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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