Trump Finally Turns to the Swing States

After wasting a month visiting places he’s sure to lose, the Republican sets off on a tour of the battlegrounds that will determine the election.

Donald Trump waves to the crowd as he disembarks from his plane for a campaign rally in Redding, Calif.
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli</p></p>
Adam Wollner
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Adam Wollner
June 9, 2016, 8:01 p.m.

Don­ald Trump has been the pre­sumptive Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee for 37 days. But he’s just now mak­ing his first vis­its to battle­ground states.

After wrap­ping up the GOP primary race in early May, Trump con­tin­ued to cam­paign mostly in states that still needed to hold primar­ies, but won’t be in play this fall. Now, after Hil­lary Clin­ton clinched the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­a­tion, Trump is shift­ing his at­ten­tion to the swing states that will de­term­ine the out­come of the gen­er­al elec­tion.

Since his May 3 In­di­ana primary vic­tory, Trump has made 17 cam­paign ap­pear­ances, ac­cord­ing to data com­piled in Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s Travel Track­er. Five of those stops came in Cali­for­nia, while two were in New York, and two oth­ers were in Wash­ing­ton state. He also vis­ited West Vir­gin­ia, Ore­gon, Neb­raska, New Jer­sey, New Mex­ico, Montana, North Dakota, and Wash­ing­ton, D.C. None of those places are ex­pec­ted to be com­pet­it­ive in Novem­ber. And from May 8-18, Trump didn’t hold any cam­paign events at all.

“It’s a wasted month,” said Tuck­er Mar­tin, a Vir­gin­ia GOP op­er­at­ive who’s op­posed to Trump. “To para­phrase the fam­ous line from Spin­al Tap, there’s a fine line between clev­er and stu­pid. Spend­ing a month in the gen­er­al elec­tion cam­paign­ing in states that you aren’t go­ing to win, that’s wasted time and time they’re prob­ably go­ing to want back.”

By con­trast, Clin­ton took some time to ap­pear in states last month that could play an im­port­ant role in the gen­er­al elec­tion, even as she was try­ing to fend off Bernie Sanders. While she mostly zer­oed in on states with up­com­ing primar­ies, Clin­ton also cam­paigned in Ohio, Vir­gin­ia, and Michigan in May.

Trump’s agenda over the next eight days looks more like one of a pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee. He’s pick­ing up the pace after keep­ing a light­er sched­ule than his GOP rivals throughout the primar­ies. From June 10-18, Trump plans to make a total of 10 stops in Vir­gin­ia, Flor­ida, Pennsylvania, New Hamp­shire, North Car­o­lina, Geor­gia, Texas, Nevada, and Ari­zona, most of which will be con­tested. Trump is vis­it­ing the most re­li­ably red state on that list, Texas, to raise money.

Trump may be turn­ing his at­ten­tion to battle­ground states in the short term, but Re­pub­lic­ans are con­cerned about his in­ten­tions to try to com­pete in deeply Demo­crat­ic states such as Cali­for­nia, New Jer­sey, and Mary­land. He even hired a poll­ster spe­cific­ally for his home state of New York, where Obama won by 28 points in 2012.

“Win­ning cam­paigns is al­ways about the best al­loc­a­tion of re­sources,” warned Charlie Ge­row, a Pennsylvania Re­pub­lic­an strategist. “Even if you’ve got a ton of money, re­sources are al­ways very scarce.”

Some Re­pub­lic­ans say Trump should hone in on Rust Belt states that are rich in the white, blue-col­lar voters that pro­pelled him dur­ing the primar­ies. Clin­ton is sched­uled to cam­paign in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wis­con­sin next week, per­haps a sign of Trump’s po­ten­tial strength in those places. Mar­tin sug­ges­ted Trump might be bet­ter off tar­get­ing states like Pennsylvania and Michigan as op­posed to Vir­gin­ia and Flor­ida.

A Trump-Clin­ton match­up may very well re­cast the usu­al elect­or­al map. But Mark Graul, a Wis­con­sin Re­pub­lic­an con­sult­ant, ar­gued that it would still be dif­fi­cult for Trump to win without Ohio and Flor­ida.

“If Trump can hold the tra­di­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an states as well as force Clin­ton to spend a lot of time cam­paign­ing in places like Pennsylvania, Wis­con­sin, and Michigan, I think that’s a really great thing,” Graul said. “But he can’t ig­nore those places that Re­pub­lic­ans need to be­come pres­id­ent.”

Trump is also play­ing de­fense in a pair of typ­ic­ally Re­pub­lic­an states. He’s slated to vis­it Ari­zona and Geor­gia, where the share of the non­white vote is stead­ily grow­ing. Some Demo­crats be­lieve those states could flip with Trump on the bal­lot, giv­en his in­cen­di­ary rhet­or­ic to­wards minor­it­ies.

“Geor­gia and Ari­zona very much have the po­ten­tial to be ‘Ghosts of Christ­mas Fu­ture’ if Re­pub­lic­ans don’t get our acts to­geth­er,” said Mar­tin, who pre­vi­ously ad­vised a su­per PAC that sup­por­ted Chris Christie’s pres­id­en­tial bid.

In or­der to win those states, though, Trump will need to do more than just stop in from time to time for a rally.

“Five months from now, are we really go­ing to be wor­ry­ing about where Don­ald Trump was in late May or early June? Prob­ably not,” Graul said. “More im­port­antly, what is he do­ing in­fra­struc­ture-wise in those battle­ground states in terms of set­ting up an ac­tu­al cam­paign?”

Karyn Brugge­man con­trib­uted.

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