Clinton vs. Trump: Seven Ways Donald Trump Could Win

Trump Sanford Rally photo

Donald Trump.

Will Donald Trump win?

(If you’re a Democrat, or just someone who can’t stand Trump, feel free to switch that to: “OMG, is it possible Donald Trump could win?” If you like Trump, you can say the above question with exuberance because it’s more possible on November 5 than it was a week before.)

Sites that forecast the election using different statistical models are still saying it’s not likely Trump will be president, though (and Hillary Clinton has inched back up slightly in forecasting models after falling repeatedly in recent days). That’s because the electoral college math remains formidable for Trump, and here’s the key reason: Pretty much everything has to go right for him on election day in battleground states that are currently tied or almost tied, whereas Hillary Clinton can afford to lose a few. And he needs to pick up a state that was trending her way too.

She has a firewall. He’s trying to break into one. Therein lies the difference. Hillary Clinton is in the power position, but Trump has the momentum (or Trumpmentum as you will.)

The polls have shifted fairly dramatically in the past week. National polls now have the race a virtual tie. Battleground states are tightening, with Clinton’s support eroding in almost all of them since October 27, the day before the FBI director lobbed his letter grenade into the presidential race by sending it to Congress. It’s enough to make Democrats reach for the smelling salts; every time you refresh your RealClearPolitics screen (or FiveThirtyEight) in recent days, it seems, she’s lost more ground in the polls. Still, his math is tougher. Much tougher. We’re headed into election day with a lot of key states as virtual ties. He battled back to that the past week.

However, this question is another story: Could Donald Trump win?

He could win. There also could be polling error (the number of polls nationally is down since 2012 fairly dramatically), and turnout and voter enthusiasm will matter. Start with this premise though: Trump probably has to win Florida. Without Florida, it’s almost impossible to make the map work. Although it is possible (and by possible we mean by winning states where he is at least somewhat close with growing momentum).

Furthermore, all of the different pathways entail Trump winning a string of states that are currently tied in the polls or almost tied. All of his dominoes need to fall. The right way. Of course, if you’re a Trump supporter, you might be thinking: This sounds familiar. Been here before. No one thought he would win the primary, either.

But the demographics and task are different; Trump has alienated various non-white groups, which makes it harder to win some states (but Democrats are worried by some early voting tallies showing African-American turnout is down, although Latino turnout is up. However, blacks have been more lopsidedly supporting Clinton in polls than Latinos have, even with all of the immigration rhetoric.)

We could do the same exercise for Clinton, but it would be too obvious, and that alone underscores the fact that it’s still hers to lose. Clinton wins if she takes Florida most likely. Or North Carolina. Or Ohio. Probably even if she wins Nevada. She doesn’t have to win combinations of those or all of those as Trump largely does. She just needs to take one big one away from his column. And some of those states are virtual ties.

Let’s briefly recap the state of battleground polls using RealClearPolitics polling averages from November 5.

States that are virtual ties  (Someone leads by 3% or less, which is in the margin of error for most polls): Florida, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada.

States Trump leads in single digits: Arizona, Ohio, and Georgia.

States Clinton leads in single digits:  Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine (but one Congressional district is tied – we will get to that in a minute), and Virginia.

Now, let’s entertain some hypothetical scenarios that have the nation saying “Mr. President” to Donald Trump. Here are 7 ways he could win:

1. He Wins Pennsylvania


Pennsylvania, with its 20 electoral vote prize, could be a game changer. The state hasn’t gone Republican since 1988, but it has several factors that make it possible for Trump: It’s largely white and non-college educated; it’s divided between pro Trump west and pro Clinton east (think Pittsburgh vs. Philly); the number of registered Democrats has dropped; it’s got one of the highest rates of Obamacare premium increases in the country; and past elections have been fairly close (although not close enough for Republicans).

