- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Donald Trump insists the new voters he’s brought into the Republican primary are just the tip of what he’ll be able to do if he’s the nominee in November, vowing to put states in play that the GOP hasn’t won in a generation.

He’ll get an early chance to test that appeal over the next two weeks as the primary schedule shifts to New York, which both he and Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton call home.

The billionaire businessman also thinks he would put his second home, Florida, in play, after two consecutive elections where it was won by Democrats, and says the rust belt is also fertile territory for his populist message.

His argument has been buoyed by record breaking turnout in primaries and the massive crowds at his rallies who say they are sick of the status quo in Washington, feel left behind economically, and gravitate toward his business experience and his vow not to solicit contributions.

Analysts say it is difficult to measure how much of the surge in turnout is attributable to Mr. Trump and how much of that would benefit Mr. Trump in a general election.

Also, polls show he is shaping up to be perhaps the most divisive nominee in decades and could struggle to unite the party and build the sort of coalition necessary to win in states that have backed Democrats in nearly 30 years, including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and New York.

The Trump camp, however, remains confident.

Mr. Trump has the ability to win states like Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York and beyond,” said Hope Hicks, a Trump spokesperson.

G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania, refused to rule out the possibility that Mr. Trump is on the verge of remaking the map, but said the country’s ideological divide suggests it’ll be tough.

“The difficulty here is that what Trump has to do is simple: there have been 18 states and the District of Columbia for the past six elections that have given their electoral votes to Democrats, giving them 245 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win,” Mr. Madonna said. “So his challenge is going to be how are they going to move the votes away from these states that have stayed with Democrats through the great recession, through 9-11 — you see what I am saying. It is a great challenge.”

Still, he and other analysts shrugged off the early polls that show Mrs. Clinton and Sen. Bernard Sanders, the other potential Democratic nominee, trouncing Mr. Trump in hypothetical match-ups, saying a lot can happen over the next seven months.

Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School poll in Wisconsin, said Mr. Trump has played well with less-than-college educated voters, a group that traditionally lower turnout than college educated voters.

“If Trump is able to mobilize lower education voters who typically would be less likely to vote and bring them into an electorate that they have not previously participated in, then clearly that could be a source of electoral strength for him,” Mr. Franklin said.

Still, he said their polling doesn’t show a surge toward Mr. Trump among those less-inclined voters. And he said the record turnout in the GOP race isn’t necessarily a pro-Trump surge, but is more likely due to overall heightened interest in the race.

Others have warned that even if Mr. Trump is making inroads with working-class voters in the rust belt, he could see deeper losses among young voters, minorities and women voters that helped power President Obama to victory in 2008 and 2012.

“There is potential to expand support among working class voters, but the risk is he has been doing that by alienating non-white voters,” said John Zogby, a pollster.

Republican leaders have shared similar concerns.

It’s not even clear Mr. Trump can keep the GOP coalition together if he’s the nominee in November. A Pew Research poll released last month showed just 38 percent of GOP voters said the party would “unite solidly” behind Mr. Trump.

As it stands, Mr. Trump is leading GOP primary polls in New York and Pennsylvania, another big state that votes a week later. But he trails Mrs. Clinton in head-to-head match-ups, and also is carrying lower net favorability ratings.

John McLaughlin, a GOP pollster, said that Mr. Trump can reverse the trend.

“All the trends favor Republicans,” Mr. McLaughlin said of the election. “We just have to get through this primary fight and bring the party together and make sure Hillary and their allies don’t damage the nominee to the point where there is a disconnect.”

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