The American political system of electing a President by electoral votes instead of by the popular vote results in candidates selecting a few key states in which to focus their resources and time, and largely ignore the others.
Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina are key
According to the Wall Street Journal, this year’s four key states are shaping up to be Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. CBS News puts Virginia and Colorado on the list and subtracts Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Politico, which tracks eleven swing states, notes that the Trump campaign began running its first television ads last week in the four states identified by the Journal and announced plans to start running ads in Virginia shortly.
According to Real Clear Politics poll averages, Clinton is ahead in these four key states by margins that range from a 1.7-point lead in North Carolina to 9.2 points in Pennsylvania. However, at this stage in the campaign poll numbers don’t mean a lot and can change dramatically over the course of a week or two.
Trump needs to win all four of the toss-up states
What makes these four states the heart of the race is based on how the rest of the electoral map looks. For Trump to win the presidency he needs to win all four of these keys; Hillary could win by winning just one of them.
Both sides start out with a list of ‘safe states’ which for historical and demographic reasons are already conceded by one side to the other. For the GOP there are 17 states in the safe column with 127 electoral votes. The Democrats have 15 states (plus D.C.) with 189 electoral votes that are considered safe. There are nine states that are leaning Democrat with another 96 electoral votes. On the GOP side, there are six states considered leaning to Trump with 63 additional electoral votes. That leaves three states, Florida, Ohio and North Carolina that are rated as toss-ups and not in either candidate's column.
Strategy may change
If Clinton wins the 24 states that are safe/leaning, she has already won the election with 286 electoral votes (270 are needed to win). For Trump to win he needs to win all three of the toss-up states, plus pick off Pennsylvania. He could also win by taking several of the other states in the “leaning” column, but Pennsylvania with its 20 electoral votes is the obvious target.
No doubt this map will change over the next several months as the election nears but as of today, it represents the strategy of both campaigns. If you live in one of these four states, be prepared to be inundated with campaign ads from now until Election Day.