Suddenly, states that haven’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in this century are up for grabs.
Recent polling in Arizona and Georgia indicates Hillary Clinton has a chance. And Utah, where the conservative, family-oriented Republican electorate has been reluctant to embrace GOP nominee Donald Trump, shows signs of becoming competitive.
Arizona and Georgia have a total of 27 electoral votes, or 10 percent of what’s necessary to reach the 270 needed to win. Put another way: RealClearPolitics’ analysis of the electoral map, based on polling, has Clinton with 246 electoral votes. Arizona and Georgia would put her over the top.
If those states continue to emerge as battlegrounds, Trump will be forced to divert precious resources, such as advertising and personnel, simply to hold on to what should be his while Clinton ups her efforts there. They join North Carolina, which voted Democratic in 2008, as states that Trump needs to win but in which he faces a tough test from Clinton.
It’s not that wavering Republicans have embraced Clinton; they’re wary of Trump.
“I don’t believe it’s Clinton doing so well; I think you have a divided GOP,” said Mike Noble, managing partner of OH Predictive Insights, which surveys Arizona voters.
It is still surprising that a Democratic presidential candidate would carry Arizona if the election were held today. Arizona should be a reliable red state.
Mike Noble, chief pollster at OH Predictive Insights
His Arizona poll last week had Clinton up 45-42 percent. Trump’s criticism of the Khans, parents of a Muslim U.S. Army captain who was killed in Iraq 12 years ago, has been particularly harmful, Noble said.
Population shifts are part of the reason for the tighter races this year. “Demographics have been changing steadily,” said Earl de Berge, research director of the Phoenix-based Behavior Research Center, a marketing and public opinion research company.
Both states are getting influxes of new residents and more diverse populations. Blacks and Latinos tend to vote heavily for Democratic presidential candidates, and polling finds that trend will continue this year.
Arizona’s population last year was about 31 percent Hispanic, up from 25 percent in 2000.
“There’s an increased urgency among Hispanics to vote, and if they do then it will be a changed ballgame here,” Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said Sunday on CBS. Trump has alienated many in the Hispanic community with his insults of Mexican-Americans and insistence that he’ll send immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally back to their home countries.
In 2012, President Barack Obama won the Hispanic vote in Arizona by 3 to 1 but lost the white vote by 66-32 percent. Republican Mitt Romney won the state, with 54 percent.
This year, there’s a new ingredient in the mix. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is seeking re-election, and should he survive his primary later this month, the general election race is expected to be close.
Recent Senate races have been one-sided, de Berge said, keeping turnout down. But a close race, and McCain’s anger at Trump, could change that.
President Barack Obama won 93 percent of the black vote and 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012, according to network exit polls
“The fact that Georgia is in question says a lot,” said Mark Rountree, the president of Landmark Communications Inc., a Republican-leaning polling firm in Alpharetta, Georgia.
Rountree estimated that Trump probably needs about 70 percent of the state’s white vote to win its electoral votes. His poll last week had Trump at 65 percent among whites. Blacks are expected to vote overwhelmingly for Clinton.
Clinton was up 44-40 last week in the state, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll.
“There’s no choice,” explained Barbara Molette, an Atlanta retiree who’s backing Clinton. “What’s happening here is you have a choice between an idiot and a sane person.”
Murray Farquhar, another Georgia voter, is sticking with Trump, figuring, “He says what he feels. I like that.”
Georgia last voted Democratic in 1992, when Bill Clinton first ran for president and won the state by 0.6 percentage point. Arizona last gave its electoral votes to a Democrat in 1996, when Bill Clinton narrowly won.
Utah is a somewhat different matter. The state has long been regarded as the nation’s most conservative, a place where the Mormon Church and its staunch family values are influential.
“I don’t think Trump fits stylistically,” said Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University. “He’s about the most immodest candidate, and that doesn’t speak to the way a lot of people in Utah have been raised to be.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who neatly fits the conservative profile, won the GOP caucus in Utah earlier this year overwhelmingly, with Trump a distant third. Polls last spring ranged from Hillary Clinton with a small lead to Trump with a big one, though he now leads by 12 points.
But there are danger signs. Romney won Utah in 2012 with 73 percent, and no Republican presidential candidate since 2000 has won less than 60 percent there. Trump has been struggling to get to 40 percent in the four-way race.
“Republicans begin with a gigantic advantage in the state,” said Karpowitz. “But he certainly doesn’t fit the mold of what people in Utah elected in the past.”