HOUSTON, October 26, 2016 — With two weeks until the 2016 presidential election, the Electoral College outlook is starting to take shape. Polls are all over the place, and unexpected events have supporters of both Republican Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on edge. Early voting totals tell us nothing, since there is no way of knowing which candidates received which votes.
A presidential election is not a national contest. It is contest held in 51 states.
With that, here is how the Electoral College looks 14 days before the election (number of electoral votes in parentheses.
Hillary Clinton is guaranteed to win 14 states plus the District of Columbia (3). She will win California (55), Oregon (7), Washington (12), Minnesota (10), Illinois (20), Massachusetts (11), Vermont (3), Connecticut (7), Rhode Island (4), New Jersey (14), New York (29), Delaware (3), Maryland (10), Hawaii (4).
These contests give her 192 electoral votes.
Donald Trump will win 24 states: Texas (38). A third party candidate is not going to shock the world in Utah (6). Trump will crush Clinton in Louisiana (8), Arkansas (6), Mississippi (6), Alabama (9), Georgia (16), South Carolina (9), Tennessee (11), Kentucky (8), West Virginia (5), Oklahoma (7), Missouri (10), Iowa (6), Kansas (6), Nebraska (5), South Dakota (3), North Dakota (3), Montana (3), Wyoming (3), Idaho (4), Indiana (11), Arizona (11), Alaska (3).
These states give him 197 electoral votes.
This leaves 12 battleground states with 149 electoral votes, although some of them are far more competitive than others.
Virginia (13) is less solid blue than Democrats care to admit, but less within reach than Republicans would like. Clinton’s Vice Presidential nominee Tim Kaine has not helped the ticket anywhere except Virginia, but that may be enough. Barring a surprise, Democrats win here.
Colorado (9) has a large libertarian pot-smoking vote. New Mexico (5) has a large Hispanic population. Trump has an uphill climb here. Democrats should win them.
Wisconsin (10) has Governor Scott Walker backing Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan focusing on maintaining the House. The progressive union bosses in Madison will deliver for Hillary.
Nevada (6) normally would be a state Trump could win easily, but Senator Harry Reid’s machine has delivered unexpected victories for years for Democrats. He will have the casino union bosses going all out for Clinton in his swan song. It may not be won legally, but Clinton should grind out a win.
New Hampshire (4) and Maine (4) are not nearly as reliably liberal as the other New England states. New Hampshire used to be very conservative. However, in recent presidential elections they have gone with Democrats.
Forget the split electoral vote talk for the sake of simplicity. New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte is in a political dogfight. Clinton should run the table in New England.
Michigan (16) is all about the unions. The union bosses will do whatever it takes to make sure Clinton wins. The Flint water crisis did not help Republicans.
These eight states and 67 electoral votes brings Clinton’s total to 259.
Florida (29) is a major prize, and Trump is simply working the state far harder than Clinton. She is loathed in the Panhandle, while the I-4 corridor from Orlando to Tampa remains as divided as ever. Senator Marco Rubio is a far stronger candidate than Patrick Murphy. Trump will lose some Rubio supporters, but not to Clinton. He will win the state by outworking her.
North Carolina (15) should be less of a tossup than people think. The backlash to the controversial transgender bathroom law has been vastly overstated. Hollywood celebrities screamed while North Carolinians shrugged. Many blacks who came out in record numbers for President Barack Obama are less enthusiastic about Clinton. Her husband Bill Clinton is barnstorming the state, a sign of desperation showing that he is more liked there than his wife. Trump will win North Carolina.
Ohio (18) will vote for Trump because polls have consistently showed him doing relatively well there. Trump has been vastly outspent and battered with allegations against him. Any state where he is even ahead by one point now is a state he will win.
These three states and 62 electoral votes brings Trump’s total to 259.
With 50 contests in, there is a 259-259. However, do not call up the House of Representatives just yet. One state still needs to weigh in.
Pennsylvania is the key, and it is a confounding state. While Democrats win at the presidential level, ultra-conservative Senate candidates from Rick Santorum to Pat Toomey have won here. Toomey should survive his reelection. Pennsylvania has plenty of blue-collar culturally conservative individuals, from Catholics to coal miners.
However, Clinton can rack up a gigantic margin of victory in Philadelphia that cancels out the rest of the state. As of now, Clinton has a lead in Pennsylvania. She is expecting to win Pennsylvania and the White House by a 279-259 margin.
For Trump to win, he must hammer the economy and jobs in Pennsylvania. He can point out that Clinton would ban fracking. He should also hammer the economy in Michigan, although he has a better shot of stealing Pennsylvania. He can also bring up Clinton’s support for partial-birth abortion in Pennsylvania, although jobs and trade is a safer message.
If he loses Pennsylvania and Michigan, getting New Hampshire and Maine with an economically populist message would still only put him at 267, leaving Clinton at 271. He could cobble together the trifecta of New Hampshire, Maine and Nevada for a 273 to 265 victory, but that is much tougher.
Time is running out. For both candidates, the easiest path to victory is a simple one. Winning Pennsylvania means winning the White House.