WASHINGTON – America’s swing states, where presidential elections are won and lost, are swinging to Hillary Clinton.
Yes, there are still 94 days until the election, and anything can happen. But so far the Democratic nominee is gaining where it matters most, notably in Florida, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and elsewhere.
“The map is shrinking,” said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York.
The key reason: “This is a race about who you can trust,” said Charles Franklin, the director of the Marquette University Law School Poll, which surveys Wisconsin voters.
That means the roughly 15 percent to 20 percent of undecided or independent voters will make up their minds less on ideology or issues than on personality. Thus far, that gives Clinton an edge.
“This whole thing is a character election,” said Carter Wrenn, a veteran North Carolina Republican strategist.
The swing states are considered those that have been close in recent elections. They generally comprise Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia. Some analysts add Michigan, New Mexico and Wisconsin.
But this year, Virginia and Colorado are seen as tilting safely Democratic. The Clinton campaign stopped advertising in those states this month.
“Clinton is getting a polling bounce and she appears to have decent leads in at least enough states to get to 270 electoral votes,” said Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, which analyzes election trends.
Clinton’s advantages, though, mean she can begin expanding the map, said Miringoff. That would help her tie up resources for Trump in states such as Arizona and Georgia, which have been reliably Republican but are showing signs of Democratic life this time around. “Sometimes you like to fight on battlefields that aren’t critical,” he said.
North Carolina is in play because it went for Obama in 2008 but not in 2012. Trump and Clinton have been pouring time and resources into the state.
John Rundle, 76, of Carolina Shores, North Carolina, is an independent voter but will be voting for Clinton. Trump, he said, “is better fitted for reality TV.”
Many Republicans are torn. Former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, who said he was “not there yet” in support of Trump, criticized the candidate’s campaign so far.
“Mrs. Clinton is a gold mine of indiscretion, poor judgment and downright deceitfulness,” he said, “but he seems to want to go after the Khan family and Ted Cruz,” references to Trump’s feuds with the parents of a Muslim soldier who lost his life in Iraq and with the U.S. senator and former presidential candidate from Texas.
In Pennsylvania, a Franklin & Marshall College poll this week put Clinton up by 11. The survey found a familiar post-convention pattern: Clinton has solidified her Democratic support while Trump has not done the same with Republicans.
Clinton got a boost from her convention. About two-thirds of those who watched the Democrats said they were more likely to back her. Trump was mentioned that way by 40 percent of those who saw his convention.
Trump backers are convinced that he’s getting a raw deal from the media. “When you bash one guy constantly, no matter what he says, and the other person gets in trouble and you don’t cover it, what do you expect?” asked John Gleason, 73, a Lancaster, Pa., retiree.
Trump has big hopes for New Hampshire, where he will campaign Saturday, pointing out he won the primary decisively. It’s a classic swing state: President George W. Bush narrowly won the state in 2000, then lost it to a New Hampshire neighbor, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., four years later. President Barack Obama won the state twice, though, with 52 percent in 2012.
This time, Clinton is up by 15 in the latest WBUR/MassINC poll. “Clinton has solidified Democrats, Donald Trump has not done the same among Republicans and independents are starting to swing toward Hillary Clinton,” said Steve Koczela, the president of the MassINC Polling Group.
In Florida, Clinton opened up a 6-point lead in a two-way race and 4-point in a four-way race that includes Libertarian Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein, according to a Suffolk University Poll conducted Monday through Wednesday. She plans to campaign in the state Monday and Tuesday.
Trump’s campaign profile has not been as robust in the state, but Luis Delgado, 46, of Orlando, said he was backing Trump because he wanted someone new in office and independent of what he called the “political elite.”
He said he’d voted twice for George W. Bush but was disappointed with his presidency, “and I can see the same people financing him are behind Clinton. Trump’s not part of that group.”
He said he liked Trump’s opposition to trade: “They’re always screwing up the economy of the U.S. and sending jobs outside the U.S. while Americans need them.”
In other states, a Rasmussen Reports post-conventions survey put Clinton up by 1 percentage point in Nevada.
There’s no strong post-convention polling yet in Ohio or Iowa, but there are signs of trouble for Republicans. In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich stayed away from his party’s Cleveland convention and continues to keep a distance from Trump. Kasich was in Illinois this week, campaigning for Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who’s been sharply critical of Trump.
James Leichty, 39, an Ohio insurance agent, said he was leaning toward Trump but added, “Each day that goes by I lean further and further away.” Leichty, an independent, said he was backing Kasich but as for Trump, “I don’t think he has the temperament.”
In Iowa, Obama won by decent margins, but in 2000 and 2004, the presidential race there was decided by less than a percentage point.
This year, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Clinton wound up in a virtual tie in the February caucus. But voters such as Barbara Allen, a Coralville independent who backed Sanders, are now in Clinton’s camp. “I have no issues with her, but I really adored Bernie,” Allen said. Trump? “He’s just scary.”
If all this isn’t enough to suggest Clinton is on the move, she now has an advantage in Georgia, a state that last voted Democratic for president in 1992, when Bill Clinton won by six-tenths of a percentage point. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution Poll taken Monday through Thursday had Hillary Clinton up 4.