A possible new swing state and old problems in Ohio?


    'Inside Politics' Forecast: So long Ohio?


'Inside Politics' Forecast: So long Ohio? 04:17

Story highlights

  • Is Clinton conceding Ohio? It's all about the demographics
  • Arizona, a new swing state?
  • Great (debate) expectations: what to remember when you're watching the first presidential debate

Washington (CNN)Shifting terrain in three battlegrounds, the 'debate expectations' game in full effect, and how historically black colleges and universities factor into 2016. It's all a part of our 'Inside Politics' forecast.

1) Battleground Ohio: Trump has momentum -- and Clinton Is MIA

Is Hillary Clinton conceding Ohio?
    So long Ohio?
    So long Ohio?


      So long Ohio?


    So long Ohio? 00:46
    The official answer from her campaign team is an emphatic 'no.' But Donald Trump has opened up a small lead in the Buckeye State, and even as they insist they are still in play, Clinton aides are quick to tell inquiring reporters that she can get to 270 electoral votes and the presidency without it.
    CNN's Jeff Zeleny shared reporting on one of the more fascinating dynamics of a campaign map that is shifting in Trump's favor a bit just ahead of the first debate.
    "She's struggling mightily among white voters. And the campaign hasn't written it off and will push back saying we are still spending money in that state. Ohio, the mother of all battleground states, and it's not in her wheelhouse any more, " explained Zeleny.

    2) Elsewhere in the Rust Belt -- Wisconsin getting attention

    Wisconsin is always on the early Republican presidential wish list -- and then almost always not a key GOP target in the final days because of its Democratic DNA in White House races.
    Will 2016 be an exception?
    Hillary Clinton has held a constant lead in the Badger State, and you might remember it was not kind to Donald Trump in the GOP primaries.
    But Jonathan Martin of The New York Times keeps a close tab on the campaign travel schedule, and this is why Wisconsin's caught his eye.
    "I talked to some Clinton folks," he said. "[They say] 'We're going to be okay in Wisconsin,' but there's some internal sort of chatter about let's lock it down there....Why is that state closer now? It's white voters. It's a heavily white state. Hillary is having problems with those folks. And the GOP is coming home to Trump. Obama won it twice, but keep in mind when Bush ran both times Wisconsin, he was very very close."

    3) From Rust Belt to the Sun Belt -- Arizona remains a possible wild card

    If Hillary Clinton is struggling in the Rust Belt, might she turn to the Sun Belt to help with her electoral math?
    Arizona, a swing state?
    Arizona, a swing state?


      Arizona, a swing state?


    Arizona, a swing state? 00:36
    Georgia and Arizona are two traditionally red presidential states that have come up as potential Clinton targets this year. The smart money is that both stay red.
    But The Atlantic's Molly Ball recently traveled to Arizona for some on the ground reporting, and suggests that while Democrats know it is difficult terrain, they still see possibilities as we shift into the final six weeks.
    "It's a been a solidly red state but both campaigns are actually making a play for it on the presidential level and they both acknowledge it shouldn't be in play in a normal year," explained Ball. "But this is not a normal year and a combination of the split in the Republican party over Trump and an unusually mobilized Latino electorate may bring that state on to the board depending on how things go nationally."

    4) HBCU campuses are busy -- especially in the battlegrounds

    There are more than 100 campuses with the designation Historically Black University and Colleges, and so it is not a surprise that these are organizing hotbeds as the campaign season winds down.
    Eleven of those campuses are in North Carolina, making them a key battleground-within-a-battleground state that Donald Trump must win to have a viable path to 270 electoral votes.
    CNN's Nia Malika Henderson shared reporting on how the campaigns are looking for votes at HBCUs.
    "You see Hillary Clinton rolled out a plan, $25 million in funding to private HBCUs," she said. "But you're also seeing Republicans be on campuses. HBCU campuses in North Carolina, RNC officials in Charlotte, they are planning to have a presence...in some of these homecoming events as well, which are huge events where the alumni and students gather and so we'll see that in October."

    5) Debate expectations: remember -- they are applying for the same job!

    Yes, there are different goals and priorities as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton prepare for their first debate.
    And yes, Hillary Clinton has more experience at these things.
    But does that mean the bar is lower for Donald Trump when it comes to grading their performance? There will be a lot of "expectations game" chatter in the next two days, but much of it is useless.
    This is a smart take: veteran pollster Peter Hart says Donald Trump's challenge is professional; Hillary Clinton's more personal.
    As far as what Trump's weaknesses are, the view is he isn't up to speed on policy, and doesn't have the temperament to be president. And Clinton is viewed as deeply experienced and prepared, but many voters doubt her honesty and whether she understands the pressures in their lives.
    Assessments like that are helpful as we watch the 90-minute encounter unfold. You can also look at strengths and weaknesses in polling to get a sense of why each candidate might seem to be targeting their answers to a specific audience.
    But the bottom line is this: the two candidates are now at the job interview phase. The title is the same. The winner gets the same house, the same office, the same challenges and, yes, the same salary.
    So, in my view, they should be graded on the same standard.