Trump’s Rust Belt hopes rise in Wisconsin

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Don’t look now, but Donald Trump is on the rebound in Wisconsin.

Two new polls released Wednesday show the GOP presidential nominee closing the once massive gap with Hillary Clinton in deep blue Wisconsin.

A victory in the Badger State would dramatically reshape the daunting electoral map Trump faces and potentially indicate strength in other Rust Belt states where the GOP nominee has long argued his populist pitch will resonate.

A Marquette University poll — considered the gold standard in Wisconsin politics — found Trump moving to within 3 points of Clinton after trailing by 15 points in the previous survey from early August.

And the first Monmouth survey of the state put the race at a 5-point margin after scores of polls released earlier in the cycle found Clinton with double-digit leads.

Trump is still behind and has only closed the gap on account of Clinton’s declining popularity, not because of his own strength. Trump suffers from awful favorability numbers in Wisconsin, as well as a lack of enthusiasm from Republicans in the state. No Republican presidential candidate has won Wisconsin in more than 30 years, underlining Trump’s underdog status.

But the tightening race in Wisconsin comes as national polls have similarly contracted and as Clinton’s favorability numbers have plunged, giving new hope to Trump.

Trump’s path to the White House hinges on carrying Midwest states such as Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“If he’s moving up here, he is probably also moving up in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio,” said Wisconsin Democratic strategist Joe Zepecki.

Why is Trump rising in Wisconsin?

The Trump campaign has made Wisconsin a focus, with the GOP nominee making his first big pitch to minority voters at a speech in Milwaukee last month. He and running mate Mike Pence each travelled to the state twice over the course of August.

But the campaign is not up on the airwaves there, and Trump’s level of support and his dismal approval rating have not budged.

Clinton, however, is moving in reverse in Wisconsin.

The Democratic nominee has vanished from the campaign trail to raise money and to prepare for next month’s presidential debate later this month. Her campaign has been dogged by the near-constant drip of bad news about her private email server and the connections between the State Department and the Clinton family’s charitable trust.

In that time, Clinton’s personal approval rating has plunged in key categories.

In the Marquette poll, she is now 42 points underwater on the question of honesty, down from negative 32 points earlier this month. On the question of whether Clinton cares about voters, she is running 14 points below break-even after being down only 4 points in the previous survey.

Clinton is in positive territory on the question of whether she is qualified to be president, but has still lost 7 points on that front in recent weeks. She has lost 4 points on the question of whether voters would feel comfortable with her in the White House.

“Clinton has been on the decline across the board since getting a nice convention bounce but Trump isn’t bumping up or taking advantage of that in any way,” Marquette polling director Charles Franklin told The Hill.

Despite Clinton’s poor numbes, Republicans, Democrats and independent analysts interviewed by The Hill are doubtful that Trump can prevail in Wisconsin and remain deeply skeptical about his path to the White House.

As bad as Clinton’s favorability numbers are, Trump’s figures are worse and have been immovable. 

While the race has become more competitive in Wisconsin and nationally, there are no recent polls showing Trump ahead in any of the states he needs to carry.

Furthermore, the Marquette and Monmouth polls in Wisconsin have raised questions among some poll watchers.

The wild swing in Trump’s favor in the Marquette poll has raised a red flag and led some to question whether it is not over-representing Republican turnout.

And the two polls diverged wildly on the Senate race between Democrat Russ Feingold and incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson, who is among the most vulnerable Republicans up for reelection.

The Marquette poll found Feingold ahead by 3, while the Monmouth poll gave him a 13-point lead.

“The Trump slide has stopped and the problems with Clinton’s integrity have once again made this a competitive race,” said GOP pollster Frank Luntz. “But don’t read too much into a single poll or two.”

Republicans have gotten their hopes up about winning Wisconsin in the past only to be let down.

Former President George W. Bush proved the state can be competitive for Republicans, falling short by only fractions of a percentage point in 2000 and 2004.

But President Obama easily ran away with it in 2008, defeating Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by nearly 14 points.

In 2012, Obama outperformed the polls to defeat Mitt Romney there by 7 points despite home-state favorite Paul Ryan’s presence on the GOP ticket.

That year, Romney and Ryan briefly pulled ahead of the Democrats in late August polling. They ran close in public opinion surveys throughout the campaign but fell well short of flipping the state back into the Republican column.

“We’re always saying this is the year, but the reality is it’s going to be very difficult for Trump to win,” said GOP strategist Brandon Scholz. “It’s not that surprising that the race has tightened because this is a purple state. But I just don’t see how Trump gets beyond where he is now.”

Election experts want to see more data indicating the race has tightened in battleground states where Trump trails before they declare a fundamental shift in the race.

Geoffrey Skelley, the associate editor for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, says the state will remain in their “Likely Democrat” column until Trump pulls even and exhibits more strength in other Rust Belt states.

“He’s at least competitive and the race is by no means over, so his Midwest strategy is at least not a pipe dream,” Skelley said. “But as bad as Clinton’s fundamentals are, Trump’s are worse. She would be trailing pretty much any other Republican nominee but gets to face a terrible candidate. That’s her saving grace.”

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton John McCain Mike Pence Paul Ryan Ron Johnson Wisconsin

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