Pence: Trump sees Florida, Minnesota, Arizona as keys to 270

Pence: Trump sees Florida, Minnesota, Arizona as keys to 270
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says voters should choose who nominates Supreme Court justice Trump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Pelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act MORE’s campaign is focused on winning in Florida and Arizona to create a path to 270 electoral votes and four more years in office, Vice President Pence told The Hill in an exclusive interview aboard Air Force Two.

Pence, in the midst of a cross-country trip aimed at bolstering Trump and the Senate GOP ahead of Election Day, said those two states and Minnesota, which hasn’t voted for a GOP presidential candidate since 1972, are all top Trump targets.

“Florida’s of great importance. Arizona’s of great importance. We’re going to make sure we continue to campaign in those states,” Pence told The Hill when asked about “must-win” states for Trump.

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“We’re actually looking at expanding the map now. I’ve been campaigning in Minnesota. So has the president,” Pence said, noting that six small-city Democratic mayors in the state have endorsed Trump. “We think Minnesota is in play.”

Pence, who was adamant that enthusiasm for Trump’s campaign is even greater than four years ago, also mentioned North Carolina as a state where the campaign will be focused.

Without winning Florida’s 29 electoral votes or expanding the map by winning a state won by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Memo: Trump furor stokes fears of unrest Bloomberg rolls out M ad buy to boost Biden in Florida Hillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close MORE in 2016, the Trump-Pence ticket would likely have to sweep Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona and North Carolina to get to 270 electoral votes.

But with a win in Florida, Trump has a couple different paths to get to 270. With wins in Florida and North Carolina, where polls show razor-close races, Trump could afford a loss in Arizona and get to 270 with wins in two of the three states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

If Trump were to win Minnesota, it would provide a cushion should he lose one or more states he carried in 2016. But two polls conducted last week show Biden leading by 9 percentage points in the state.

Trump is trailing Biden in most of these states, but Pence oozed confidence in the interview, saying he saw strong evidence of support on the ground in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

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He sat down with The Hill after a two-state campaign swing on Monday to Wisconsin and Montana, and discussed his outlook on the elections, how he’s preparing for his debate with Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisPelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act What Kamala Harris' VP nomination means to us Harris slams Trump's Supreme Court pick as an attempt to 'destroy the Affordable Care Act' MORE (D-Calif.) and the administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump and Biden will debate for the first time on Sept. 29, while Pence will debate Harris on Oct. 7. Some Democrats are salivating over the idea of the Harris-Pence debate, but the vice president suggested he was taking things in stride.

“I don’t think I’m preparing any differently,” Pence told The Hill. “Certainly, I see ... a vice presidential debate as an opportunity to draw a contrast between the president and Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says voters should choose who nominates Supreme Court justice Trump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Joe Biden should enact critical government reforms if he wins MORE. And I know the president’s record. I’ve been there every step of the way.”

“She is certainly an experienced debater,” Pence said of Harris. “So we’re preparing in the same way we prepared the last time.”

After a hiatus during the early months of the pandemic, the vice president has maintained a rigorous travel schedule. After the trips to Wisconsin and Montana on Monday, he will be in Ohio on Wednesday and Arizona on Friday.

Trump won Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by a combined 80,000 votes in 2016. He narrowly won Arizona, a state that has since elected a Democratic senator.

The campaign has lavished attention on Wisconsin, but multiple polls released this month show Trump failing to crack 44 percent support in the state. Similarly, Biden holds a 4-point advantage in a RealClearPolitics average of polls in both Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Pence argued that Democrats have struggled to lay out a substantive policy agenda. Instead, the party’s convention last month focused more on attacking Trump and chastising the country, Pence said. He also tied Biden to the left wing of the Democratic Party.

“And give [Sen.] Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Sanders tells Maher 'there will be a number of plans' to remove Trump if he loses Sirota reacts to report of harassment, doxing by Harris supporters MORE [I-Vt.] some credit. In his speech, he was the one that said many ideas that were considered radical just a few short years ago are now considered mainstream in the Democratic Party,” Pence said. “And again, I give Bernie credit for being forthright about that.”

Pence leads the White House task force on the coronavirus, the issue looming over the presidential race. COVID-19 has killed nearly 200,000 people in the U.S. and infected millions of Americans. The Trump administration’s response has been a sticking point for many voters who give the president poor marks on how he has handled the crisis.

In campaign speeches, Pence lauds the government’s efforts to ramp up testing, supply ventilators and personal protective equipment and quickly develop vaccines and therapeutics.

Critics have seized on the president’s dismissive tone about the virus in February and March and argued that the White House was slow to scale up testing and production of masks, gloves and other materials.

The administration faces yet another challenge in the run-up to Election Day, as public health officials have warned the confluence of flu season with the ongoing pandemic could be especially difficult.

Pence said the government is preparing for the likely surge by continuing to expand the availability of tests that give rapid results and adding ventilators and protective gear to the national stockpile. The administration will also be encouraging Americans to get a flu vaccine to guard against the seasonal virus, he added.

The vice president echoed the president’s optimism that millions of doses of a COVID-19 vaccine will be widely available by year’s end. Some Democrats have called into question the safety of an FDA-approved vaccine from the Trump administration, worrying that the president is exerting political pressure to expedite its approval by Election Day.

Pence said he “wouldn’t hesitate” to take a vaccine that has been FDA approved. The Department of Health and Human Services will be working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to plan for vaccine distribution and prioritization, and first responders, health workers and those most vulnerable to COVID-19 will likely get the first doses.

“So we’ll deploy the resources, but the very moment that it’s appropriate for somebody in my category to get a vaccine, you better believe it,” Pence said. “I, and my family, wouldn’t hesitate.”