Here’s another key point. Pennsylvania doesn’t allow early voting to all. Only 5% of the state early voted in 2012. That’s good for Trump because he’s tightened in the polls more recently, and a few weeks ago, he was embroiled in the sexual misconduct allegations he denies.

Remember those states where the polls are virtually tied on November 5? Let’s revisit them. Here’s a map without them, and you will see how desperately Trump needs every one of them. She needs them too. Neither is close to 270 without them. But she’s closer. She’s stronger than he is before seeing how the battlegrounds fall.


How likely is it that Trump will win Pennsylvania?

Four of the five most recent Pennsylvania polls show the race now in the margin of error, as voters tell pollsters they are worried about the economy and jobs. However, Clinton leads in 4 of those 5, and the 5th is a tie. Her average as of November 5 in RealClearPolitics polling averages was 2.6%. But it’s been tightening the past week. She was up an average 5.8% on October 30.

If Trump wins Pennsylvania, he could afford to lose some states where he’s currently leading, like Nevada and New Hampshire (a good thing because early voting trends in Nevada have looked promising for Clinton, and she led in New Hampshire until a few days ago). Trump would also need to win Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina for this map to work, though.

2. He Wins Maine’s Second Congressional District


Here’s a scenario that gets Trump exactly 270 electoral votes.

The keys here: He must win the string of states that are currently tied or almost tied: Florida, North Carolina, Nevada, and New Hampshire. What puts him over the top? The Second Congressional District of Maine, which apportions some of its delegates by giving one to each of two Congressional districts (the statewide winner gets another 2 electoral votes).

Although he’s behind in Maine overall and in its First Congressional District, a recent poll showed the Second Congressional District race was virtually tied.

If this same map held, but Trump lost that district, the race would tie, putting it in the House of Representatives, which is controlled by the GOP. This might be the most likely path to Trump victory because he’s got some momentum in each of the battleground states coded red. But they’d all have to fall right for him. He can even lose Pennsylvania and Colorado and still win this way.

3. He Wins Colorado


Let’s swap out Pennsylvania and give it to Hillary.

Let’s give him Colorado instead.

If Trump wins Colorado, he can afford to lose Nevada (where early voting trends have looked good for Clinton) and the Maine Congressional District.

How likely is it that Trump wins Colorado? It’s more likely than a week ago, but the polls are somewhat contradictory there, and he’s not leading.  She leads by 3% in the RealClearPolitics polling averages.  Of the 5 recent polls, she leads by 5 and 6 (one of those from a Democratic leaning pollster and one from a Republican); one is a tie; and she leads by 1 and 3 in the final two. (Obama won Colorado in 2012 and 2008, but the state was red in 1996, 2000 and 2004). You remember who was running in 1996 right? Bill Clinton against Bob Dole.

Lots of Coloradans have early voted. The state’s largely white demographics work for Trump, who has alienated various minority groups. The state has a lot of independents.

4. He Loses Florida & Shocks By Upsetting Two States Recently Trending For Clinton


By this scenario, Trump could weather losing Florida, where the polls are basically tied (although the last two showed Clinton in a slightly stronger position).

Lots of Floridians have early voted and those tallies have looked positive for Republicans compared to 2012.

In fact, if Trump won Colorado and Pennsylvania, that would do it, as long as he retained other battleground states that are close. Notice one thing all these maps have in common? North Carolina. It’s very important this year. How likely is Trump to win North Carolina?

He leads an average of 0.8% in North Carolina polling averages. Trump was up by 7 and 2 in the two most recent polls there.

5. He Swipes Minnesota From Clinton


OK, Minnesota sounds like a Hail Mary pass. Not many people are talking about it right now, as the campaigns focus on Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, and New Hampshire. But let’s puzzle through it for a second.

Minnesotans learned October 24 that their state would have among the highest Obamacare premium increases in the country. The Democratic governor has even said he’s considered the unusual step of creating a multi-million dollar fund to bail people out with state taxpayer money. How dire is it? Bloomberg wrote in late September, “Minnesota will let the health insurers in its Obamacare market raise rates by at least 50 percent next year, after the individual market there came to the brink of collapse, the state’s commerce commissioner said Friday.” And that was before the federal government confirmed the big hikes.

