Trump’s taste for underdog status will see him explore Democrat strongholds.
Don’t sleep on states like Nevada and Minnesota. They allow Trump to play offence as an underdog.
Along the scale of probable election outcomes, a Biden landslide might be at one end. Meaning he takes not only all the swing states, but also some more ambitious targets such as Georgia, Ohio, and maybe even Texas. On the other end of that scale, I would argue, is a narrow Trump victory, like in 2016 when he took Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by an average vote margin of just 0.57%.
The conventional wisdom, perhaps spanning the last 12–18 months, has been that there are six, real, genuine swing states in play: the three aforementioned upper midwest states, as well as Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina.
However, there is some indication that Team Trump are not seeking to simply repeat their performance, where they won all of those six of those states. Rather, they are looking at other states in an attempt to clear the magic 270. Assessing the current data, this could make sense. With the exception of Pennsylvania — where Biden leads by just 4% — Trump trails in Michigan and Wisconsin by the same numbers as he does nationally — about 7%. The polls are similar in Arizona but tighter in North Carolina and Florida.
More interestingly, Trump won by being the underdog. A heavy Clinton victory was expected right up until election day. But Trump has proved he can win, and while he is in the Oval Office, it is much harder for people to buy into the fact he is, once again, an underdog. One way to regain that narrative would be to aggressively campaign in states most people do not think Trump can win. Just like he once did in Michigan, Pennsylvania and especially Wisconsin which Clinton now infamously ignored.
Recently, commentators have recognised this and have put out their own prediction maps showing what a ‘close race’ could look like, if you think slightly outside the box. Have a quick look at these maps produced by Nate Silver and Jon Ralston, a reporter from Nevada (hence his focus on that state). In both instances, they give PA to Trump, but have differing opinions on both North Carolina and Arizona.
However, over the last few weeks, two Democrat voting states have started to receive some attention: Nevada and Minnesota. While Biden has healthy average polling leads in both: 6.4 % and 6.2% respectively, the leads are smaller than in WI and MI. The most recent round of Morning Consult polling supports this assertion, showing Biden’s lead in Minnesota at 5% — lower than his lead in WI and MI, but the same as in PA.
In 2016, Donald Trump matched Mitt Romney’s performance in Minnesota by give-or-take 0.04%, meanwhile with Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket, the Democratic share of the vote plummeted by more than 6 points. A similar story occurred in Nevada.
On a more granular level, Obama won 28 of Minnesota’s 87 counties, whereas Hillary Clinton only won 9. In Nevada, which has far fewer counties than Minnesota, Democrats win most of their votes in one county: Clarke County. Hillary Clinton lost 4% points compared to Obama’s performance, enough to bring the entire state to within less than 2.5% points.
I am not suggesting that either Minnesota or Nevada will go for Trump. There are smarter people than me who have attempted to foresee that. I am suggesting, however, that the type of environment that both states are producing is fertile ground for Trump’s campaigning style, where it is conceivable that he could pull off a surprise.
If — and it is a big if at the moment — Trump does flip either one of those states, then it could have a profound impact on the electoral college, dependent on how other states vote. But Team Trump are spending time and money in both Minnesota and Nevada now, so whatever happens, the warning signs are there.
Of course, many people, including myself, have wasted too many hours of their life attempting to decipher whatever election strategy Team Trump are concocting. Sometimes, it’s as though they are just throwing things at a wall and hoping they stick. Even if there was a discernible strategy, having a candidate disciplined enough to stick to it is an entirely different beast. Trump is, for just one example, the man who spends hundreds of thousands of dollars in adverts in Washington D.C.; ads produced exclusively for an audience of one.
But one thing I am quite confident of is that Trump does not enjoy playing defence — partly because his record is simply indefensible — and would much rather be attacking, especially if that is from the position of the underdog. In making noise in states like Nevada and Minnesota, it gives him the opportunity to do exactly that.