Clinton eyes turning red states blue; GOP braces for the ‘Trump Effect’

WASHINGTON — The Clinton campaign’s debate about expanding the electoral map, a Donald Trump investment hint and GOP concerns about the “Trump Effect” on key Senate races: It’s all part of our “Inside Politics” forecast.

1) Clinton debate: Protect the blues or explore the reds

A state-by-state analysis of the presidential map looks favorable to Hillary Clinton with about three weeks to go — and inside her campaign team there is a debate about whether to try to expand the map by targeting a traditionally Republican state or two.

There are two tracks to this internal debate: whether to branch out at all, and then, if so, where to look for a red state surprise.

Julie Pace of The Associated Press shared inside reporting on the options — and the voice of caution in the Clinton high command.

“(These are) places like Arizona, Georgia, even Utah that traditionally vote Republican in presidential elections but (are) looking shaky for Trump,” Pace said.

“But it’s more of the idea of making a big false splash. Her campaign advisers like the idea she could maybe draw a huge crowd in a place like Salt Lake City. And yeah, it’s interesting — and some of the holdup though I am told comes from Robby Mook, who’s Clinton’s notoriously cautious campaign manager. He has been saying throughout this election he wants to get to 270 Electoral College votes in the most efficient, easiest way possible.”

2) And if the target is Georgia, the Atlanta suburbs loom large

Picking Georgia as a late Clinton target makes sense for a number of reasons: The polls of late are close, plus there is the history of Bill Clinton winning the state in 1992.

But as Hillary Clinton’s aides debate the pros and cons, Jonathan Martin of The New York Times reminded us the key to winning Georgia would be suburban Atlanta, an area that isn’t as favorable to Democrats as, say, the suburbs in northern Virginia or just outside Philadelphia.

“The reason it’s tough is because (in) the vast Atlanta suburbs, there are plenty of voters there who don’t like Trump that much. But the Clinton campaign feel like it’s less like, for example, Northern Virginia and Raleigh (North Carolina) and more like a traditional Southern suburb, and so it’s a little bit tougher for them down there. So if you see her there in the last week or so, we’re going to know they are feeling good,” Martin said.

3) Is Trump hedging his bets — on himself?

On the campaign trail, Trump brags he is beholden to no special interests or big donors because he is self-funding his campaign.

That hasn’t been the case for some time — Trump gets most of his campaign operating budget the traditional way: through fund-raising.

But he has been cutting his campaign checks on a regular basis — and Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg Politics said a look at the most recent filings offers some important insights.

“One of Donald Trump’s fund-raisers told me last night that no major donors have asked for their money back because of all this stuff, but federal records show that Trump’s contributions to his own campaign are getting smaller and smaller,” Jacobs said.

“He said on the campaign trail this past week in Florida, again, that he intends to donate $100 million to his own campaign, but to date he’s at $56 million.”

4) GOP hoping for a throwback election: The return of ticket splitting

Three weeks is a long time, but many Republican strategists appear convinced the presidential election is over, and they are trying to find ways to keep GOP Senate candidates from getting washed out if Trump is defeated.

So if your Senate candidate sounds more like someone running for sheriff or mayor in the final weeks, don’t be surprised.

The Federalist’s Mary Katharine Ham took us inside the “all politics is local” scramble among Republican Senate candidates.

“For Republicans, because they got this huge nationalized story about Trump, that’s very hard to get away from. The National Republican Senatorial Committee had these guys running more local sheriff-type race from the very beginning, so this might be an issue for them,” Ham said.

“(Sen. Ron) Portman (in Ohio) is the perfect effect example of how this has done well for him. But can it do well enough to last him these last three weeks?”

5) If Trump is ‘cratering,’ how deep is the point of no escape?

A new wave of research for Republican allies in those critical Senate races finds that, in the words of one person involved, “Trump is cratering.”

This source said Trump leads only in Iowa among the eight or 10 states viewed as traditional presidential battlegrounds.

In this research, he is down double digits in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania — which of course also happen to have critical Senate races. The GOP incumbents are both down a few points, running better than Trump but still in the danger zone.

In Nevada, for contrast, Trump trails but in the single digits, and GOP Senate candidate Joe Heck is up a little.

So is 10 points the line at which a Trump defeat would inevitably wash out other Republicans on a statewide ballot?

GOP strategists said there is no one-size-fits-all rule, but that as much as they have given up on Trump, they said they hope he can at least climb back into a single-digit deficit in those states.

And they are urging GOP candidates to spend the final weeks making the case that voters need a Republican Senate to keep a check on a liberal Clinton presidency.