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Wargaming the Electoral College

RCP Leaners RCP Leaners

We start this week with RealClearPolitics's leaners map. We have five big changes from last Friday, and one small one.

On the plus side for Trump, Indiana has moved out of the Tossup category and Minnesota and Pennsylvania have moved into it. That's 11 votes (IN) out of Clinton's reach for now, and 30 big Blue votes she risks losing. You'll get more on MN momentarily, as it figures for the first time into a Trump victory scenario.

On the plus side for Clinton, Georgia is a Tossup again, and incredibly so is Texas. Texas hasn't voted Democrat since 1976, so I'm taking that one with a shipping container of salt, just as I've been doing with those reports that Arizona is a tossup.

The one small change is that Maine's splittable district has gone from Red to White as the polls there have shifted Blue. That one small change however could make a big difference in a close race, as we've discussed here in previous editions.

The net result is that Clinton has dropped 10 from 262 to 252, and Trump has collapsed from 170 to 126 -- if you buy into those reports about Texas. If not, he's slipped a bit to 164.

So let's take a closer look at the battlegrounds.

rcp-nevada

Nevada had been looking Blue most of the year, but look at those trend lines. Trump's performance in the final debate might just have given him a chance. He still trails by an average of two points, but that's hardly insurmountable. Whether Johnson voters stand by their man or switch to Clinton in the last days could determine the winner.

Arizona is interesting, and not just because we shouldn't have to be talking about Ari-effing-zona this close to Election Day -- but mostly because Clinton and Trump seem to be grabbing hold of nearly equal numbers of Undecided voters. Trump is down by 1.5 on average, but that doesn't strike me as statistically significant. As I've done all along, I'll be painting Arizona red again today.

And Texas as a Tossup? I just don't see it, not with Trump leading by an average of 4.7. That's admittedly weak for a GOP candidate, but it's still a big lead. With RCP's recent polls ranging from Trump +3 to Trump +7, the Lone Star State doesn't feel Blue this year.

The spread for Trump in Georgia is a measly +2.8 points, which again is pathetic for a GOP contender. That said, Clinton has led there only briefly, and that was way back at the beginning of August. Paint it, Red.

North Carolina North Carolina

North Carolina has been see-sawing since 2008. It broke for Obama in '08, if barely, and in '12 Romney took it with some breathing room. Trump hasn't led there since the first of October, and by never more than an average 1.8 points. Clinton is currently up by an average of 2.4. It's difficult so far to make much of the early voting tea leaves:

In North Carolina, registered Democrats have a clear advantage with nearly half of the early vote (48 percent) while 28 percent of early voters are registered as Republicans, and almost a quarter (24 percent) are not affiliated with either party. Note also, in North Carolina as in many southern states, party registration may not be a good proxy for vote; some older voters may have registered as Democrats long ago when the state was more firmly Democratic, but may not vote that way anymore.

It's difficult-to-impossible to see a Trump win without NC -- and he knows it. Both candidates have been campaigning hard there, but today we're going to call it for Trump. I should add that if this exact same race were being held in 2020, given NC's rapidly-changing demographics, it would probably be a Clinton win -- and still might be in 2016.

Iowa: Not enough information for an easy call, but Trump has done well in places where Populism plays. Red it is.

Ah, Florida -- as delightfully crazy and unpredictable as ever. Clinton leads there by an average 1.6 points, which is actually a half point or so better than Obama's numbers during the last month of the 2012 race. However, RCP's averages have the Blue line wiggling down a bit, and the Red line wiggling up quite a bit. With Johnson at a mere 2%, Clinton can't count on scaring many more Libertarian voters into the Democrat camp. Add in Macro Rubio's lead in the Senate race, and "Little Marco" might just be big enough to pull Donald across the finish line.

This week's new biggie is Pennsylvania, and the polls there are tightening. But "tightening" is not the same as "tight," and Clinton is still up by an average of 5. I'm calling it for Clinton because Trump's numbers suck in the 'burbs where he would need to outperform Romney by several points, just to have a chance of losing by a lot instead of losing by a whole lot.

And you want to talk about a seesaw? Ohio has changed colors more times than a planetarium laser projector at a midnight Dark Side of the Moon show. Right now, Trump has a slight lead, and the trend lines favor him slightly. I think Ohio goes for Trump in anything less than a Clinton blowout.

Which brings us, unlikely as it may seem, to Minnesota.

You are allowed to say "Holy crap!" You are allowed to say "Holy crap!"

The polls in Minnesota aren't actually all that close, with Clinton sitting pretty at +5. And I know the plural of "anecdote" is not "anecdata." But sometimes a small story can have big implications. For one of those, let's turn to Ed Morrissey and his report from Minnesota's Iron Range, where Republican Stewart Mills is looking good in his effort to unseat Democrat Congresscritter Rick Nolan:

The Cook index for MN-08 suggests this should be a swing district at D+1, but the Iron Range has been a bastion of Democratic support for decades. Apart from a single Republican term won by Chip Cravaack in the 2010 midterm wave, three Democrats have represented MN-08 since 1947: John Blatnik (14 terms), Jim Oberstar (18 terms), and now Nolan (two terms). The union-heavy, working-class district has voted heavily Democratic in presidential elections as well.

This year, though, that might change, and it could be that Trump might deliver this seat. According to this SUSA/KSTP poll, Trump has a 12-point lead over Hillary Clinton, 47/35. Nolan’s outperforming Hillary, but not by enough to keep control of his own seat. An incumbent at 41% in a two-way race is in dire shape, especially this close to the election, since undecideds will usually break for the challenger. Mills has a 10-point lead among independents too, but Trump leads in that group by an almost 2:1 margin (49/25). Both lead in both cell phone and landline contacts over their Democratic opponents.

If Trump is underperforming with the college grads and suburban dwellers he needs to win Purple states like CO, NC and VA, he might -- might -- be overperforming enough in the blue collar Iron Range to make Minnesota competitive. Minnesota doesn't have NC's rapid-growth "problem," which could just put it in play for Trump.

ASIDE: I looked closely at Michigan and Wisconsin, too, but the case for those states is tougher to make than MN. Not only is Clinton's lead bigger in both states, but she hasn't yet sucked the life out of the Libertarian ticket in either one. So barring a nationwide collapse in the polls, on Election Day, Clinton is likely to overperform her current numbers. If Trump's campaign didn't have a serious cash-flow problem and was in a better position to take advantage, then maybe... but only then and only maybe.

So. In July we first talked about Trump's possible "northern route" to victory westward from PA, through OH, MI, WI, and MN. Back then, Minnesota seemed like the least likely of the Rust Bust swath to break for Trump. Today, it might be Trump's best shot outside of Ohio.

To make that unlikely win mean anything though, Trump first needs to shore up AZ (and perhaps even UT from Evan McMullin), and then sweep GA, FL, NV, NC, and OH. That's not an impossible task, especially given the latest Wikileaks reveals about "Bill Clinton, Inc." But it is a difficult one, requiring a consistency we've only sometimes seen from the GOP nominee.