Editor’s Note: This was adapted from the October 19 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.
There are 50 US states, but just a handful can decide the election. Since most states already lean strongly conservative or liberal, President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden will spend the last two weeks of the campaign targeting battleground areas where shifting a few thousand voters could be critical to sweeping up their state’s support in the decisive Electoral College.
The nine states below will likely decide who lives in the White House after January 20, 2021. We’ve included the number of electoral votes each state is assigned, as well as how they voted in 2016 and CNN’s current ratings of each state race. The threshold to win the presidency is 270 electoral votes.
Michigan. 16 electoral votes. Trump won in 2016, now leans Biden.
Neither Hillary Clinton nor anyone else expected Trump’s stunning victory in Michigan in 2016. It was the defining moment of Trumpism’s appeal to white working class voters alienated by globalization. Biden, who is digging into Trump’s margins with White, less-educated voters, could be a much stronger candidate than Clinton in the Wolverine State. He’s also banking on heavy turnout of Black voters in Detroit and strong support in its suburbs.
Wisconsin. 10 electoral votes. Trump won in 2016, now leans Biden.
Another state that Democrats thought they had in the bag in 2016. But like Michigan, Wisconsin had seen a fracturing of the liberal power base through deindustrialization, free trade deals backed by Washington Democrats and a weakening of labor union influence. Trump will dominate in rural areas here but Biden is looking for big wins in Milwaukee, its suburbs and the liberal university city of Madison.
Iowa. 6 electoral votes. Trump won in 2016, now a toss-up.
Trump shouldn’t have to be defending Iowa, a state where he romped to victory by 9 points over Clinton. Look at a map of the Hawkeye State results and it is almost all red — apart from the biggest population centers around state capital Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and the eastern city of Davenport. Trump has splashed billions of dollars in aid to farmers, but those in Iowa have felt the brunt of his trade war with China. Now Covid-19 is taking a firm grip on the state, emphasizing Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic.
Ohio. 18 electoral votes. Trump won in 2016, now a toss-up.
President Barack Obama won it twice, but this perennial midwestern swing state has been seen as trending toward Republicans in recent years. Biden’s appeal to White working class and senior voters gives him a chance here. No Republican has ever lost Ohio and won the presidency. And if Trump loses here, it’s probably already curtains for him since less conservative midwestern swing states will likely have also gone for Biden.
Pennsylvania. 20 electoral votes. Trump won in 2016, now leans Biden.
If the election is close, it could all hinge on Pennsylvania. Trump’s win four years ago ended a run of six straight Democratic victories in the Keystone State. The key for Biden here is to run up big margins in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and their suburbs, while biting into Trump’s vote in deeply conservative, rural areas and smaller blue-collar cities like Scranton, where the former Vice President was born in 1942.
North Carolina. 15 electoral votes. Trump won in 2016. Toss-up.
The first signs that North Carolina was shifting from solid Republican to swing state status came when Obama narrowly won it in 2008. Like Virginia, there’s a growing Democratic coalition here: African American voters and suburban, educated, ethnically diverse voters drawn by the tech industry, world class universities and medical centers to its “Research Triangle.” This is one of those states where the supposed “silent majority” of new Trump voters will have to materialize if the President is going to win a second term.
Georgia. 16 electoral votes. Trump won in 2016. Toss-up.
Democrats have been fantasizing about flipping Georgia in the conservative Deep South for several election cycles. A rising Black middle class and expanding suburbs where Trump runs poorly give them extra hope this time, and the President is being forced to play defense in another state he comfortably won in 2016. Two highly competitive Senate races in Georgia — a state with a history of ballot suppression — could also decide whether Democrats can win back the chamber of Congress they don’t currently hold.
Arizona. 11 electoral votes. Trump won in 2016, now leans Biden.
Another state where changing demographics are giving Democrats a chance to replace erosion of their traditional coalition in the Midwest. Arizona was home to the father of modern conservatism, Barry Goldwater and it has some of the President’s most fervent supporters. But Democrats believe the state is ripe for picking off. Voters in the Grand Canyon State elected a Democratic senator in 2018, and look set to put another – former astronaut Mark Kelly – in the late John McCain’s old seat in November.
Florida. 29 electoral votes. Trump won in 2016. Toss-up.
The swing state of all swing states. Florida was the epicenter of the infamous and disputed 2000 election in which the Supreme Court eventually handed the presidency to George W. Bush. A fascinating political patchwork, Florida has it all, hard-core Trumpers in its conservative panhandle, a disproportionate population of retirees who are souring on Trump, suburban sprawl which seems to cover most of the state and politically active Venezuelan and Cuban diasporas as well as a booming Hispanic culture around Miami. Florida is almost always decided by less than a couple of percentage points. We have no idea who will win the Sunshine State. But we know it will be close.