By Gabriel Debenedetti
August 4, 2016
The 2016 battleground map may soon have one fewer state on it.
With a clear lead in the polls, demographic advantages, and a rival who is out of sync with local GOP leaders, Hillary Clinton is beginning to put some distance between her campaign and Donald Trump, raising the prospect that Colorado, a pivotal swing state, is too far gone for Trump to catch up.
No one close to the Clinton team is ready to say the state’s nine electoral votes are in their column. But with just over three months until Election Day, Clinton and her allies are showing outward signs of self-assurance here by cutting Colorado out their recent ad buys.
For Trump, it’s a worrisome sign of a narrowing electoral path to victory. At the outset of the election cycle, the GOP nominee already confronted what appeared to be a Democratic advantage in the Electoral College. The potential loss of a key Western swing state leaves even less margin for error in November, increasing the urgency of winning the big prizes of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.
“There are a couple things that would make any supporter of Hillary feel confident, one is that a significant part of the Republican Party in Colorado is a family values party, and they’ve always had some difficulty accepting Donald Trump as the party’s candidate. That’s been exaggerated because one of the other key parts of the Republican identity in Colorado is our very close relationship with the military,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, referring to Trump’s recent scrap with the parents of a soldier killed in 2004. “In the last week or two some of Mr. Trump’s comments have been deeply troubling to many people who, before, would never consider not voting for the Republican candidate."
With Clinton set to campaign in Las Vegas on Thursday after her Colorado campaigning and fundraising swing, some Democrats also see a similar story playing out in Nevada — another Western battleground state where Clinton leads Trump, though by a narrower margin in the public polling — and where the campaign is, as in Colorado, focused on mobilization, as opposed to persuasion, at this point.
“Colorado has a significant and growing Latino population, and Trump has done everything he possibly can to draw Latino voters into the waiting arms of Democrats. The same is true in Nevada. So it’s not surprising that Hillary Clinton looks reasonably strong there — I don’t know if he can [win Colorado]. Maybe not attack a Gold Star mother while she’s grieving?” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres, who worked for Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign.
While the Trump campaign has dispatched running mate Mike Pence to both Colorado and Nevada this week to generate enthusiasm for the ticket, the math is straightforward, explained Nevada’s last Democratic governor, Bob Miller.
“There’s about 75,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans,” he said. "If they show up, she should win."
It’s not just the considerable Hispanic population that has Clinton forces feeling confident in Colorado, where the POLITICO Battleground States polling average has her up eight points on Trump — by far the largest margin of any battleground states, with the exception of Michigan where Clinton leads by 10.
The state boasts a massive college presence — with more millennials than any other battleground — and a more highly-educated electorate, as well. While national Republican candidates traditionally win college educated voters, Clinton has been outperforming other national Democrats in that regard, lending her extra strength in Colorado.
“I’m inclined to believe that she’s probably going to easily lock up the West sometime over the next month or so," said pollster Patrick Murray, whose Monmouth University poll has surveyed Colorado and Nevada in recent weeks. "Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico will be for her, and she might even have a stronger position in Arizona than she might otherwise."
Still, her campaign itself is typically careful not to get out over its skis — despite the fact that Clinton has led every public poll in Colorado this year — insisting that it doesn’t yet view Colorado as a done deal. “We’re encouraged by the demographics and support that we’re seeing, but we’re definitely treating Colorado as a battleground state,” said Clinton’s battleground states director Meg Ansara.
Trump’s camp contends that the sunny reading of the Colorado landscape from Democrats is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Republican nominee’s appeal.
“They stopped spending money here, I don’t think they’re confident about Colorado at all. Clinton is here to shore up her base, she would not be here if she was confident,” said Trump state director Patrick Davis. “The demographics that she’s referring to are from 2008 and 2012. This is a completely different electorate. Donald Trump has completely reorganized the electorate. Her math is wrong. He is attracting people who have not voted in a general election in the last ten years, bringing them back to politics."
"Much like Ronald Reagan created a new coalition in 1980 we don’t know what it looks like, and Hillary Clinton certainly doesn’t know what it looks like,” he added, insisting, “We’re going to win Colorado."
But Clinton’s campaign has had a robust coordinated campaign running with the Colorado Democratic Party for months, including 14 field offices and dozens of organizers. Their focus, said Ansara and others familiar with the campaign’s local efforts, has been to register and re-register voters, and to educate them about a new Colorado program that permits them to vote by mail.
Clinton has visited the state multiple times in the general election, and both campaign manager Robby Mook and former president Bill Clinton are scheduled back here for fundraisers over the next two weeks, according to invitations obtained by POLITICO.
Trump, meanwhile, has opened four offices and hired a dozen people on the ground in the last two days, said Davis. But the nominee has gotten little buy-in from local Republican leaders, who largely rejected him in the primary against Ted Cruz. Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Mike Coffman have been actively distancing themselves from Trump, with Coffman going as far as to run an ad featuring families and minorities that leans into immigration reform and proclaims, “He’s not like other Republicans."
While longshot GOP Senate candidate Darryl Glenn has appeared with Trump, Glenn has yet to get any support from Senate Republicans’ campaign arm — meaning Trump’s efforts here are the only significant national Republican presence aside from the handful of organizers hired by the Republican National Committee. People familiar with the Trump operation’s theories say he is hoping to compete in organized labor-heavy areas where Gardner over-performed in 2014, though local politicos are skeptical that would make up for the expected wide losses in populous suburban Jefferson and Arapahoe counties near Denver.
“It’s premature to be overly confident,” said Hickenlooper,shortly before introducing Clinton at her rally here Wednesday. “But each of these things gives you an additional measure of confidence."
That explains why the Clinton campaign has stopped advertising in Colorado temporarily, and why her super PAC Priorities USA Action cut two weeks’ worth of ad time here. Now, with Priorities regularly polling stretch states like Arizona, Indiana, Georgia, and Missouri, the group is actively considering expanding the map in the wake of such optimism, with a particular eye on states with Senate races, said a source familiar with the big-money group’s thinking.
Trump’s prospects are more favorable in Nevada, where’s there’s more of a libertarian strain in the rural parts of the state and he trails Clinton by just two points. Still, Trump’s team has had a similarly hard time working with Nevada Republicans as in Colorado, never appearing with Gov. Brian Sandoval. For her part, Clinton is appearing with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Rep. Dina Titus, and Senate candidate Catherine Cortez Masto on Thursday in Las Vegas.
And, in a state that’s hard to poll, local officials say the public surveys consistently under-represent the Hispanic vote that Trump has alienated and Clinton is working hard to register and mobilize.
“My district is part of the [Las Vegas] Valley with a very high Hispanic population, so we are seeing tremendous efforts to turn that demographic out, and I am seeing nothing from the Trump folks,” said Titus. "You saw how the convention highlighted Hispanics from Nevada — we had several DREAMers from the stage talking about immigration, and [the campaign has] been here for over a year. I, meanwhile, haven’t seen much evidence of Trump events."
It's that group of Hispanics that Democrats believe will help them carry the West, forcing Trump to thread the Electoral College needle.
“When you have gone out of your way to antagonize the Hispanic community, and when you’ve threatened to deport a number of Hispanics comparable to the population of Ohio, it is eminently predictable that you will do worse than Mitt Romney’s 27 percent among Hispanics,” said Ayres, the Republican pollster. “Consequently, any state with a significant and growing population — not just Colorado and Nevada, but Florida and North Carolina and maybe Arizona — will be a lot more difficult for you."
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