Clinton Not Giving Up on Winning Ohio

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Hillary Clinton returned to Ohio Monday for the first time since Labor Day to deliver a populist speech that name-checked Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and slammed Donald Trump over new revelations about his taxes. But Monday also brought a new poll from Quinnipiac University that showed the former secretary of state trailing Trump by five percentage points in Ohio — roughly consistent with other recent polls.

The state may may be falling out of the Democratic column for the first time since 2004.

It's not all bad news for Clinton in the Buckeye State, however. She was welcomed to Ohio by newspaper front pages that featured Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James' endorsement of Clinton and unflattering stories about Donald Trump's taxes.

"He abuses his power, games the system and puts his own interests ahead of the country's. It's always Trump first and everyone else last," Clinton said in Toledo during the first of two stops Monday.

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Ohio has traditionally been one of, if not the, most important presidential battlegrounds, thanks to its 18 electoral votes and its history as a bellwether. It's voted for the winner of the presidential contest every year since 1964 — including for President Obama twice — and 35 out of 40 times since 1856.

But Ohio's demographics have made it fertile for Trump, so Clinton has focused her time on paths of lesser resistance to victory. Simply put, Clinton does not need Ohio to win. Trump does.

Trump over-performs past Republican nominees among white, non-college educated voters, so he's doing best in battleground states with lots of them, making Iowa perhaps the most difficult of swing states for Clinton, and Ohio the second most difficult.

But Clinton can win several combinations of states that don't include either of those to get to the necessary 270 electoral votes.

For instance, one of the most likely scenarios is for Clinton to win Pennsylvania plus just one one of six other battlegrounds. Those six states include Ohio and Iowa, but also tiny New Hampshire, where polls give Clinton a fairly consistent lead, as well as Nevada, North Carolina, or Florida.

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So why bother campaigning in Ohio at all?

Her strategists insist Clinton still has a real shot at winning the state and would like to rack up as many electoral votes as possible, while also helping down-ballot Democrats in a state that has a major Senate race between incumbent Republican Rob Portman and former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland. Al Gore in 2000 famously abandoned Ohio after Labor Day, when polls showed him trailing badly, but he ended up finishing much closer and possibly could have won with more work on the ground.

If Clinton can stop Trump in Ohio — a state no Republican has ever made it to the White House without winning — she will have almost stopped him nationally. With its superior resources and roster of surrogates, the Clinton campaign has tried to spread Trump as thin as possible.

"Hillary has a lot of paths," Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook wrote in a recent memo to donors. "Donald Trump, on the other hand, must win six of these seven [battleground] states, including Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio — none of which he can lose."

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Clinton's latest visit to Ohio may also be a strategic effort to rattle the Trump campaign. Early voting starts next week in Ohio, and Clinton's venture onto Trump-leaning territory could be seen as sign of confidence following her well-reviewed performance in last week's first presidential debate.

It will also help the Clinton campaign push back on the notion that the state has tumbled down their priority list.

"We knew this race would be close, as it always is," said Chris Wyant, Clinton's Ohio state director. "No one wins Ohio without hard work and we invested in Ohio early — and continue to do so — with hundreds of staff and thousands of volunteers working out of more than 60 local offices."

The campaign says it has 61 organizing offices, and counting, in Ohio, and says it has invested more resources in the state than has the Trump campaign.

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Despite being a perennial battleground, Ohio may look very different this year from previous elections, thanks the peculiarities of Trump's candidacy. Trump is picking up votes in traditionally Democratic parts of the state, like the blue collar Mahoning Valley around Youngstown, while he seems to be turning off college voters in traditionally Republican suburbs around major cities.

"It's easy to imagine there being some big swings from 2012 in different parts of Ohio, but it may be that those swings largely cancel themselves out, giving Clinton a path to win the state despite Trump's seeming advantages," noted Kyle Kondik, a University of Virginia analyst and author of a book about Ohio's history as a bellwether in presidential elections.

Trump is counting on his anti-free trade message to resonate in the state, which has seen an exodus of manufacturing jobs. But Clinton beat anti-free trader Bernie Sanders in the Ohio Democratic primary, and labor officials say they've had success undercutting Trump's message by telling voters that he made Trump-brand clothing overseas.

"In fact, Trump's numbers are lower than Mitt Romney's in 2012, and dropping," AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said in a speech in Ohio last month, citing an internal poll of union members commissioned by the labor federation.

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Still, Trump benefits from Ohio's well-organized Republican Party apparatus, even though he's feuding with Republican Gov. John Kasich.

And Clinton will need an especially heavy turnout among the state's African-American voters, which may be difficult without Obama on the ticket.

John Kerry lost Ohio when African-Americans made up 11 percent of the electorate, and Obama won it when they made up 15 percent, so Clinton may need somewhere north of 13 percent.

But given Ohio's must-win status for Trump, Clinton will be happy if analysts are still wondering five weeks from now if she can eek out a win.