Don’t Waste Your Time, Donald

July 21, 2016

After Donald Trump finishes his acceptance speech Thursday in Cleveland, he will have only 109 days to cobble together the 270 Electoral College votes necessary to win the White House. More than a dozen weeks is a lot of time in life, but not much in a presidential campaign. Since entering the race, Mr. Trump has spent 401 days to get to this point: Four-fifths of his campaign is already over.

The most precious asset any presidential candidate has is time. Mr. Trump’s must be wisely invested in states that are on the bubble, especially ones he may be able to take from the Democratic column.

Start with the 102 electoral votes from 13 states that Republicans have won in all of the last six elections—from Texas and South Carolina to Wyoming and Utah. Mr. Trump should not visit any of these states for the rest of the campaign, except to raise money, debate, or refuel his jet.

There are 104 electoral votes in 11 states that Republicans have won in some recent presidential contests, including Mitt Romney’s run in 2012. If this election is close, Mr. Trump will likely carry almost all of these. Democrats will try for Georgia and Arizona but won’t win them unless November is a blowout for Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump, however, must focus on defending North Carolina and its 15 electoral votes. The state is experiencing an influx of white, college-educated professionals, an element of the GOP coalition that is skeptical of Mr. Trump.

The next step toward 270 is Florida, which awards 29 electoral votes. President Obama’s 0.9% margin of victory there in 2012 was his narrowest. If Mrs. Clinton wins Florida, along with the 18 states (and D.C.) with 242 electoral votes that Democrats have carried in all of the last six elections, she’s president.

Taking Florida and holding the Romney states would put Mr. Trump at 235 electoral votes. Then he must win the 18 from Ohio. No Republican has ever become president without the Buckeye State, and this election will be no different. Mr. Trump is competitive there. The Real Clear Politics average of polls puts him only 1.8 percentage points behind Mrs. Clinton. After adding Ohio’s electoral votes to his stash he would be at 253.

Mr. Trump believes that he can also carry Pennsylvania, which would put him over the top. Perhaps. The Keystone State hasn’t gone Republican since 1988, but President George W. Bush came within 2.5% of winning there in 2004, and Mr. Romney was within 5.4%. If Mr. Trump’s appeal to blue-collar, white swing voters is real, he could paint Pennsylvania red. If so, he is likely to win the White House with 273 electoral votes.

To hit 270 without Pennsylvania, he must cobble together 17 electoral votes from somewhere else. One possibility is winning some of the traditional battlegrounds: New Hampshire (4 electoral votes), Iowa (6), Colorado (9), Nevada (6) and Virginia (13). The first two of those states are possible for Mr. Trump; the rest have diverse populations that make them problematic for him.

Another strategy would be for Mr. Trump to flip the Democrats’ strongholds in the industrial Midwest: Michigan (16 electoral votes), Minnesota (10), and Wisconsin (10). The first might be within reach (a CBS poll last week had Mr. Trump at 39% in Michigan to Mrs. Clinton’s 42%); the other two are less likely to yield Republican victories. Maine, which awards electoral votes by congressional district, might be an additional target. The rural 2nd District, stretching from New Hampshire to Canada, may offer Mr. Trump its one elector.

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