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Tightening polls in key swing states raise pressure on Biden

New polls show former Vice President Joe Biden running strong in states President Trump must win to secure a second term, but the race is close in Florida and tightening in Arizona, raising pressure on the Democratic nominee ahead of the first presidential debate.

Biden has several pathways to victory, with new surveys showing him neck and neck with Trump in traditionally red states, such as Texas and Georgia, and in states Trump won comfortably in 2016, like Iowa and Ohio.

The Democratic nominee continues to run up the score over Trump in national polls. Biden's lead in the former "blue wall" states has been consistent and comfortable for months now.

There are glimmers of hope for Republicans that Trump could prevail in enough of the core battleground states to win the Electoral College.

Biden's once formidable lead in Florida has vanished and the state appears to be a toss-up once again. The polls are all over the place in Arizona, although several recent surveys show the candidates within 1 or 2 points of each other. North Carolina has long been headed for a photo finish.

If Trump holds on to those three states, and if he doesn't fumble away Texas, Georgia, Iowa or Ohio, Biden would have to run the table in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, giving the Democratic nominee little room for error as the candidates prepare to go head-to-head in the first general election debate.

"We've seen a few surveys that reflect a tightening race, but the scale of the tightening is unclear," said David Winston, a veteran GOP pollster. "For the Trump campaign, it is encouraging to see some positive movement heading into the debate. Having said that, they'll need more than what they've seen so far."

The polling has been erratic in Arizona, which has only gone for the Democratic nominee once in the past 60 years.

Biden has led in all but a handful of the surveys released this year and FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver gives the Democratic nominee a 65 percent chance of carrying the state.

But Biden's lead in Arizona has shrunk from 5.7 points in the RealClearPolitics average on Sept. 10 to 3.2 points now.

Recent polls from Reuters-Ipsos, Monmouth University and CBS News have put the race between 1 point and 3 points, with Biden holding the slight advantage.

Recent surveys from The New York Times and CNBC show Biden leading comfortably, in the 6- to 9-point range.

An ABC News-Washington Post survey of likely voters released this week is turning heads, finding Trump ahead in Arizona by 1 point. That survey found Trump with a 15-point lead on the economy, and Biden holding only a 4-point advantage on who would better handle the coronavirus.

Election analysts are waiting for more data, wary of that poll being an outlier.

"I see nothing to indicate that Biden's modest but stable lead has disappeared," said Mike O'Neil, a veteran Arizona pollster. "Should a second quality poll materialize that shows otherwise, I would reconsider this judgment."

The data is clearer in Florida, where Biden's lead in the RealClearPolitics average has shrunk from 8.4 points in late July to 1.3 points now.

Trump has only led in two major surveys of the Sunshine State since April, but several recent polls have found Trump and Biden tied in the state.

The latest ABC News-Washington Post poll finds Trump leading Biden by 4 points among likely voters. Biden is dragged down in the poll because of his lower-than-expected support among Hispanics, a persistent concern for the Biden campaign.

The poll found Trump with an 11-point advantage on the economy in Florida, while Biden leads by 5 points on the pandemic.

"The situation is definitely better for Trump than it was in July, but he still has a tough road," said Chris Wilson, a Republican pollster. "Trump has strengthened his position with seniors as COVID has faded a bit as a top concern, and that, coupled with some inroads with Hispanic men, has pulled both Florida and Arizona much closer. ... On the other hand, we're still talking about North Carolina, Georgia and even Texas as potential battlegrounds."

Biden's red state strength is alarming for Republicans. The president cannot afford to lose any of the states he won easily in 2016, which include Iowa, Ohio, Texas and Georgia.

A New York Times-Siena College poll released Thursday found Biden leading by 3 points in Iowa, which Trump carried by 9 points in 2016. A Des Moines Register poll, largely viewed as the gold standard in Iowa, found the race is tied, although a new Monmouth University survey found Trump ahead by 6 points in the Hawkeye State.

Georgia increasingly looks like a pure toss-up. Two of the three surveys of Georgia released this month found the race is tied.

A new Quinnipiac University survey released Thursday found Biden with a 1-point lead in Ohio, which Trump carried by 8 points in 2016. The poll found Trump leading by 5 points in Texas, though other polls have found a tighter race in the Lone Star State.

The new polls show a stark gender divide, with women propelling Biden into contention in states Trump must win. The Des Moines Register poll found Trump leading by 21 points among men and Biden leading by 20 points among women.

Nationally, and in the former "blue wall" states, the race has been remarkably static, with Biden leading clearly and consistently throughout the cycle.

Surveys released this week from Marquette University and Quinnipiac University found Biden with a 10-point national lead. He leads by 7 points nationally in the RealClearPolitics average. The president has not been within 7 points of Biden since May.

"The stability plays in Biden's favor," said Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll.

Analysts say Trump could lose the national vote by 3 or 4 points and still squeeze out an Electoral College victory. But they say it would be a near-unimaginable statistical anomaly for Trump to win the White House after losing the popular vote by 7 points or more. Clinton beat Trump by about 2 points nationally in 2016.

The president also faces a difficult path to repeating his stunning 2016 victories in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Biden has led in every major poll of Pennsylvania going back to June and currently leads by an average of 4.1 points. A Franklin & Marshall survey of Pennsylvania released Thursday found Biden ahead by 6 points among likely voters, although a University of Wisconsin-Madison survey found his lead shrank from 9 points to 5 points over the past month.

Biden leads by 5.2 points in the RealClearPolitics average of Michigan. Only the Trafalgar Group, which accounts for so-called shy Trump voters, has found Trump with a lead in the Wolverine State this cycle.

Wisconsin has emerged as Biden's strongest polling state in the Midwest, to the surprise of many Democrats. Biden leads by 6.6 points in the RCP average, with a CNBC-Change Research survey this week finding him ahead by 9 points.

"For this to be a real toss-up type of election, Trump probably needs the national picture to move another 3 to 4 points toward him and for North Carolina, Georgia and Texas polling to be more like Trump ahead by 4 points, with Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania getting into the 2 to 3 point range," said Wilson.

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