In an unconventional race, even the electoral map surprises

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Delegates point to an electoral map at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. U.S. July 27, 2016.  REUTERS/Charles Mostoller - RTSJYXU

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JUDY WOODRUFF: We turn to politics now and the changing picture of the 2016 electoral map. Hillary Clinton campaigned in New York today, while Donald Trump is in North Carolina, a state that’s been receiving attention from both candidates lately.

As Lisa Desjardins reports, it is part of a fast and fascinating shift in the battleground game.

LISA DESJARDINS: Forget the words, the twists —

DONALD TRUMP (R), Presidential Nominee: I am the least racist person.

LISA DESJARDINS: The turns.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), Presidential Nominee: I never sent or received any material marked classified.

LISA DESJARDINS: And the endless speculation around this strange campaign year. Now, the race is coming in focus — focus on just a handful of states.

HILLARY CLINTON: We’ve had an incredible week here in Pennsylvania.

DONALD TRUMP: I think I’m going to win Pennsylvania easily.

HILLARY CLINTON: Thank you, Northern Virginia!

DONALD TRUMP: We’re going to be back in Virginia a lot. We have to win Virginia.

LISA DESJARDINS: And now, 2016 brought another surprise, a fast-changing map. These were the expected battlegrounds earlier this year, eleven key swing-ish states. But in recent weeks, five of those — Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia — have moved away from contention in Democrats’ direction.

Polls show Hillary Clinton ahead the by a whopping 9 to 15 points in all five. She’s so confident in five states, Colorado and Virginia that she stopped advertising there for now.

Instead, Team Clinton is shifting plans, hoping to expand their map.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), Vice Presidential Nominee: We’re not in North Carolina by accident. We’re here because we’re going to win North Carolina.

LISA DESJARDINS: Clinton and Kaine are going on attack, after states that voted for Romney in 2012, like North Carolina and even more solid Republican territory like Georgia and Arizona. Clinton is expanding her staff in both states. Those states have seen major growth around large cities and in their Hispanic population, trends that Democrats believe favor them long term.

And one more new and eye-popping state of the battleground map, Utah. The Beehive State has voted Republican for almost 50 years but in a close race, its six electoral votes could matter.

Donald Trump said this just last week.

DONALD TRUMP: I’m having a tremendous problem in Utah. Utah’s a different place, and I don’t know if — is anybody here from Utah?

LISA DESJARDINS: You know who lives in Utah, Mitt Romney, former nominee and outspoken Trump critic.

MITT ROMNEY (R), Former Presidential Nominee: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud.

LISA DESJARDINS: He reflects Mormons’ discomfort with Trump’s scrutiny of another religious minority, Muslims.

Trump is still competitive in some key states like Florida and Ohio and he’s far in front in Indiana. But he has two and a half months until Election Day to shift the rest of the map his direction.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Lisa joins us now as we dig a little deeper into what’s going on in these crucial battleground states.

Also joining us: Karen Kasler, she’s statehouse bureau chief with Ohio Public Radio and TV. And Adam smith, he’s political editor for Florida’s “Tampa Bay Times”. He joins us from our PBS station WEDU.

And we welcome all three of you.

Adam Smith, let me start with you in Florida. Right now, Hillary Clinton has a very slightly — slight lead there but it’s close. What does it feel like? What do you see the two candidates’ strengths and weaknesses right now?

ADAM SMITH, Tampa Bay Times: Well, Florida’s always a nail biter state. So, it’s — the safe bet is it’s going to be close. It usually is. Both candidates are here virtually every week, sometimes within a couple of days of each other. We’ve had a lot of pro-Hillary ads and some pro-Trump ads and now, Trump is just about to start advertising any day now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Karen Kasler, what about Ohio? This is another state where it’s very close, as we just heard in Lisa’s report. What does it feel like to you there?

