For only the second time in a month, a new poll shows Donald Trump with a lead in Florida. Bloomberg's new survey, conducted by Selzer & Co., gives Trump a two-point advantage over Hillary Clinton in the state — a state that may as well officially change its name to "must-win Florida," given how often that phrase is used in relation to Trump's candidacy. But it happens to be true — and this poll offers the first real glimmer of possibility for Trump after a very grim couple of weeks.
But it's still just a tiny flicker of light somewhere in a very large, dark cave.
The details of the poll are similar to what we've seen elsewhere, with a few exceptions. Independents prefer Trump after backing President Obama four years ago when he won the state by less than a point. Hispanic voters prefer Clinton statewide, but in the Miami area give Trump a slight edge, likely thanks to older Cuban voters who skew Republican. (Younger Cuban voters are more Democratic.) A close race, and Bloomberg gives Trump the edge.
That's critically important to Trump's chances, for a few reasons. Here's how this result could be the first goofy step in a complicated Rube-Goldbergian path to President Trump.
1. Trump closes the gap to take the lead in Florida.
This one result, the most recent poll in Florida, slices Clinton's lead in the state in RealClearPolitics' polling average from four points on Friday to 1.6 points today.
2. Trump continues to close the gap nationally.
At the same time, Clinton's big lead after the third debate has narrowed somewhat, as you can see above. National polling correlates with state polling (predictably), so a closer national race should pull results in individual states in Trump's direction. (You can see that at work in this graph we made last week.) He doesn't need to be winning nationally to win the presidency; he just needs those 270 electoral votes.
Doing better nationally helps him do that.
3. Trump holds Utah and Texas.
Any Republican not named Trump wouldn't even think twice about holding these two states. But Trump is Trump, and Utahns — particularly Mormon Utahns — are not terribly excited about his candidacy. In recent polls in the state, independent candidate Evan McMullin has out-polled Trump. But there's a lot of inertia at work in the political party system, and an outsider who's new to the process will have trouble matching up against the GOP's ability to mobilize voters while being unable to leverage traditional partisan loyalties.
If the national picture continues to look relatively decent for Trump, he can expect to hold Texas simply by virtue of the (R) next to his name.
4. Trump holds Arizona and keeps his leads in Ohio and Iowa.
Right now, Trump trails slightly in Arizona and leads slightly in Ohio. If the national picture continues to improve for him, he probably expect to hold Arizona (a traditionally red state) and to firm up those Ohio and Iowa leads.
So if all of those things happen — not givens, by any stretch — here's how Trump gets to the 270 electoral votes he needs to win the presidency. (Or to 269, hoping that a tie would be resolved by the House in his favor.)
Scenario 1: Trump wins the states above, and wins North Carolina and Pennsylvania. In North Carolina, a victory is possible, particularly if the race shifts significantly back in his direction. (Right now, the polling average has him down by 2.) Pennsylvania's a different story. It usually votes for the Democrat in recent elections, and Trump trails by 5 points in a four-way contest in the state, according to RealClearPolitics. That's a big gap to close. If he does it, though, he gets to 279 electoral votes.
Scenario 2: Trump wins the states above, and wins North Carolina and Virginia. Virginia is even tougher than Pennsylvania. He trails by more than 7 points. If he does wins it and the state above, he gets to 272 electoral votes.
Scenario 3: Trump wins the states above, wins North Carolina, Colorado and Nevada. The already rocky path is getting rougher now. Trump trails in Nevada by 4, which is not too bad, but trails in Colorado by 6. Win all of these and he's at 274 electoral votes.
Scenario 4: Trump wins the states above, wins North Carolina, Colorado and New Hampshire. If he gets Colorado's nine electoral votes (in addition to all of the states above) he can win a smaller state to get across the finish line. He's down 8 in New Hampshire, but, heck. Win all of these and he's at 272 electoral votes.
Scenario 5: Trump wins the states above, wins North Carolina, Colorado and one electoral vote in Maine. Win all of these and he's at 269 electoral votes, and the race goes to the House.
Scenario 6: Trump wins the states above, Minnesota, Nevada, Colorado and that vote in Maine. You've probably noticed how critical North Carolina is to his chances. Take that out of the equation and things get even weirder. There hasn't been much polling in Minnesota, but Trump's down only 5 points there on average according to RealClearPolitics. So why not? Pull all of this off and Trump squeaks into the White House at 270 electoral votes.
This whole thing started by pointing out that a new poll showing Trump with a lead in Florida indicates that his path to the White House isn't totally closed off. If he wins Florida, he simply needs to also hold Texas, beat the upstart in Utah, hold his lead in Ohio, keep Arizona, win Iowa, not lose any other states Mitt Romney won, win North Carolina and then win: Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado and Nevada, Colorado and New Hampshire or Colorado and one electoral vote in Maine and a vote in the House of Representatives.
See? A path to the presidency.
Assuming that Florida poll isn't an outlier.