Trump, GOP eye blue states after Biden’s debate disaster

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Trump, GOP eye blue states after Biden’s debate disaster

President Biden’s struggles are opening the door for former President Trump to make a play in multiple blue states, a possibility that wasn’t fathomed just weeks ago as Democrats continue to grapple with fallout from Biden’s costly debate performance.

Trump’s team and Republicans have been laser focused on once again tearing down the “blue wall” that Biden rebuilt for Democrats with his 2020 victory. However, the ongoing tumult surrounding Biden is giving Republicans a renewed sense of even more possibilities as they sense an opportunity in New Hampshire, Virginia and Minnesota. 

“These are solidly blue states that a Republican candidate — under normal circumstances — has no business competing in,” said Colin Reed, a longtime GOP strategist with experience working in the Granite State, which he says should be “especially challenging” for Trump in November.

“If the map has truly expanded to this degree, then take it to the bank that the so-called ‘blue wall’ of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin has long ago crumbled, and you can kiss Joe Biden’s only viable path to 270 electoral votes goodbye,” he added. 

The trio of states has frustrated Republicans at the presidential level for years, especially since the party has seen some level of success or improvement more recently. New Hampshire and Virginia both have Republican governors, while Trump only lost Minnesota by 1.5 percentage points in 2016 — a margin that grew to 7 percentage points in 2020. 

However, none of the three has been in the GOP presidential column for two decades, and all six of their senators are Democrats. Minnesota hasn’t backed a Republican nominee since 1972, when former President Nixon won 49 states.

“The only time [New Hampshire] swings Republican are in huge wave years when the bottom has fallen out for the Democrats — and even then it’s an uphill climb,” Reed said.

Months before Biden’s dismal debate performance, Democrats were already in survival mode, trying to rebuild the coalition that won Biden the White House in 2020 rather than substantially trying to grow the base.

Biden has been focused on swing states that were pivotal to his victory in 2020, heading to Wisconsin in the week after the debate. His campaign announced that Biden and top officials will visit every swing state in the month of July.

But the president has faced questions from members of his own party about the map. In a meeting with Biden and Democratic governors on Wednesday, Maine Gov. Janet Mills and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham both raised concerns to the president about his ability to win in their states.

The president has insisted he is staying in the race and has lined up events, including an ABC interview that aired on Friday, to assure voters that he’s up for another four years on the job. Democrats say that they’re in a wait-and-see moment before panicking that blue states are lost to Trump.

“Anxiety is high at the moment. Democrats did not have this on their bingo card, and the unknown is unsettling when things like this happen. We need another week or so for more data; let the nerves settle before settling on the correct worry list,” said Ivan Zapien, a former Democratic National Committee official.

Biden carried Minnesota, Virginia and New Hampshire decisively four years ago. Trump also lost each of them to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016, though the margins ranged between 1 and 5 percentage points.

But postdebate surveys are showing a shifting tide. A Saint Anselm College poll released early last week showed that Trump holds a 2-point advantage in New Hampshire. National polls also signal that the former president is opening up his lead over the current White House occupant. 

Even polls taken in May and June showed Trump within striking distance of Biden in Virginia and Minnesota, giving Trump’s camp an opening following Biden’s disastrous debate performance. 

The Trump campaign said it’s ready to monopolize on the chaos around Biden and is eyeing these typically blue states as a flip, adding New Jersey to the list too.

“Joe Biden is so weak, and Democrats are in such disarray, that not only is President Trump dominating in every traditional battleground state, but longtime blue states such as Minnesota, Virginia, New Hampshire, and New Jersey are now in play,” said Karoline Leavitt, the Trump campaign’s national press secretary. “President Trump is on offense with a winning message and growing his movement every single day as the Democrat Party is collapsing into complete disarray.”

Democrats, on the other hand, warn that Republicans are getting carried away with the postdebate news cycle. 

“I think the closer we get to Election Day, the more the issues will come into focus for voters. It will be less about a personality contest and it will be much more about what’s actually at stake. And as the stakes become clearer, I’m confident that Democrats will be successful,” said Joe Caiazzo, a New England-based Democratic strategist. 

Democrats also lament what they say is the slanted coverage against Biden, pointing to a number of untrue statements Trump aired during the debate. 

“For the last week we have not heard or seen any coverage relative to the fact that Trump lied in essentially every answer he gave at the debate,” Caiazzo said. 

In a statement to The Hill, the Biden campaign downplayed Trump’s chances in blue-leaning states but emphasized “we’re keeping our eye on the ball.” 

“While Trump has little to no presence in the battlegrounds and spends time holding events in New York City, our campaign has more than 200 offices and 1000 staffers across the states that make up our path to 270 electoral votes,” said Dan Kanninen, the campaign’s battleground states director. “Now Trump’s campaign is trying to shift their attention to states that supported Joe Biden over him by up to double digits in 2020.”

To be clear, winning many of these states would be a heavy lift for Republicans at the presidential level. Biden won each of Virginia, Minnesota, New Mexico and Maine by at least 7 points. 

However, all three are considered nice-to-have states for Republicans as opposed to the usual battlegrounds that will decide the election, raising the question of whether Trump should spend time and resources in any of them. Virginia and Minnesota also have what are expected to be largely noncompetitive Senate races, giving his campaign less of a reason to up the ante on their own. 

“A lot of it comes down to how much time in what states,” said Jesse Hunt, a GOP strategist, pointing to Clinton’s decision to forgo campaigning in Wisconsin in 2016. “You’re never going to see this campaign make that mistake.”