Democrats debate Biden effort to expand map against Trump

Democrats say Joe BidenJoe BidenDonald Trump Jr. to self-publish book 'Liberal Privilege' before GOP convention Tom Price: Here's how we can obtain more affordable care The Memo: Democrats feel rising tide in Florida MORE’s campaign should go big and expand the map to try to give the former vice president several paths to 270 electoral votes and the possibility of a landslide victory over President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeSantis on Florida schools reopening: 'If you can do Walmart,' then 'we absolutely can do schools' NYT editorial board calls for the reopening of schools with help from federal government's 'checkbook' Mueller pens WaPo op-ed: Roger Stone 'remains a convicted felon, and rightly so' MORE

“We’re running against a guy who cares deeply about size and numbers,” said one Democratic strategist. “The best way to tell him to go home is with a resounding defeat. ... That’s the only language he understands.” 

Another Democratic strategist, Joel Payne, put it this way: “You don’t want a squeaker if nothing else because you want a government mandate.”

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A number of recent polls have indicated Biden has a healthy, double-digit national lead over Trump, and several of the surveys have also pointed to close races in states such as Texas and Georgia, where Republican presidential candidates in recent years have been confident of victory.

A Fox News poll released last week found Biden up by 1 point, 45 percent to 44 percent, over Trump in Texas. Another survey by the network found Trump trailing Biden 47 percent to 45 percent in Georgia.

Ohio and Iowa are two other more traditional swing states that at the beginning of the year seemed like solid territory for Trump. Now, Biden looks like he can compete in both.

In Arizona, which no Democratic presidential candidate has won since 1996, Biden won 46 percent in a Fox News poll compared to 42 percent for Trump.

Arizona is one of six swing states both campaigns are closely eyeing. The other five are Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

“When reliable polling has you tied or winning in Texas, you expand the map well beyond the six ‘battleground’ states,” said Democratic strategist Christy Setzer. “And the Biden camp shouldn’t psych itself out by playing it safe.”

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While the polls are good signs for Biden, other Democrats cautioned against going big for the sake of going big. They say all Biden needs to do is find the path of least resistance to get to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. 

Yet Michael Halle, who helped run then-Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden wins Louisiana primary Mueller pens WaPo op-ed: Roger Stone 'remains a convicted felon, and rightly so' The Memo: Democrats feel rising tide in Florida MORE’s battleground operation in the 2016 race, said Biden “has a better chance” of expanding the map than the Clinton campaign did. 

“The numbers are pretty staggering,” said Halle, who also served as a senior adviser to former Democratic presidential candidate Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegBiden campaign hires top cybersecurity officials to defend against threats Biden strikes populist tone in blistering rebuke of Trump, Wall Street Buttigieg's new book, 'Trust,' slated for October release MORE during his 2020 campaign. 

At the same time, he said the goal should always be to “have an eye toward the easiest way to 270.”

“Yes, there are shiny objects,” Halle added. “But you still want to maintain focus on 270 and states that get you to 270.”

Halle said that Biden should work on giving himself multiple paths to 270 electoral votes so that if October rolls around and his fortunes look better in Arizona than in Wisconsin, he can focus on the Sun Belt state.

In 2012, President Obama’s campaign saw the potential of adding states such as Georgia to their ledger when they saw favorable polls. They ended up focusing their resources on Virginia instead. 

In 2016, Clinton saw an opening to win Arizona and deployed top surrogates like Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaPrinceton must finish what it started The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Justices rule Manhattan prosecutor, but not Congress, can have Trump tax records The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump takes on CDC over schools MORE to the state in the final days of the campaign. Clinton ended up losing Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and there has been second-guessing about the tactics ever since.

In a call with reporters last month, Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said the campaign sees Arizona, Georgia and Texas as battleground states they can contest and win. She said Arizona in particular is a state where the campaign is feeling confident.

“This is something we are very, very focused on,” O’Malley Dillon said at the time. “We believe there will be an expanded map in 2020. We believe there will be battleground states that have never been battleground states before.” 

A source close to the Biden campaign also told The Hill that Georgia is looking more than ever like a state they could realistically carry in November as well. 

The Biden campaign announced earlier this month that it was launching a $15 million ad buy in battleground states including Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona and North Carolina, where the campaign has noticed movement in their direction. 

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The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Payne, the Democratic strategist who served as director of African America paid media and advertising for Clinton’s 2016 campaign, said more than anything the Biden campaign needs to make sure they have the infrastructure in the states where they’re competing. 

A state like Nevada may have more infrastructure and organization in place for Democrats to win than a state like Texas, he said. 

“You've got to be focused on what it takes to win,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you’re not ambitious. You’re just taking measured risks. If you’re the Biden campaign, you’re not counting on Arizona but it would be nice to have.”