Increasingly confident about the candidate's standing in some more traditional battleground states, Hillary Clinton’s campaign is preparing to expand operations in Georgia and Arizona, two states that have not voted for a Democratic president in two decades or more.
Clinton aides called Democratic Party officials in both states Monday night to say the campaign will begin transferring additional funds for the hiring of organizers on the ground there, according to Democrat familiar with the calls, as previewed by NBC News' Chuck Todd on Sunday's "Meet the Press."
While it is not immediately clear how big of a commitment in staff or TV ads Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters is making in the two red states, the move comes as polls show Clinton ahead or tied with Donald Trump in both.
Georgia has not gone blue in a presidential race since 1992, but the state has seen a major influx of people of color since 2000 and Democrats have been consistently reducing their losing margins in recent election cycles.
“She absolutely can win here,” said state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams. “Georgia is the perfect crucible to prove that Democrats can win in the South.”
Obama lost Georgia by 8 percentage points in 2012 and 5 points in 2008. But Clinton was ahead in the last three polls of the Peach State, including one released Monday that showed her with a whopping 7-point lead.
Trump has been a “unique and wonderful addition” to Democratic mobilization efforts because he’s alienated the exact groups Democrats need in Georgia, said Abrams.
Nearly a third of the state is African-American, while Latinos and Asian-Americans make up another 10% to 15% of the population combined. Add them to women, who break heavily for Clinton, and “that is a path to victory,” Abrams added.
It’s a similar story in Arizona, where Democrats haven’t won a presidential race 1996.
Obama lost the state by 10 percentage points in 2012, but limited polling shows Clinton in a dead heat with Trump.
The playbook for Democrats in Arizona has been the same for decades, said Phoenix-based Democratic strategist Andy Barr: Boost turnout among Latinos and compete for a swing vote that is largely comprised of moderate white women. Trump has been proven uniquely toxic for both groups.
“I think there are a lot of people who have worked on a lot of tough and heartbreaking races in the state who finally see a chance for us to breakthrough,” Barr said.
He noted that Clinton will be aided by a reinvigorated state party infrastructure and a high-profile Senate race between Sen. John McCain and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, which means more money will be spent on the state.
Democrats were also heartened this weekend when hundreds turned up to Clinton campaign office openings in Phoenix and Tucson.
It would still be major lift for Democrats to win either state, both of which “lean Republican,” according to NBC News' measures. And the Clinton campaign’s move could be a head fake to project confidence without a major transfer of resources away from more traditional swing states.
Meanwhile, Democrats themselves believe the polls will tighten, so Clinton’s strength in recent Georgia and Arizona polls could prove anomalous. But with down-ballot races on the line in both states, national Democrats are eager to explore all possibilities.