The Memo: Trump's struggles reshape battleground map

The Memo: Trump's struggles reshape battleground map
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News on Wednesday that the Trump campaign has scaled down its TV advertising spending in Michigan is proof of how the 2020 landscape is shifting.

Trump was brought over the finish line in 2016 by winning Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by narrow margins against Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton labels Trump coronavirus executive actions a 'stunt' What Trump got wrong by pushing coal Trump is fighting the wrong war MORE.

If any of the three states slip from his grasp this time around — and Michigan looks the most likely to do so — then Florida, the biggest of the swing states, becomes a true must-win for Trump.

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Yet the outlook in the Sunshine State is very cloudy for Trump too.

He won Florida four years ago by more than 100,000 votes, but he trails his presumptive Democratic opponent, Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore HuffPost reporter: Biden's VP shortlist doesn't suggest progressive economic policies Jill Biden says she plans to continue teaching if she becomes first lady MORE, there by 7 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics (RCP) polling average. Biden led one recent Florida poll, from Quinnipiac University, by 13 points.

“It is a lifetime between now and November, and I do believe it will tighten because that’s just the way Florida is,” said Annette Taddeo, a Democratic state senator. But referring to her own strong confidence in Biden’s chances, she added: “I never felt this way four years ago.”

With fewer than 100 days left before the presidential election, campaigns are already making hard decisions about which states to focus on.

In 2016, Trump won the Electoral College by a comfortable margin — 306 to 232 — even while losing the popular vote by around 2 percentage points. Repeating that achievement will require staunch defense of some states — and a ruthless cutting of losses where the climb is just too steep.

If every state voted the same way as in 2016 except for Florida and Michigan, Biden would be the next president.

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According to a New York Times report Wednesday, Biden has outspent Trump by more than 3 to 1 in television advertising in Michigan during the past month. The Times reported that the Trump campaign has not run a Michigan-specific ad since July 3.

Michigan went more narrowly for Trump than any other state in 2016. He won the Wolverine State by around 11,000 votes, or about one-third of a percentage point. Now Trump lags Biden by 8 points there, according to the RCP average.

Democrats in the state point to Trump’s handling of the coronavirus — the millstone that is dragging him down everywhere — as one reason why he is faring so badly. They also highlight his attacks on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), which they say have backfired.

Adrian Hemond, a Democratic strategist in Michigan, suggested that Trump’s rhetoric about race and the protests that have roiled the nation in recent months have played badly, motivating nonwhite voters to oust him from office in November.

“The president has been leaning even further into racial rhetoric, leaning into this authoritarian approach in cities,” Hemond said. "Contributing to his bad numbers is the enthusiasm of Black and brown people to vote.”

The Trump campaign pushes back against the idea that the path to a second term is becoming narrower.

A spokeswoman for the campaign, Samantha Zager, told The Hill via email: “President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests some states may 'pay nothing' as part of unemployment plan Trump denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore Trump, US face pivotal UN vote on Iran MORE has consistently delivered on his America First agenda for the last three years. With strong support and organic enthusiasm for the Republican ticket, there are multiple target states that will be in play and several paths to win this November.”

The Trump campaign has also suggested it could bring states that voted narrowly for Clinton in 2016 into the president’s column this time. The most often cited examples are Minnesota, Nevada and New Hampshire, all of which voted for Clinton by less than 3 percentage points.

For the most part, though, the Trump campaign appears to be on defense. A Bloomberg News analysis published Tuesday found that 92 percent of the president’s state-based TV ad spending in July came in states that he won in 2016.

The fear of erosion for Trump seems palpable in the numbers. According to Bloomberg, the Trump campaign in July spent $3.7 million in Georgia, $2.5 million in Ohio and $1.3 million in Iowa.

Trump won Iowa by about 9 points and Ohio by 8 points in 2016. No Democrat has carried Georgia in a presidential election since Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBiden painted into a basement 'Rose Garden strategy' corner Giuliani says Black Lives Matter is 'domestic terrorist' group We have the resources to get through this crisis, only stupidity is holding us back MORE in 1992.

Republicans in some of those states say they remain confident — even as they acknowledge the mere fact they are competitive says troublesome things for the president’s overall chances.

Mark Weaver, a GOP strategist in Ohio, argued that Trump’s popularity among the Republican base meant the “smart money” was on him winning the Buckeye State.

Ohio Republicans, he said, are more impassioned in their support of Trump than “any Republican presidential nominee for the last 30 years. They see him as being someone who is something of an imperfect vehicle for their anger, and they are ready to go vote for him.”

At the same time, Weaver acknowledged, given Trump’s 8-point 2016 victory margin in Ohio, “if the race here is narrow, then the race in Pennsylvania and other swing states will be going the other way — against the president.”

Trump threaded an Electoral College needle to win in 2016. It’s possible he can do so again. But right now, it looks like an even harder task.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s president.