KAREN KASLER, Ohio Public Radio and Television: Well, the polls are showing between four and five points. Hillary Clinton is leading. Right now, we’re seeing a lot of advertising for Clinton. She has been popular here in Ohio and, in fact, Democrats have won Ohio in the last two presidential elections. But it depends on where you live I think.

In the cities, you’re seeing a lot of Hillary Clinton ads and offices popping up, whereas Trump seems to be doing a lot of campaigning in other areas of the state where there aren’t urban areas. For instance, in Youngstown, which is right on the border with West Virginia and Pennsylvania, he’s done a lot of campaigning, did his foreign policy speech earlier this week there.

And he’s opened up 15 so-called victory offices in Ohio, whereas Clinton had a leg up on that. She has close to two dozen offices.

So, the organizations are out there starting to work, but Hillary Clinton I think has an edge in terms of the organization. And right now, in the polls, she has an edge as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Adam, let me come back to you on that. What do you see in Florida in terms of organization, in terms of what these two campaigns have going for them on the ground?

ADAM SMITH: Considerably more organization on Clinton’s side. She has about 20 offices — 19 or 20 offices open. As of today, Donald Trump has one headquarters in Sarasota. They’re talking about opening up a couple of dozen more within the next couple of weeks, but that hasn’t happened yet.

I think like in a lot of states, the Trump campaign is really all about these big rallies. That’s sort of what Trump himself emphasizes. So, yes, it’s true, they point at rallies where they draw 10,000, 15,000 people, and suggest that shows that the energy is on their side. You know, the question a lot of Republicans and Democrats ask is, with those people going after the rallies, they don’t need to be pushed out, that a lot of people are worried on the Republican side that he needs to do something to bolster the ground game and push people to the polls that aren’t automatically likely to go.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Lisa Desjardins, we’re talking about two of the states where it’s competitive. Hillary Clinton is ahead in some of the other battleground states. You describe, what does Donald Trump need to do? You have been talking to people inside his organization.

LISA DESJARDINS: These are the two juggernaut states for sure, Florida and Ohio, he absolutely needs to win those two states and also Pennsylvania is considered the third leg on that critical stool for him.

Now, those are the three states with the most electoral votes. All of them are key for that reason. But he can technically lose one of them. He’s behind in Pennsylvania by double digits right now. If he does that Judy though, his path is even harder. If he loses any of the three states like Pennsylvania, he has to win two others somewhere else like Virginia and Colorado.

So, these three states have twice the importance as others and his path gets smaller and smaller as these particular states slip away or come toward him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Karen Kasler, you were saying you see more evidence of Hillary Clinton’s organization in Ohio. If Donald Trump wants to catch up in the next 80-some odd days, what does he need to do from the perspective of the Republicans you’re talking to right now?

KAREN KASLER: Well, it seems like he’s got to win over the Republicans that I’m talking to because as you may recall, Governor John Kasich was the last one man standing against Donald Trump in the presidential contest. He was the last one to drop out. He has yet to endorse Donald Trump and has indicated he’s not going to. He didn’t go to the RNC in Cleveland, his home state, because of his concerns about Donald Trump.

There are other Republican leaders who feel similarly. They’re concerned about the rest of the ticket, including Senator Rob Portman who is up for election, but they are really very worried about Donald Trump being at the top of the ticket. And so, you hear a lot of language about I’m going to support the nominee but not necessarily I’m going to campaign with Donald Trump.

So, for Donald Trump to win, he certainly would have to win over some of those people who may not be won over-able, and also, he needs to win a key area of the state, and that’s central Ohio. And Central Ohio is really the battleground, I think in Ohio. Central Ohio, the area around Columbus where I am is Democratic, but then the counties surrounding it are very Republican.

And so, I think that’s going to be really the area that is going to decide the state for the election coming up.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Adam Smith, I saw you nodding your heard when Karen was speaking about Republican officeholders in Ohio. What about in Florida? What kind of support does Donald Trump have going for him in Florida?

