I think of Florida and North Carolina as being the protagonists of this election. They have a bit of everything: early voting, conflicting polling, changing demographics. And they’ve always played a role in the drama of the campaign, since neither candidate has ever really been able to pull away in either state. (No candidate has ever been better than a 2-1 favorite in North Carolina in our polls-plus forecast, for instance.) Furthermore, both states’ polls close relatively early and they count their vote relatively quickly, so they’ll be some of the first states we’ll be checking for clues as to how tomorrow will proceed.
Clinton would seem to be playing offense in these states, in the sense that winning either one would make it very hard for Trump to come back — that’s Fred Jackson Jersey especially the case for Florida, with its 29 electoral votes, which could cover for her losing two key states elsewhere on the map. But there’s a higher chance than you might think that they prove to be a necessity rather than a luxury for Clinton, in case something goes wrong for Clinton in the Midwest.
Obama was leading in the polls in Ohio and Iowa four years ago. Clinton isn’t, which is a big reason her Electoral College map is less robust than his was. While the Garry Gilliam Jersey changes are easy enough to understand based on demographic patterns — both states have lots of white, working-class voters — they’re a sign that the map isn’t necessarily going back to normal even if Clinton wins the election.
But it’s not so much that Clinton’s out of the running in these states — she’s more likely to win Iowa than to lose Pennsylvania, according to our forecast — as that it’s hard to see her winning them unless she’s doing well elsewhere in the Midwest. And if she’s doing well elsewhere in the Midwest, she’ll find it hard to lose the Electoral College. Thus, Ohio and Iowa rank poorly according to our tipping-point index, which accounts for these correlations.
Still, Ohio might have one or two things that make it a good target for Clinton, such as Trump’s frosty relationship with the state’s Republican Party and slightly tighter polls in the past week. Iowa, by contrast, might go the way of Missouri, a state that went from bellwether to off-the-swing-state-map without really pausing in between.
Minnesota would probably have required more of a concerted effort from Trump to really put it into play, but the model marks it as somewhat uncertain because there’s been relatively little polling there. If Clinton is having so many problems in Iowa, is it totally implausible that she could be struggling in the state just on its northern border?
Finally, we come to the states that would matter only in the event of a very close election — particularly, in those cases where Clinton loses Nevada and New Hampshire but wins the rest of her firewall, leaving her stuck on 268 electoral votes. Note that it’s 268 electoral votes instead of 269 because Clinton’s firewall doesn’t include the northern, rural, 2nd Congressional District of Maine, whose demographics are almost perfect for Trump — although recent polls there have shown the race tightening from a previous Trump lead. The two statewide Maine electoral votes could also be in play, although Clinton will almost certainly win the 1st District, which includes Portland.