- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Donald Trump’s path to victory in November runs through disaffected white working-class voters who Republicans hope can force the election into Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and other states that haven’t been in play for decades.

Analysts said it’s a tricky path fraught with potential pitfalls — not the least of which is Mr. Trump’s brash style, which could alienate millions of moderate and independent voters and help keep minority turnout at the 2008 and 2012 rates that powered President Obama to two victories.

But Mr. Trump’s appeal to economically suffering voters could tap veins in populous Rust Belt states that have voted reliably for Democrats for years.

“Donald Trump could scramble the map,” said Whit Ayres, who served as a pollster for Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign. “Conceivable he might put some overwhelmingly white states of the Great Lakes region into play for Republicans with a large blue-collar white [voter] turnout.

“But both sides get to play this game,” Mr. Ayres said. “He would also put Republican-leaning states with large nonwhite populations into play given his toxic numbers among Hispanics and African-Americans.”

Mr. Trump solidified himself as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee this week after he chased from the race his last remaining opponents, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

He now begins to prepare for a November showdown — most likely with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who while facing a nagging challenge from Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont is expected to emerge as the Democratic nominee.

A CNN/ORC poll released Wednesday shows the challenge for Mr. Trump, putting him 13 points behind Mrs. Clinton, at 54 percent to 41 percent.

The survey showed Mrs. Clinton claiming 94 percent of self-identified Democrats, while Mr. Trump gets 84 percent of Republicans. Mrs. Clinton also leads 51 percent to 40 percent among independents.

The candidates poll evenly among men, at 47 percent apiece, but women break overwhelmingly for Mrs. Clinton, 61 percent to 35 percent.

Mr. Trump did lead among white voters, 52 percent to 43 percent, but Mrs. Clinton had an overwhelming advantage among racial and ethnic minorities, 81 percent to 14 percent, signaling the importance for her campaign to maximize turnout from those communities.

With the Electoral College controlling the presidential election, the key battles will be state by state. Analysts said Mr. Trump could end up losing traditionally Republican Sun Belt states such as Arizona and Georgia, even as he tries to put Rust Belt states into play.

Democrats in the past four presidential elections have consistently won states that account for 246 electoral votes, close to the 270 needed to win the White House. Republicans won just 179 Electoral College votes from states that supported them in each of the past four elections.

In other words, Mrs. Clinton could win the November election by defending the Democratic strongholds and winning Florida with the help of the state’s Hispanic population, which has been turned off by Mr. Trump’s hard-line stance on immigration.

“The easiest job in American politics in 2016 goes to the Democratic operative tasked to dramatically increase Hispanic participation to stop Donald Trump,” Mr. Ayres said.

Mr. Trump plans to counter by striking out into territory that has voted Democratic in recent elections.

“I’m sure I’ll win Pennsylvania. I’ll win Florida,” he told CNN on Wednesday. “I will put states in play that no other Republican will even talk about or go to.”

He also predicted victory in Michigan and said he will make New York competitive by running up huge margins in the state’s economically challenged areas, such as Buffalo.

But Mr. Trump’s best chance is to try to poison voters against Mrs. Clinton.

“If the election is a referendum on him, you’d have to think he is going to be in a little trouble, but if he successfully makes it a referendum about her, she is toast,” said Michael McKenna, a Republican Party strategist. “She personally can’t stand scrutiny. She is not a very likable person. She is not a very friendly person, and her record is shaky at best.”

Mr. McKenna said working-class voters who have been in the Democratic camp in recent elections could flee to Mr. Trump, and Mrs. Clinton will likely have a smaller share of the black vote than Mr. Obama did in states such as Ohio and Virginia.

Mr. Trump’s path to the nomination also could expand if the fundamentals of the race change through a world event or economic downturn, Mr. McKenna said.

Frank Cannon, president of the American Principles Project, said Mr. Trump has masterfully branded his opponents and will need to do the same to take down Mrs. Clinton.

“He will go right for the jugular,” he said. “He will say, ‘How did you defend the women that your husband brutalized and attacked? You were part of the effort to discredit and hurt those women. How are you the defender of the women?’ So everything will be in bounds, and he will not allow things to be said that are naked strengths of Hillary’s without there being a counterattack.

“The question is: Are his branding skills good enough to work with non-Republicans?” Mr. Cannon said.

Mr. Trump has accused Mrs. Clinton of playing the “women’s card” — suggesting that her eight years as first lady, eight years as a senator from New York and four years as secretary of state have not prepared her for the presidency.

He has already nicknamed her “Crooked Hillary,” a reference to the ongoing investigations into Mrs. Clinton’s violation of State Department policy by keeping a secret email account.

“She should not be allowed to run in the election,” Mr. Trump said Wednesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “She should suffer like other people have suffered who have done far less than she has.”

Mr. Trump also has touted polls showing him running strong against Mrs. Clinton, including a recent George Washington University Battleground poll that showed the former first lady with a 46 percent to 43 percent lead over Mr. Trump.

Ed Goeas, a Republican Party pollster who helped conduct the battleground survey, said the poll included stark warning signs for Mr. Trump — showing Mrs. Clinton up 12 points in the tossup states, with a higher net favorable rating and with more room to grow among undecided voters.

“So, he really has two plays here,” he said. “One is he has to drive her unfavorables up, specifically with conservative Democrats, because quite frankly independents don’t like either one of them. And the other hope has to be that you take that race with independents not liking either one and undecideds not liking either one, maybe they all stay home and that at least makes it a closer race.”

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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