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Trump hits road in scramble to shore up support from 2016

President TrumpDonald John TrumpMore than 300 military family members endorse Biden Five takeaways from the final Trump-Biden debate Biden: 'I would transition from the oil industry' MORE’s campaign is making a late push to shore up support with the swing voters who broke his way in states he won in 2016, underscoring the degree to which Trump is on defense as the clock ticks down to Election Day.

Trump this week will visit Georgia and Iowa, both states he won easily against Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFive takeaways from the final Trump-Biden debate Trump, Biden tangle over Wall Street ties, fundraising The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden face off for last time on the debate stage MORE in 2016. Trump carried Iowa by 9 points in 2016 and Democrats believe the traditionally red state of Georgia could be at a tipping point.

Florida was always headed for a photo finish, but Trump’s weakness with seniors could be big trouble for his campaign, which this week launched a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign aimed at older voters.

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The president has visited Pennsylvania and plans to stop in Wisconsin, where the polls are dire for Trump. Biden is pulling away in both states, as Trump underperforms among the independents and white voters that powered his shocking 2016 election victories in the former “blue wall” states. At a rally Tuesday in Johnstown, Pa., Trump bluntly called for the support of suburban women, who have abandoned the GOP in droves over the past two years.

The sum total of Trump’s travel schedule reveals the extent to which the president is scrambling to recreate his 2016 coalition with less than three weeks to go before Nov. 3.

“In 2018, we first saw the exodus of suburban women from the Republican Party and Trump’s messaging since then has only served to drive the wedge deeper,” said Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray. “Trump has lost some seniors too, who have moved to be more Democratic leaning in a way we haven’t seen before. What Trump can do now is focus on getting his base numbers up and try to keep Democratic-leaning voters home by making Joe BidenJoe BidenMore than 300 military family members endorse Biden Five takeaways from the final Trump-Biden debate Biden: 'I would transition from the oil industry' MORE unacceptable, which is why we’re seeing him travel to places like Iowa and Georgia.”

Part of the reason Trump is on defense in so many states is because he effectively ran the table in the contested battlegrounds from 2016, giving him more territory to cover in his reelection bid.

But that territory has grown even beyond the 2016 map to include traditionally red states such as Texas and Georgia. The president carried Iowa and Ohio comfortably in 2016 and few thought they’d be back in play this time around.

“Remarkably, the president is not in a much different place if you look at the polling average across traditional battleground states. The pressing challenge is that the old definition of what defined a battleground then now includes an expanded map that adds into the mix of red states such as Georgia, Iowa and even Ohio,” said David Polyansky, a Republican strategist and former chief of staff to Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzQuinnipiac poll finds Biden, Trump tied in Texas China could cut our access to critical minerals at any time — here's why we need to act The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Two weeks out, Trump attempts to rally the base MORE (R-Texas). “That’s a real resource concern.”

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At the same time, Trump has few hopes of turning blue states red. The president’s campaign has focused on Minnesota, a state he lost narrowly in 2016, as perhaps the best chance to do so, but polls continue to show Biden with a lead of several percentage points there.

Trump will stage a campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday evening, seeking to boost himself as well as GOP Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstDemocrats lead in 3 of 4 Iowa House races: poll The Hill's Campaign Report: Obama to hit the campaign trail l Biden's eye-popping cash advantage l New battleground polls favor Biden Poll finds Ernst with 1-point lead in Iowa MORE, who is trailing her Democratic opponent, Theresa Greenfield, in a difficult battle for reelection.

A CBS News battleground tracking poll released Monday found Trump and Biden tied in Iowa, while Ernst trails Greenfield by 4 percentage points among likely voters. It also showed that Iowa voters prefer Biden over Trump to handle the coronavirus, but trust Trump to better handle the economy.

Indeed, the economy remains Trump’s strongest asset, even amid the pandemic-induced recession. Trump has used his public appearances to highlight the millions of jobs gained back under his watch, while arguing that Biden’s agenda would prolong the economic pain.

Still, the inability of the White House and Congress to reach an agreement on stimulus negotiation could hamper Trump’s argument.

“He needs to be seen as somebody who can cut a big deal on COVID relief. That is why he has doubled and tripled down on this,” said Doug Heye, a former Republican National Committee communications director.

Iowa is one of seven states where Trump will campaign this week, embarking on a sprint after being sidelined for 10 days due to his coronavirus diagnosis as he looks to reset the race in his favor.

The president is continuing to hold crowded outdoor airport rallies despite the pandemic, which has killed more than 215,000 people in America and been the dominant issue of the 2020 election campaign. The large events have become a hallmark of Trump’s two campaigns for president, allowing him to excite his core supporters and garner local media coverage with each stop.

Trump will make consecutive stops in Ocala, Fla., and Macon, Ga., on Friday, states where polls show a razor-thin race. A Quinnipiac University survey of Georgia released Wednesday found Biden ahead by 7 points, though other polls show a closer contest.

Trump was supposed to go toe-to-toe with Biden in the second debate on Thursday, but the meeting was canceled after the president objected to new plans by the Commission on Presidential Debates to hold the event virtually for health reasons following the president's coronavirus diagnosis.

Instead, both candidates will participate in dueling town hall events on Thursday evening, competing with one another for viewers as they try to make the case for their respective elections and against one another.

Republicans widely regarded Trump’s first debate performance as a missed opportunity to draw an effective contrast with Biden and change the course of an election that has become a referendum on the president’s own behavior and handling of the pandemic.

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“I think the missed opportunity of the first debate was in not letting Joe Biden talk more,” said Charlie Gerow, a GOP strategist in Pennsylvania.

Gerow, who remains bullish on Trump’s chances of winning the Keystone State, said it’s important for Trump to focus on Biden’s positions on fracking and gun rights and his energy and economic policies.

“I think the president should, can and will use the rallies as well as the third debate to draw out Joe Biden on the issues and to force Joe Biden to take stands on the issues that Joe Biden is trying to duck and dodge,” Gerow said. 

Trump included heavy references to fracking during his Tuesday night rally remarks in Johnstown, interspersed with familiar attacks on Biden’s mental acuity and record.

He also made a direct appeal to suburban women, saying he’d kept their neighborhoods safe by keeping “low-income housing” out.

“Suburban women, will you please like me?” Trump said. “I saved your damn neighborhood, OK?”

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Polls show Biden building his biggest battleground leads in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Republican lobbyist Brandon Scholz, based in Madison, Wis., said Trump has an opportunity to win back some Republican women through Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation process. And he said that Trump should continue to do well among the white working-class voters in the rural parts of the state.

But Scholz said he hasn’t seen the kind of messaging that might help him keep a grip on the independents and seniors that appear to be slipping away. With only one debate left on the schedule, Trump’s in-person rallies might be his last best shot at keeping Wisconsin.

“My sense is that Trump is struggling,” Scholze said. “The best asset the campaign has is him.”