Opinion writer

(Melina Mara/The Washington Post)


Faced with tightening polls and increasingly nervous supporters, the Clinton campaign has circulated an extensive new memo to top donors and party activists making the case that she has multiple clear paths to victory in the electoral college, while Donald Trump is still the one playing defense.

The memo, which was forwarded to this blog, argues against taking individual national and state polls too seriously, and notes that Barack Obama’s razor-close wins in battleground states suggest Clinton’s ground operation — particularly in contrast to Trump’s lack of one — actually could prove decisive in very close contests. It makes the big-picture case this way:

Hillary Clinton has many paths to 270 electoral votes, while Donald Trump has very few. Hillary is nearly certain to win 16 “blue” states, including Washington D.C., which will garner her 191 electoral votes. If we add the five states that FiveThirtyEight.com gives Hillary a 70% or greater chance of winning (Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin), Hillary only needs ten more electoral votes.

The memo, which was authored by campaign manager Robby Mook, notes that she can pick up those 10 electoral votes either by winning Florida, or North Carolina, or Ohio, or any two of the following: Colorado, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Nevada.

By contrast, the memo argues, Trump’s path is a lot harder: He has to win six out of these seven (FL, NC, OH, CO, NH, IA, and NV), and almost certainly must win all three of Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio. It continues:

Even if he wins Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio he’s still 17 electoral votes short of 270. To win, he’ll need to find those electoral votes in Colorado (which FiveThirtyEight gives Hillary a 65% chance of winning), plus at least two of the three small battleground states: Iowa, Nevada, or New Hampshire. All of these scenarios assume that Trump wins traditionally “red” states, such as Arizona, Georgia, and Utah, even though he is currently underperforming in these contests.

As Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti (who also obtained the memo) points out, this analysis tracks roughly with what Dem strategists have calculated for some time now, and it also assumes a Dem win in Pennsylvania, which does seem probable. All of this is very well and good, but there are still more questions about the state of the race that remain to be answered:

The Washington Post and Survey Monkey polled all 50 states. Here are the most surprising pieces of data we found. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

1) Why is the race tightening? Top Democrats have argued that the tightening mainly reflects a consolidation of GOP voters behind Trump, the reflection of his success in normalizing himself (to the degree that’s possible with him) in their eyes. But some Dems wonder whether part of the problem is that college educated whites and suburban GOP-leaning and independent women — both groups that are emerging as pivotal to Clinton’s hopes — are for some reason growing increasingly uncomfortable with Clinton. Does the campaign agree with this, and if so, what’s the antidote?

2) Are Virginia and Colorado secure? If the national polls are tightening, and they are, the question is, how uncomfortable is this getting for Clinton? Does the Clinton camp believe Virginia and Colorado — both of which are key blocks in the Clinton firewall, along with Pennsylvania — are really still off the table for Trump? The Clinton campaign recently pulled down its ads in both states, but one recent Virginia poll put Clinton up only three points. Is Team Clinton ruling out a need to go back up on the air in them?

 3) Should the Clinton camp invest real resources in Arizona and Georgia? One recent poll put Trump ahead only three points in Georgia, and Arizona’s large Latino population has led some Democrats to covet it. Both seem like unlikely pickups for Dems. But is there an argument for the Clinton campaign to invest a lot more in one or both anyway, if only to force Trump to squander further time and resources defending them? Maybe the answer is No, but it would be good to understand the Clinton campaign’s thinking on it.

4)  How seriously does the Clinton campaign take her problems with Latinos and millennials? Some Dems worry that the Clinton camp’s efforts to energize Latinos were too late in coming, and polls have shown problems with millennials, too. The Clinton camp is taking genuine new steps on both these fronts. That’s good. But has the effort to appeal to national security Republicans and GOP-leaning swing voters led the campaign to neglect core groups in the Democratic coalition? How important are these groups to her various routes through the electoral college? Maybe the Clinton campaign thinks all of this is under control. But again, it would be great to hear more from the campaign on this.


* CLINTON AHEAD IN NATIONAL POLL: The new NBC News/Survey Monkey Tracking Poll finds Clinton now leads Trump by 50-45 among likely voters nationally. In the four-way race, she’s up by 45-40. Note that this poll has now transitioned over to likely voters; among registered voters Clinton leads by six points.

According to NBC, this poll suggests Clinton may be regaining momentum. The polling averages put Clinton up nationally by anywhere from 0.9 points to two points to four points, depending on who is doing the averaging.

* CLINTON PREPARES FOR VERY TOUGH DEBATE: CNN has an interesting look at the considerations that are driving Clinton’s preparations for the big showdown with Trump next Monday:

Clinton has spent hours watching a highlight reel of Trump’s Republican primary debates….She took notes on what agitated him, particularly in his exchanges with rival Ted Cruz, and studied his style. But Democrats worry the first debate will give Trump a chance to show a more moderate, controlled side, while millions of people watch, possibly for the first time. This, according to people who have recently talked with the former secretary of state, is not lost on Clinton.

Of course, news orgs will also hype this supposed “more moderate, controlled side,” and will justify doing so by claiming he “defied expectations” (which they, conveniently enough, are setting in advance themselves).

* WHY TRUMP MAY NOW BE AHEAD IN OHIO: Politico notes that Trump may now be slightly ahead in Ohio and reports that this may be due to a coalescing of Republican voters behind him:

“The big question was, what’s it going to be like in suburban counties around Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus?” said Bob Clegg, a veteran Republican operative in Ohio. “What we’ve been seeing over the last several weeks is some coalescing in those suburban counties.”

More broadly, one big question to watch will be whether suburban GOP-leaning white voters are slowly reconciling themselves to Trump.

* TRUMP STICKS BY CHRISTIE, DESPITE BRIDGEGATE: In the wake of revelations that prosecutors now say Chris Christie knew of the bridge closing as it happened, Trump sends a statement to the New York Times sticking by him:

“I have known and liked Chris for 15 years,” Mr. Trump said. “After his recent run for president, he called me to say that he would like to endorse me in that he sees a movement like he has never seen before. I was greatly honored, accepted his endorsement, and he has been a spectacular advocate ever since.”

No mention of bridgegate. Never mind Christie’s role in that scandal; all that matters is that he endorsed Trump.

 * GEORGE H.W. BUSH TO VOTE FOR CLINTON? Politico reports that the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy is now claiming that the elder Bush told her he will vote for Clinton, though his spokesman is refusing to confirm it.

There’s been a lot of speculation to the effect that both former presidents Bush could publicly endorse Clinton if the race is still very close next month, though I’m skeptical.

* AND TRUMP DEMAGOGUES NEW YORK BOMBING: Trump claims that the bombing shows the danger of our “extremely open” immigration system and lax refugee vetting process. But Michelle Lee takes apart the claim:

Based on the information we have so far, the suspect in the bombings was an American who became radicalized….This points to radicalization of those living legally in the U.S., which is a different matter than what Trump talked about….Rahami’s potential for radicalization while legally living in the U.S. and legally traveling to his home country is not something that would be caught through a vetting system upon entry. Only a minuscule number of refugees are ever linked to terrorism.

But Trump would be very, very tough on all those refugees, and that’s all you really need to know.