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Can Biden Hold off Trump by Winning the Heartland Again?

The answer will surprise you.

In the fog of Election Night 2016, you will remember that Pennsylvania and Michigan were almost universally hailed as the states that put Donald Trump over the top and into the White House. While the shock of that night has yet to wear off for either friend or foe, both states were thought to be shading a bit purple after years of Democrat blue dominance. They became logical targets for Trump’s helter-skelter campaign designed to penetrate deep into long-uncharted territory behind the so-called blue wall.

At the same time, few will remember that it was actually Wisconsin, a state hardly on Trump’s radar, which put the soon-to-be 45th president over the required 270 electoral votes. Then, in the mirror-image election of 2020, Joe Biden won the Badger State by a similarly razor-thin margin as Trump four years earlier. The same reversal of fortune occurred in Pennsylvania and Michigan, captured by Biden in 2020 by margins nearly as slim as Trump in 2016. That is why Biden was handing out more goodies last week in Wisconsin, a place he is sure to visit frequently as November approaches. Already, he has spent more time in Pennsylvania than any state other than Delaware and is counting on the strong hand of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and a heavily Democratic state government to boost his fortunes in Michigan.

With this trio of states reflecting the country’s heartland all highly competitive, are the stakes equally large for both Trump and Biden? If aggregate polling data is to be believed, the answer is no. To use a sports analogy, it’s like Trump is up by three runs entering the 8th inning of a baseball game, or ten points ahead entering the fourth quarter of a football game. Victory is not assured, but the odds are promising.

The Trump Math Adds Up, Biden Not So Much

Start with the widely accepted premise that 43 of the nation’s 50 states are considered locks or near-locks for one candidate or the other. Though there are some that could be in play in the event of a one-sided victory for Trump such as New Hampshire, Virginia, and Minnesota, that leaves seven states that seem all but certain to swing the election one way or another.

New banner Memo - From the Desk of Senior Political Analyst Tim Donner 1While Biden has recently prevailed in some national polls, in order to understand the magnitude of the challenge facing the president in his bid for re-election, one needs to drill down on battleground state polling from multiple sources, compiled and averaged by Real Clear Politics (RCP). The results are startling. Trump has finished on top in 86% of swing state polls figured into the current RCP average – 32 out of 37 – while Biden has prevailed in just three, with two more finishing in a tie.

Furthermore, Trump has built commanding, perhaps even insurmountable, leads in four of the seven most critical states (three of which he lost in 2020). He leads North Carolina by 5.4%, Arizona by 5%, Nevada by 4.5%, and Georgia by 3.8% – with all except Georgia outside the margin of error. This leaves no wiggle room for Joe Biden in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

But even a Biden clean sweep of the heartland may not matter because, if polling holds up, Trump could reach the promised land without winning any of those three states.

Here’s why. Forgetting even that Biden is trailing Trump on every major issue except abortion and hemorrhaging support among minorities and the young, an overlooked factor in most predictive electoral math is the altered apportionment of electoral votes following the 2020 census. As the populace continues to move away from the urban north and toward the sunbelt and south, northern industrial states and the biggest, bluest states have been stripped of electoral votes that could well prove pivotal in a tight election. Michigan and Pennsylvania each lost one congressional seat due to population losses, as did California, Illinois, and New York. So did Ohio and West Virginia, both considered Trump strongholds. But Trump benefits from Texas gaining two congressional seats, and Florida, Montana, and North Carolina each adding one, though deep blue Oregon also gains one seat.

Add it all up and the states in Biden’s 2020 coalition have lost a net five electoral votes. If Trump holds together his coalition from 2020, he would start 2024 with 237 electoral votes (up from 232 following the reapportionment). Adding in the three battleground states Trump lost in 2020 but is presently leading by healthy margins – Georgia (16 votes), Arizona (11 votes) and Nevada (6 votes) – and it takes Trump to 269 votes and a flat-footed tie with Biden in the electoral college. It would then be settled in the House, where each state would get one vote for president, and Republicans currently control 26 state congressional delegations compared to 22 for the Democrats. Of course, Trump could avoid such a scenario by winning any one of Pennsylvania, Michigan, or Wisconsin.

Obviously, in an election between the oldest president in history and a once-in-a-lifetime lightning rod for both love and hate under multiple indictments, variables abound. Much will happen in the six months leading up to November 5, most of it ugly. But the only question that ultimately matters is whether Joe Biden can dig himself out of the deep, dark hole the metrics suggest, or if he must face the wrath of Democrats sure to blame him for handing the keys to the White House back to their sworn enemy.

Read More From Tim Donner

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