Donald Trump’s tough path to the White House

Updated 1:01 PM EDT, Fri October 28, 2016
02:56 - Source: CNN
Trump storms Ohio as GOP attacks Clinton

Story highlights

Donald Trump is down in CNN's Poll of Polls

Trump and his aides insist he has momentum

(CNN) —  

Donald Trump got a morale boost this week – but it likely won’t be enough to propel him to the White House.

After weeks of devastating headlines, the Republican nominee seemed to give himself a break. He largely avoided incessant talk about allegations of sexual assault by multiple women and claims that the election is rigged – both of which made wavering Republicans nervous.

Michelle Obama fires up North Carolina crowd for Hillary Clinton

The drumbeat of WikiLeaks disclosures yielded material to lambast Hillary Clinton and her family’s foundation. And news of rising Obamacare premiums gave him an opening to criticize President Barack Obama’s legacy that Clinton is running to inherit.

Trump edged up in some state surveys and CNN moved two crucial states – Florida and Nevada – from lean Democratic to battleground status on its electoral map.

But 11 days before the election, Trump is down six points in CNN’s Poll of Polls. His path to the 270 electoral votes needed to capture the presidency remains daunting and it will be tough to overcome the deficit in the remaining time. Trump seemed to acknowledge the challenges Thursday.

“Just thinking to myself right now, we should just cancel the election and just give it to Trump,” he quipped during a rally in Toledo, Ohio.

Also telling: Trump donated just $31,000 to his campaign in early October despite promises to give up to $100 million to his campaign, according to a fundraising report filed Thursday. He has only donated $56 million to his race as of October 20.

Republicans: No honeymoon if Clinton wins

With the new changes, CNN’s electoral college map leaves Clinton with 272 electoral votes from states either solidly or leaning in her direction. Trump has 179 electoral votes from states either solidly or leaning in his direction. That leaves 87 electoral votes up for grabs at the moment. Trump will have to pitch a perfect game to secure the ones he needs, especially as he struggles to pull states such as Virginia, Pennsylvania or Michigan out of Clinton’s column.

’Fighting chance’

“To have a fighting chance in this election of getting to 270 electoral votes, he has to win North Carolina, Ohio and Florida. If he does win all three that still gives him only 253 electoral votes,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist. “The biggest problem for the Trump campaign is overall, where are you going to get 270? He basically almost has to run an inside straight and almost has to have them all fall into his hands.”

Trump and his aides insist he has a path and momentum, citing huge crowds, long lines for early voting and the few polls in his favor. A Fox News poll Wednesday put the national gap to Clinton at only three points and a Bloomberg Politics survey in Florida said he was two points up.

“I think we’re going to have a tremendous victory,” Trump told CNN’s Dana Bash Wednesday. “If I didn’t think it, I wouldn’t say it.”

Clinton won’t mess with Texas

Trump’s schedule shows that he knows the stakes.

He spent several days in Florida earlier this week, was in North Carolina on Wednesday and spent Thursday in Ohio. Without that trio, Trump has no platform to mount what even then would be a long shot bid for the White House.

Clinton is of the same mind. She was in Florida Wednesday and plans to go back Saturday. She campaigned in North Carolina with first lady Michelle Obama on Thursday. Clinton could effectively stop Trump in his tracks if she can win either state – barring a huge and unpredictable upset elsewhere.

If Trump does win North Carolina, Ohio and Florida, he can trace the narrowest of routes to 270 electoral votes by winning New Hampshire, a congressional district in Maine, Iowa and Nevada. But Clinton is leading or in a tight race in those states. Trump also cannot afford to drop any red state, and is already fighting rearguard actions in Arizona and Utah, and some Democrats believe that Georgia could be competitive.

Again, Trump’s travel is instructive – he is campaigning in Maine, New Hampshire and Iowa on Friday.

New DC routine: Wake up, search WikiLeaks, wince

Some Democrats worry Clinton’s biggest risk is that her voters think she has the presidency in the bag and will fail to show up to vote.

’No complacency’

“No complacency here,” Clinton said Wednesday at a rally in Tampa, Florida. “Donald Trump says he can still win and he is right. That is why it is so important everyone gets out and votes.”

Clinton’s advisers also warn that the race will probably narrow in the days to come.

“Quite likely we are in store for one final round of tightening,” Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon tweeted Wednesday.

In essence, Trump’s hopes rely on a huge turnout of his base voters, who are largely white and working class. He also needs significantly depressed enthusiasm among Clinton voters and a poll-defying shock on the scale of Brexit, the surprise British vote this year to quit the European Union.

Trump has repeatedly said the polls are wrong. And it’s true that some pre-election polls underplayed the size of Obama’s re-election victory in 2012 and the Democratic mid-term election debacle two years later.

But if he goes into Election Day with his current deficit, Trump would require a massive polling miss outside the margin of error in multiple states.

The Republican nominee’s own strategy makes his task even more difficult.

Since he has likely alienated minority and educated women with his rhetoric and behavior, Trump must pull in vast numbers of new white voters — some who may have voted for Democrats in the past – to make up for the shortfall.

But the Fox News poll, like some other recent surveys, suggested Trump is underperforming 2012 nominee Mitt Romney among this core constituency. Romney won white voters by 20 points over Obama according to exit polls, but Trump is only 14 points ahead of Clinton in the poll with the same voting group.

Trump’s problems with educated white female voters have been well documented.

If those numbers hold, it means that the GOP nominee must reverse trends in which white voters have become a smaller share of the electorate in recent elections.

“There are just not enough white men in these battleground states for him to win this election,” said Tharon Johnson, who ran Obama’s southern states strategy in his 2012 re-election bid.

Still, Bloomberg’s poll of Florida does suggest Trump has some traction in the state he regards as a second home — even though most other recent surveys have given Clinton a lead of a few points. Some close observers of Sunshine State politics do believe his intense campaigning is having an impact.

“I think it has moved some polls. He has been very strategic about going into some of the media markets where there are a lot of suburban voters,” said Professor Susan MacManus of the University of South Florida, who does not rule out a late Trump surge. “Never say never in our state. On paper, it should be Hillary’s to lose. But it’s not an on paper election. She has soft spots in her base, so does Trump.”