CNN estimated about 100,000 people in Minnesota will face huge premium hikes without tax credits/government subsidies. Is 100,000 people enough to sway the election? Well, who knows how many were already for Trump, but it does give him an issue. The Democratic governor of Minnesota said Obamacare was “no longer affordable.”

And Minnesota hasn’t had a non-online poll since October 22.

October 22 was before James Comey’s letter to Congress. It was also in the wake of all of the sexual misconduct allegations against Trump, which caused him to plummet in polls around the country. The poll before that one, taken in September, showed the race a tie. When Trump appeared at a rally in November in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, news reports said lots of Minnesotans were there (it’s a more than two hour drive, too).

That means it’s not entirely clear how the Comey letter (or Obamacare increases) affected Minnesotans. And the race was pretty tight before. Clinton led but not by double digits.

Jesse Ventura Myron May

There have been a string of online polls measuring Minnesota attitudes. They show Clinton leading between 4 and 10 percentage points. No polls measure only a time frame post Comey’s letter, though, online or otherwise. The most recent, by Reuters, was conducted online and straddled a time frame both before and after the letter. It found Clinton up 5.

Plus, Minnesota has a history of electing unorthodox TV stars (remember Jesse “The Body” Ventura?)

Is it likely Trump can win Minnesota? No. But it’s fun to add one in that no one expects. And, again, Minnesota elected a wrestler.

Instead of Minnesota, we could give Trump its Midwestern neighbor, Wisconsin, which has a Republican governor. But Trump has been underperforming in that state’s suburban Milwaukee Republican bastions. Why? Lukewarm support from top GOP leaders in the state, the Never Trumpism of a prominent conservative talker there, and the affluent, college-educated demographics of those counties. Furthermore, higher presidential turnout tends to color Wisconsin blue. Trump does well with rural, working class Wisconsinites. Like those who live “Up North” by…Minnesota.

On Saturday, Trump cancelled a rally he had planned for Sunday in Wisconsin. Instead, he suggested he might head to Minnesota:

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6. He Swipes Virginia from Clinton


Or Trump could swipe Virginia. That seems more likely; Virginia was a Republican state from 1968 through 2008 until Obama flipped it (but can Clinton maintain the voter enthusiasm Obama had with millennials and African-Americans in particular?) However, Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine hails from Virginia, so Virginians would have to thumb their noses at the hometown guy.

It doesn’t get talked about much, but, by this barometer, Kaine was a smarter pick for Clinton than Mike Pence was for Trump. Pence hails from Indiana, a red state. Yes, he helped Trump shore up his base, but he doesn’t bring a state. Virginia would have gone a long way for Trump. It could get him the White House.

Virginia allows Trump to lose Nevada and New Hampshire. However, Clinton leads there an average 5.2% and has polled outside the margin of error in recent polls. However, her standing has been slipping.

7. He Wins Michigan


Look at what Michigan gets Trump. No wonder he’s been campaigning there. If Trump wins Michigan, he could afford to lose a bunch of states he’s competitive in right now, like New Hampshire, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and even Iowa, the latter of which most pundits think he has a good chance of winning.

How likely is it, though? Clinton’s polling average there was 4%. Recent polls showed her up 5, 3, and 4. However, she led an average 6.3% about a week ago, showing the race in Michigan is tightening, and Trump and his family have been aggressively campaigning there (as has Clinton).

Still, you can see why Trump is targeting Michigan. It gives him the presidency while allowing him to lose several other tightly contested states. Some of the other scenarios require him to basically run the table.

Here’s the bottom line. They’re tough maps. However, he’s got a lot of different codes that would crack the safe. She has more, though. That should keep everyone up late on Monday night with worry.

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