What Trump and Clinton need to do in early-voting battlegrounds Ohio and Arizona

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People cheer for U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at a rally at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, U.S. October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson - RTSRORN

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HARI SREENIVASAN: We turn now to take a closer look at two key battleground states.

John Yang is our guide.

JOHN YANG: Early voting begins tomorrow in Ohio and Arizona, two states where the presidential candidates are running neck-and-neck.

From Ohio, long considered a political bellwether, we are joined by Karen Kasler. She’s statehouse bureau chief for Ohio Public Radio and TV. And Christopher Conover is a reporter for Arizona Public Media, where polls show the Grand Canyon state could turn blue this year for the first time in decades.

Karen and Christopher, thanks so much for joining us.

Let me start in Arizona.

Christopher, the Republican presidential nominee has won Arizona every election but one since 1948. Why is it so close this time?

CHRISTOPHER CONOVER, Arizona Public Media: This year is, I think, just an interesting year.

In 1996, Bill Clinton was the last Democrat to win. If you look at Arizona when it comes to voter registration, the state is split almost evenly in thirds, with independents, Republicans, and Democrats making up those large portions. Independents are the largest bloc. They picked up 51,000 new voters just this week.

So, the state is split very interestingly along political lines. And Arizona’s always marched to its own drummer a little bit also politically.

JOHN YANG: Karen, Ohio has always been a swing state, a decider in elections. What are the forces shaping the race this time?

KAREN KASLER, Ohio Public Radio: Well, I think you have polling in Ohio before the tapes over the weekend were released that showed that Clinton and Trump were very, very close. The Quinnipiac poll last week had Trump up by five points. The Monmouth poll had Clinton up by two points, so a very close race.

You have got three major markets. You have got a lot of rural voters. You have got a lot of things that are going on here. And Trump is reaching out to voters in some of these areas where Republicans haven’t necessarily done well. That’s what the Republican Party chair, Matt Borges, has even said.

And you see Trump going to areas like Youngstown, which is typically Democratic, that has a lot of blue-collar voters that Trump seems to be reaching. He is reaching a lot of voters in areas where the unemployment rate is higher than it is nationally.

And so you have got that going on, but Clinton has also reached out. She was just here yesterday with her largest crowd to date at Ohio State University. So, she’s reaching out in some of these areas. So, you have got these two forces together.

This was Clinton’s first appearance back in Ohio for quite a while, though. Some people had wondered if she had abandoned the Buckeye State, but her campaign said that was absolutely not the case. And, in fact, President Obama will be here on Thursday. Donald Trump will also be here on Thursday.

We start early voting tomorrow statewide in Ohio, so I think that’s part of the reason why both those campaigns will be here.

JOHN YANG: Karen, you mentioned that videotape, of course. What is the — is it too early to tell or can you tell what the impact is in Ohio?

KAREN KASLER: I think there are a lot of undecided voters who are very concerned about that tape. And you have a lot of Christian evangelical voters, you have a lot of voters who are independent voters who are very concerned about that tape.

And Donald Trump’s weakness has been in some Republican counties like the state’s most Republican county, Delaware County, which is just north of Columbus. He had not done well there. And that’s a county that he really, I think, was hoping to get.

And so I think it’s a little early to really figure out what the impact of those tapes will be. And you have got the Ohio Republican chair, Matt Borges, again saying that he has talked to Donald Trump personally, and that Trump has assured him that there will be no other incidents, no other tapes, no other things like this coming out that could be problematic.

And he says he’s talking him at his word. And so I think there are a lot of Republicans who are questioning that right now. And, of course, you have got three major Republican officeholders in Ohio, Governor John Kasich, U.S. Senator Rob Portman and state auditor Dave Yost, who, over the weekend, came out and said they would no longer vote for Donald Trump.

And in a year where endorsements haven’t mattered a whole lot, I’m wondering what the impact of that will be.

JOHN YANG: And, Christopher, in Arizona, of course, Senator John McCain over the weekend said he would no longer — would split from Donald Trump.

But is it — can you tell yet what the impact is among voters of that videotape?

CHRISTOPHER CONOVER: We really can’t tell yet.

As you said, Senator McCain, who has had a rocky relationship with Donald Trump, officially split from him this weekend. We have had others, like the current governor, Doug Ducey, repudiate the statements, say they were terrible things, but didn’t pull his support away.

And former Governor Jan Brewer, who has campaigned with Donald Trump in Arizona, was at the debates this weekend, also had nothing good to say about the tapes, but is still very openly supporting Donald Trump. So it’s a little early to say how it will all play out here in Arizona also.

JOHN YANG: And, Christopher, Arizona, about 30 percent, I think the — of the voting public is Hispanic. A lot of rhetoric about Hispanics and immigration, illegal immigration in this campaign, how has that affected that voting bloc?

CHRISTOPHER CONOVER: As you said, about 30 percent of the state is Hispanic.

What’s interesting is, we don’t know how they’re going to vote because Arizona on its voter registration form doesn’t ask anything about race. So we only have to guess how they are registered to vote, that group is registered to vote. Nationally, we know that about 69 percent of Hispanics will vote in this election — that’s what they’re saying — and that the majority of them skew towards the Democratic Party.

However, in Arizona, we have some very high-profile Republican Hispanics. So it will be very interesting to see how that Hispanic vote comes down, especially with so much that goes on with immigration in this campaign. In Arizona, immigration isn’t necessarily something we talk about, especially in Southern Arizona. It’s just part of life.

JOHN YANG: And, Karen, in Ohio, with the close poll, the voter turnout, getting out the vote is going to be so important.

What’s the ground game look like in Ohio, especially since, as you pointed out, Donald Trump has been denied in a way that great ground organization that John Kasich, the governor, has put together?

KAREN KASLER: Yes.

And one thing that’s interesting here, first of all, the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democrats have said their ground game is excellent. It’s the same kind of ground game they had in 2008 and 2012, when Barack Obama won Ohio.

But you also have an interesting thing that happened in the primary, when John Kasich was still on the ballot. You had a lot of people who voted Republican in that primary. And so we end up now at this point where there are 1.9 million people in Ohio who are affiliated with the Republican Party, 1.1 million people in Ohio who are affiliated with the Democratic Party.

There’s potentially more people that the Republican Party could reach out to. Whether those people will come back and vote Republican again remains to be seen. So, I think the idea that the Republican Party that is not necessarily united behind Donald Trump, even though the Ohio Republican Party chair says he’s still going to be working for Trump at least, at this point in time — others are saying they’re not.

Without that organization and that unification, will they be able to reach all those voters and get those people out to come out over Hillary Clinton and her ground game?

JOHN YANG: Karen Kasler in Columbus, Ohio, Christopher Conover in Tucson, Arizona, thanks so much for joining us.

KAREN KASLER: Thanks.

CHRISTOPHER CONOVER: Thank you.

HARI SREENIVASAN: On our Web site: What does weather have to do with democracy? A Making Sense columnist examines how rain and, yes, hurricane damage and flooding can affect elections.

That’s at PBS.org/NewsHour.

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