The early vote, which has hit record levels in many places, looks promising for Joe Biden. He is running ahead of Hillary Clinton’s pace with several key demographic groups, outspending Donald Trump in pivotal media markets and holds comfortable polling leads in several swing states.
Yet on election eve, no one can say with any certainty if Biden wins by a landslide or Trump ekes out a reelection victory.
The reason is that the race remains close in most of the eight swing states POLITICO has identified as critical battlegrounds — Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. While Biden leads in every one of them, according to RealClearPolitics polling averages through Sunday, his advantage is tenuous: His lead in half of those states is within the margin of error.
The selection of these states is based on a variety of factors — polling, demography, past and recent election history, voter registration, interviews with state and local party officials, strategists and pollsters. The individual campaigns have also revealed the places they are prioritizing through staffing, resource allocation, TV and radio advertising and candidate visits.
When POLITICO first chronicled these swing states after Labor Day, it was clear the president had a serious problem in the suburbs, where his numbers were tanking. His standing was similarly poor with women, who disapproved of him in record numbers. Then there was his leadership during the pandemic, for which many voters gave him poor marks.
When we revisited these places in early October, not much had changed. Biden still led in most national and battleground state polls and Trump’s undisciplined messaging prevented him from addressing any of his lingering problems. The president’s situation was actually worse than ever: His own Covid-19 infection at the beginning of the month ensured that the deadly pandemic would be front and center in the final weeks of the campaign.
Now, in the final installment of our swing state series, by almost every traditional yardstick for measuring elections Trump seems on the verge of being denied a second term. Even so, he can’t be counted out.
Despite early voting trends that seemingly favor Democrats, Republicans remain convinced there will be an equally imposing red wave at the polls on Election Day. Among the president’s base, voter enthusiasm remains strong — many local Republican officials say support for Trump is stronger than in 2016.
“People waited hours just to wave to his car. They had no chance of hearing him, seeing him,” former GOP Rep. Lou Barletta told POLITICO’s Holly Otterbein, referring to a Trump rally close to Biden’s birthplace of Scranton. “This is just a couple miles from Joe Biden’s so-called hometown.”
What’s clear, in the final days, is that the election will be decided on a swing state map unlike any from the past, with states unaccustomed to their newly pivotal roles. Arizona has voted for just one Democratic presidential nominee since 1964. Georgia hasn’t voted for one since 1992. Minnesota, where Trump campaigned three times in recent weeks, has the nation’s longest streak of voting Democratic for president — dating back to 1976.
Joe Biden may not be making a stop in Arizona in the final days before the election, but he’s doing the next best thing: he’s spending more money in the critical Phoenix media market than anywhere else in the country. — Laura Barrón-López
Florida ultimately boils down to two big wagers. Democrats are betting they can turn out enough low-propensity, new and blue-leaning independent voters — along with more senior citizens than usual — to carry the state. The GOP gamble hinges on turning out their more numerous high-propensity voters. — Marc Caputo
Early voting indicates a surge in turnout this year in Georgia, and it’s staked Joe Biden to an early lead. But Republicans remain confident that GOP voters will show up in droves on Nov. 3 to make up the deficit. — Elena Schneider
The professional Republicans who spent the past four years marveling at each and every one of the 10,704 votes that put Donald Trump over the top here in 2016 had been clinging to hope that he could expand his coalition. They have abandoned any such optimism. — Tim Alberta
Coronavirus cases are surging. The early vote looks great for Democrats, who have swamped Donald Trump’s ad spending in the state. But the president keeps coming to the state and has strong support in greater Minnesota, so he can’t be counted out. — David Siders
Donald Trump won North Carolina in 2016 by running up the score in the outer suburbs. The race is so close this time that he can’t afford a drop-off in those places. — Michael Kruse
Many Republicans view Pennsylvania as Donald Trump’s best chance to carry one of the three Rust Belt states that put him in the White House in 2016 — in part because polling shows the race is closer here than in Wisconsin or Michigan. — Holly Otterbein
The dominant issue in the state right now is Covid-19. Wisconsin residents are in the throes of another surge in the deadly pandemic, which reached a crisis point four weeks ago and shows no signs of slowing. Donald Trump has held mega-rallies in Wisconsin anyway. — Natasha KoreckiLeave a comment