With three weeks to go before the 2016 presidential election is finally in the history books, Hillary Clinton and her campaign are deliberating internally about where to spend resources. Which states are up for grabs? Which ones are lost causes? And which are potentially looking good for Democratic candidates down the ballot?
We aren’t just talking about the traditionally important battleground states of Ohio, North Carolina, Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida – the Clinton camp has been pouring millions of dollars into TV advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts in each of those for months now. Indeed, some states that are purple on the map have tilted so far into their column that the Clinton campaign has pulled ads out of their media markets, viewing them as a waste of money (Virginia comes to mind here: a poll released October 17 put Hillary up by a whopping 15 points over Trump).
Instead, Clinton is dedicating more of her staff to states like Arizona, Utah and Georgia, three that Republicans have taken for granted as conservative bastions for decades. In a regular election year (think 2012), a Democrat investing money there would be seen as idiotic. The last time Utah went blue was for LBJ in 1964. Arizona hasn’t voted for a Democratic president since 1996, when Hillary’s husband narrowly defeated Bob Dole.
This year, however, is different. The polling in Arizona is close enough that the Clinton campaign announced a $2 million cash infusion into the state. The same goes for Indiana and Missouri, where an additional $1 million will be used to strengthen the grassroots effort to get Democratic voters to the polls.
These investments aren’t just about padding Hillary’s electoral college lead and embarrassing Trump on what should be his own turf. It’s also about stretching Trump’s campaign resources into these states and thereby siphoning them away from the Rust Belt – a region that Trump absolutely needs to win if he’s to have a shot at getting to 270 electoral votes. If nothing else, a Clinton ground game in Arizona, Indiana, Georgia and Utah is an expensive way to rattle Trump’s confidence. And as we’ve seen, rattling Trump’s confidence is guaranteed to make him lash out. An angry Trump is a godsend for the Clinton campaign.
Over the next decade, the southwest and parts of the mountain west will be challenged by Democratic candidates. The demographics there, with increasing numbers of Latinos, Asians and college-educated white Millennials, are shifting the political leanings of the region. Arizona, Colorado and Nevada will continue to change from reliably red to reliably purple. Colorado may already be lost to Republicans.
Hillary Clinton is hoping that millions of dollars in the final stretch will speed up this trend and provide Democrats with even more momentum, both this year and in future elections.