If you haven’t been tuned into the latest national polling results or monitoring the growing liberal fear and angst about what might happen on Nov. 8, then the latest strategic moves of the two presidential campaigns should make it clear the race has tightened once again.
When Donald Trump started holding rallies and buying ads in Clinton firewall states like New Mexico, Colorado, and Michigan, the Beltway consensus was that the wacky dude and his amateurish campaign were buying their own hype and making dumb decisions because they didn’t know what else to do. Now shrewd observers like Nate Silver are acknowledging that most of the new targets Team Trump has chosen make sense in the context of what the battlegrounds will become if the national race continues to tighten.
In a race where the popular vote is roughly tied nationally, Colorado and New Hampshire are toss-ups, and Clinton’s chances are only 60 to 65 percent in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. She has quite a gauntlet to run through to hold her firewall, and she doesn’t have a lot of good backup options. While she could still hold on to Nevada, it doesn’t have enough electoral votes to make up for the loss of Michigan or Pennsylvania. And while she could win North Carolina or Florida if polls hold where they are now, they’d verge on being lost causes if the race shifts by another few points toward Trump. In fact, Clinton would probably lose the Electoral College in the event of a very close national popular vote.
But the most important validator of what Trump has been doing is the reaction of the Clinton campaign:
Hillary Clinton’s campaign will begin airing its first television ads of the general election in Michigan and New Mexico and will return to the airwaves in Virginia and Colorado after a months-long hiatus.
You may recall that these last two states were allegedly “conceded” to Clinton by Republicans in early September. The first two were never really considered battleground states to begin with. The Clinton campaign, of course, is denying this latest move signifies anything surprising or alarming:
Clinton’s advisers and campaign staff insisted that the foray into Michigan was to keep up get-out-the vote efforts that had been previously focused on states with early voting, which Michigan doesn’t have. She last visited Michigan on Oct. 10, ahead of a voter-registration deadline. But it marks a shift from last week’s more confident posture in which the campaign announced expansion plans, including a stop in traditionally Republican Arizona on Wednesday.
“We’re going back once to get people out, we had to do it once close to Election Day,” campaign spokesman Nick Merrill said. “We still think there’s a durable lead there, we just need to get our people out.”
There are, of course, two ways to look at these developments. The first is that Trump (perhaps with an assist from James Comey) has succeeded in shifting the skirmish lines from “his” states to Clinton’s, an unmistakable sign of the “momentum” that sportscasters and political junkies value so much. The second is that Trump’s in an Electoral College trap he’s trying desperately to break out of, and Clinton’s coolly taking the countermeasures needed to stop him.
We can expect mad spinning in both directions over the next few days. Next Tuesday, God willing, the spinning will end.