The presidential primaries are just about over and the nominees have emerged. And the general election begins with Democrat Hillary Clinton already ahead of Republican Donald Trump on the Road to 270.
Trump, who shook the last of his rivals weeks before Clinton locked up her nomination, has made the GOP’s uphill path to the White House more treacherous by failing to seize on that head start in the race for the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
There is a path for the billionaire real estate mogul and reality TV star to find his way to 270. But it’s narrow, given the map’s opening tilt toward the Democratic Party, and hinges on Trump’s ability to continue to defy political norms.
Where does Trump begin his journey? A look at four questions he’ll need to answer successfully to beat Clinton. The primary season ends Tuesday with the Democratic contest in the District of Columbia:
Can Trump Turn Out More White Voters?
For Trump to have a shot, he must not only replicate his overwhelming success in the GOP primaries at winning over white voters, but also count on doing even better on Nov. 8.
It’s a risky strategy because white, noncollege-educated voters have shrunk as a portion of the overall electorate in recent years. Also, it’s at odds with many Republican leaders, who believe the party’s White House prospects hinge on appealing to the growing number of black and Hispanic voters.
Trump’s campaign is confident he can turn out whites who have not voted in past elections in states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Winning all three would reverse decades of Democratic dominance in those states. If Trump could take Ohio as well, he would offset potential Clinton wins in Florida, Nevada and Colorado.
“If the election were held today, there’d be a significant number of blue collar, whites — males particularly, but some females — who are registered Democratic and would vote for Trump,” said former Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa.
Can Trump Close the Gap With Suburban Women?
Trump begins the general election campaign trailing badly among female voters, putting him at a disadvantage in numerous states.
A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that 70 percent of women nationally have unfavorable opinions of Trump. Clinton’s campaign and allies are eager to exploit Trump’s weaknesses with women in the suburbs of critical states: Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham and Greensboro in North Carolina; northern Virginia; the Denver area; and the counties around several of Ohio’s cities.
Adam Geller, a Republican pollster in North Carolina, said Trump could balance out his struggles with women by cutting into Clinton’s standing with men in her own party.
“He doesn’t have to win them, he just has to keep her margins down,” Geller said.
If Trump can shrink Clinton’s lead among women and exploit his advantage with men, he could perhaps carry some combination of Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia.
Can Trump Boost His Standing With Minorities?
When 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney lost to President Barack Obama, GOP leaders quickly identified a glaring problem: Romney’s stunningly poor performance with black and Hispanic voters. Across the country, he won only 17 percent of the nonwhite vote.
Some Republicans fear Trump will do even worse.
That would put victory all but out of reach in states such as Florida, Nevada and Colorado, where Hispanics are a fast-growing segment of the electorate. In Florida, for example, Hispanics made up 17 percent of the electorate in the 2012 presidential race, and 60 percent sided with Obama.
Romney won the support of just 27 percent of Hispanics nationally in a campaign where he backed the idea of “self-deportation.” Trump has gone much further, declaring that some Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals, calling for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and pledging to throw out all people living in the U.S. illegally before allowing “the good ones” back in.
More recently, Trump angered his own party’s leaders by raising a federal judge’s Mexican heritage as a reason he might be biased in a legal case. The comments were widely condemned as racist, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., publicly worried that Trump could push Hispanics from the GOP as Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee in 1964, did blacks in that election.
Can Trump Put New States in Play?
Both Trump and Clinton are seeking a holy grail of presidential politics: winning states that long have voted for the opposing party.
For Trump, that means New York and California, two of the three biggest electoral prizes. Republicans haven’t won either since the 1980s, and the contests since haven’t been close.
Still, Trump appears undeterred and insists he’ll compete aggressively for both. “I’m going to put in a heavy play in California, I’m going to make a play for New York also,” he said last month.
Chip Lake, a Republican strategist in Georgia, takes a dim view of Trump’s bravado, arguing that the candidate should concentrate on shoring up Republicans and conservative independents.
“The Electoral College already doesn’t work in Republicans’ favor,” Lake said. “And he’s just heightened the issue. Mitt Romney won independents by 5 points and still lost. Do we really think Donald Trump is going to do better?”