ADAM SMITH: Well, it just sounds so similar to what I hear from most Republican officers in Florida where they will talk about the nominee, they’ll talk about beating Hillary Clinton, but most of them don’t want to utter those two words “Donald Trump” for whatever reason. The exception is our governor, Governor Rick Scott, unlike Kasich is a big Trump guy. He’s leading his super PAC. He’s enthusiastic and out there for Trump, but Rick Scott maybe doesn’t have quite the juice that some other people do. He’s not the most popular governor.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Lisa Desjardins, talking to the Trump people, again, do you get the sense they are looking to other Republicans to climb on board? Are they thinking they will have to do this on their own?

LISA DESJARDINS: They admit they have two very big jobs right now. One is to bring all the Republicans on board. What they talk about is how happy they are with Mike Pence. They think Mike Pence is the key to doing that. And we know that daily he has been reaching out to these —

JUDY WOODRUFF: Indiana governor.

LISA DESJARDINS: The Indiana governor, now the vice presidential nominee.

The other job they have is to expand their base. This is not just a Donald Trump question. This is a bigger question fort Republicans in general, and we’ve seen Donald Trump start to do that more seriously this week as he gave a speech talking about how he believes he can appeal to African-Americans. We need to see if that actually moves the dial or not. But he’s got to grow past Republicans and he also has to grow within Republicans.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You and I were talking earlier today about the demographic challenges the Republican ticket faces in this election.

LISA DESJARDINS: Right. This is a key election to watch not just this year but perhaps for two or three cycles down the road. Let’s look at the states we talk about that are shifting a little bit. Arizona on the map, Georgia on the map, what do those states have in common? Some of the fastest growing Hispanic populations in this country.

Another problem for Republicans, people are moving to the cities. They’re moving away from small towns. I think it’s one of the great uncovered stories right now, our small towns are dying. That’s a problem because that’s a big part of the Republican base, as we get more urban. That so far has benefited Democrats.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Pick up on that, Karen Kasler, and talk also about the kind of enthusiasm you see for these two candidates, for Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump.

How do you read that?

KAREN KASLER: Well, the rallies that have happened here have been pretty enthusiastic. Hillary Clinton was here in Columbus just a couple of days after accepting the nomination at the Democratic National Convention. She brought out 5,000 people in the middle of the heat. Donald Trump have done several rallies in Ohio that have been multi-thousand attendees.

But I want to add one other thing in terms of demographics — I think in Ohio, the Trump voters — the Trump campaign is targeting voters who are these blue-collar, unemployed or underemployed or frustrated voters, people who are in the Youngstown area, in areas around Toledo, in heavy manufacturing areas, people who are concerned about the economy because of trade. We’ve seen the numbers of union members who have voted for Republicans actually rise over the last 20 years because of their concerns about trade.

So, I think that’s one area the Trump campaign targets, when he comes to Ohio, he’s been going to those areas. And other than, he has been in Columbus, but he’s going to Youngstown. He’s been going to that part of the state because I think he’s very interested in trying to lure in those blue-collar and possibly union workers who are very concerned.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about that, Adam Smith, finally to you? Is that — is that a rich target of — an area of opportunity for Donald Trump in Florida?

ADAM SMITH: Well, yes, and just as Columbus is the swing area of Ohio, the I-4 corridor going between Tampa Bay and Daytona Beach, that’s our swing area here, and particularly the rule the rule of thumb in Florida is whoever wins Tampa Bay generally wins statewide. Trump is very strong in a lot of Tampa Bay where there are a lot of independent voters, a lot of voters that are fed up with both parties and we’ve seen some polling for some congressional districts and legislative districts in swing districts where Donald Trump is surprisingly strong, and he’s not the drag on the bottom end of the ticket that in some districts that a lot of people have thought he would be at all.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So fascinating to watch. Adam Smith joining us from Florida, Karen Kasler from Ohio, our own Lisa Desjardins here in Washington — we thank you all.

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