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Trump, Biden eye new swing states but analysts have doubts

North Carolina, Minnesota seen as more likely than Florida or Virginia to flip

Former President Donald Trump talks with race winner Lando Norris at the Formula One Grand Prix of Miami on Sunday. President Joe Biden’s campaign says Florida is in play.
Former President Donald Trump talks with race winner Lando Norris at the Formula One Grand Prix of Miami on Sunday. President Joe Biden’s campaign says Florida is in play. (Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

ANALYSIS — President Joe Biden and Donald Trump are trying to create new battleground states, a signal the general election outcome could rival Saturday’s photo finish in the Kentucky Derby. But such efforts likely will come up short, experts say.

Each of the presumed presidential nominees is taking shots at the other’s competence and policy ideas, using official events and courthouse rants to go at it. And both are trying to expand the list of swing states — though experts, history and polling suggest long odds — as they scramble to stitch together the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win in November.

Biden campaign aides have contended for weeks that the president could turn North Carolina and Florida blue, saying both are in play despite Trump’s polling leads there.

On Sunday, Jason Miller, a senior Trump aide, tweeted this: “At a private donor retreat, Trump team says Minnesota and Virginia are in play,” referring to comments Trump reportedly made at a GOP gathering in Florida.

Ford O’Connell, a Florida-based Republican political strategist, said in a Monday phone interview that “any presidential candidate will always want to be trying to expand the electoral map in any way possible.”

He added that Trump’s weekend prognostication should not be met with much surprise, “especially since the candidate, in this case, was talking to their more well-heeled donors.”

Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia said Monday that he “can see the appeal in trying to expand the map,” but added: “Although, I’ll only really believe states like Florida, Minnesota, and Virginia are in play if the candidate that won each state in 2020 feels compelled to commit significant resources to defending them.”

That means if the winner in each of those states resists the urge to take his opponent’s bait, they are unlikely to become actual battlegrounds, according to Kondik. “It’s also unclear exactly how much the 2020 loser spends in those states,” he added in an email, “particularly in a state like Florida, you need to really spend big to hit all of the media markets.”

Republican nominees have won Florida in four of the last six general elections, including by Trump in 2016 and 2020. North Carolina has been in the GOP column in 10 of the last 12 presidential elections.

The last Republican to take Minnesota was Richard M. Nixon in 1972, with Virginia recently going to Democrats in the last four elections after Republicans won the state in the previous 10 cycles.

“Minnesota could be in play only on an extremely good night for Trump. It’s more educated than any other rust belt state,” James Black, a Liberty University researcher, wrote on X. “On the other hand, Trump would win Maine before he flips Virginia. It’s not going to happen even on a good night, as 2016 showed us.”

O’Connell agreed that Virginia is the longer shot for Trump.

“While Virginia has a Republican governor and the party is doing pretty well in the state legislature, North Virginia is more problematic,” he said. “As the federal government has gotten bigger and bigger, so has Democrats’ advantage. If Democratic turnout there is significantly depressed, it’s conceivable Trump wins the state. But, with ‘uncommitted’ and economic frustrations there, Minnesota is much more likely.”

Trump’s team is betting that the “uncommitted” movement, angry with Biden over his inability — or unwillingness — to press Israel into lightening its military response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, could drive down Biden’s final vote total enough to cause what would be a major upset.

“If Biden wins Florida or Trump wins Minnesota, it’ll likely be part of a larger national victory for either of them,” Kondik said.

Some analysts have said the same about the Biden campaign targeting North Carolina, where Biden spent Thursday of last week, and Florida.

As he has during stops in other battlegrounds and potential swing states, Biden last week told supporters in Wilmington, N.C., that Trump and congressional Republicans have done little to improve their lives.

“Look, my predecessor and [his] MAGA Republican allies … have a very different view. Every single Republican voted against the American Rescue Plan — every one,” Biden said as an audience member shouted, “Shame on them!”

Biden continued: “That’s providing hundreds of millions of dollars to deliver drinking water to all of North Carolina’s schools. The vast majority of them voted against the infrastructure law, as well.”

Trump used campaign rallies in Wisconsin and Michigan last week, as well as recent hallway remarks outside his criminal hush money trial in New York City, to describe the incumbent president as incompetent, the leader of a corruption plot against all things Trump and too mentally and physically frail for the job. The challenger also slammed Biden’s electric vehicle push in auto industry stronghold Michigan, contending the policy would hinder the state’s job market and economy.

‘He loses the election’

Kondik assessed that “North Carolina probably belongs in a different category because it was decided by such a small margin in 2020 — it is one of the core battleground states.” Trump topped Biden in the Tar Heel State in 2020, 49.9 percent to 48.6 percent.

One big reason Biden was in North Carolina’s swing county of New Hanover last week: There likely would be no path back to the White House for Trump if he loses the state.

“In this iteration of the Electoral College map, North Carolina is always going to be in play. Now, Republican candidates have usually done enough to win it,” O’Connell said. “There’s no reason to believe Trump won’t win it again. If Trump loses North Carolina, he loses the election.”

With many polls taken in the past few weeks in battlegrounds and possible battleground states within the margins of error, Biden and Trump are the political equivalents of Mystik Dan and Sierra Leone, the thoroughbred horses that finished first and second in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.

With less than six months to go until Election Day, however, the stretch run is still many furlongs away.

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