Gore won the popular vote nationwide, but lost the electoral vote?

To understand the state of play, we have to look at the possible paths to victory each candidate has, and that means focusing on swing states that will draw the most campaign activity.

In 2012, President Obama won 26 states, plus the District of Columbia, for a total of 332 electoral votes, which exceeded the 270 needed to win. That year’s Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, won 24 states for 206 Electoral College votes.

For Trump to reach 270, he must lock down every Romney state and concentrate on turning enough blue states red to add 64 electoral votes to Romney’s base of 206.

Trump’s first target is Florida, a state Obama carried four years ago by only 1 percentage point. While the Sunshine State has voted Democratic in three of the last five presidential elections, its 29 electoral votes are a must-win for Trump. He has no realistic path without them.

Up next is Ohio, with 18 electoral votes, a state won by Obama last time by only 3 points. Since 2000, Ohio voted Democratic twice and Republican twice, siding with the national winner every time. No Republican has ever won the presidency without Ohio. And, it’s unlikely that Trump will be the first.

Trump’s third target is Pennsylvania, a state Obama won by 5 points in 2012. Always seen as an opportunity for the GOP ticket, Pennsylvania usually swings to Democrats in the end — at least in every election since 1992. But Trump is hoping his appeal to blue-collar voters will change that, and win for him its big basket of 20 electoral votes.

If Trump wins Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania on top of all 24 Romney states, he’d capture the presidency with 273 electoral votes. But recent polls show Clinton ahead by a sizable margin in Pennsylvania and narrower margins in Ohio and in Florida. That means Trump may need an alternate route.

Enter Virginia, with 13 electoral votes. It’s a state Obama carried twice, although by only 4 points in 2012. A Southern state geographically, Virginia is politically a combination of New Jersey and South Carolina, with the New Jersey part getting bigger. It’s also the home state of Clinton’s running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine. Recent polling puts the Democratic ticket well ahead.

After Virginia, Trump will need to look for life rafts in Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Wisconsin with their total of 35 electoral votes — states Obama carried by modest margins in 2012. Iowa and Nevada now seem to be Trump’s best bets.

Even if Trump wins all the Romney states plus Florida, Ohio, Iowa and Nevada, he would still be five electoral votes short. That means he’d also need either Colorado or Wisconsin, a very heavy lift.

Another state on Trump’s wish list is Michigan, with 16 electoral votes. But Michigan is tough territory for a Republican to conquer, even with a populist trade message. It has voted Democratic in the last six presidential elections and Obama won it by 10 points against Romney, who was born in Detroit. A recent poll has Trump down by a similar margin.

While Trump’s path to an electoral vote majority isn’t impossible, it’s clearly difficult.

Clinton’s path is simpler: Win most of the Obama states. She can even afford to lose Florida, Ohio and Virginia — the three states Obama won by his smallest margins in 2012 — as long as she holds the rest of his 272 electoral votes.

As cushion, Clinton will try to nab a few Romney states such as North Carolina, Arizona and Georgia. Combined, these states have 42 electoral votes and polls show Clinton has a chance in all three. Trump’s campaign is forced to play defense. He cannot afford to lose any of them.

So, who wins?

At this point, Clinton tops national polls and appears to have a clearer path toward a majority of electoral votes. But, one never knows what unexpected event could reset these numbers — especially in a year when unexpected events happen all the time.

An author and political analyst, Faucheux runs Clarus Research Group, a nonpartisan polling firm based in Washington. He also publishes LunchtimePolitics.com, a daily newsletter on polls.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags Al Gore Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Tim Kaine

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