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A phantom campaign

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The United States north of Nevada and west of Colorado might as well not exist for presidential campaigns, in the general elections at least.

But an odd news story suggested that just maybe there’ll be a little possibility the region won’t be completely ignored this time around.

Or will it?

It’s not that the northwest region is without swing voters; in all, they’re here, in significant numbers. But presidential general elections are won in the electoral college, where states vote in clumps, and those are the same whether the candidate who won that state prevailed by 51 percent or 81 percent. And somewhere in that range, the electoral votes for Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Oregon, California, Washington and Alaska (and we could throw Hawaii in here too) all seem to be more or less locked in as either red or blue. Around the country there still exist some “purple” states, but not in this region.

At least that’s been the prevailing wisdom.

That’s why some interest developed when on Tuesday CNN, which had developed a lengthy report on the Donald Trump re-election campaign, said it had “obtained a memo to the Trump campaign from pollster Tony Fabrizio about ideas for ‘expanding the map’ to give the President more options for getting the 270 electoral votes needed to win the re-election, where he mentions looking at Oregon.”

What does this mean?

To back up a moment here, “expanding the map” does make sense for the Trump campaign. It only barely prevailed in the key Great Lakes states – Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania – that went Democratic over many previous elections but gave Trump his 2016 win. Without them, and if nothing else changed, Trump would lose next year. And polling has shown the president not doing well in those places, where Democrats have done very well in mid-term and special elections in the last couple of years. Shorter version: It makes sound strategic sense for the Trump campaign to hold those states if it can, but also find other places to make up votes in other places (that went Democratic last time) if it can’t.

So it makes sense to be looking at “blue” states to flip. Some of the states voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016 did so by close margins too: New Hampshire (.4 percent was the Clinton margin there). Minnesota after that (1.5 percent) and then Nevada (2.4 percent) and Maine (2.7 percent). Very likely a lot of research is underway in those places by the Trump forces to figure out how to flip them, and the CNN reporting does indicate they’re doing that.

And in Oregon, too.

Oregon voted for Clinton by 11 percent – not close. It was softer for Clinton than California (29 percent margin) or Washington (16 percent), but it really wasn’t any more on the razor’s edge as a blue state than Idaho was in 2016 as a red. And in that 2016, while Republicans did well around the country, in Oregon Democrats gained ground, and they continued to in 2018.

So is this in the category of a head-fake? Maybe. Political campaigns often engage in some degree of misdirection to keep the opposition off balance.

But if not, western Idaho residents a year from now just might hear some rumblings from over the border, even if the electoral votes there really aren’t much more up for grabs than Idaho’s.
 

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