WASHINGTON — As the clock ticks down to Election Day, President Donald Trump is spending valuable time this weekend in Nevada — a state he lost in 2016, but that his campaign sees as a critical part of a backup path to re-election, as his current electoral odds continue to shrink in states he won narrowly that year.
Trump was scheduled to hold a high-dollar fundraiser in Las Vegas and rallies in Las Vegas and Reno. Both sets of plans nod to the campaign's challenges this cycle: The fundraisers come amid homestretch money concerns, while the public events were still in flux late in the week due to pandemic-related challenges that have dogged similar rally plans this year.
The campaign had to make last-minute changes to the event locations, originally planned at airport hangers in Reno and Las Vegas, due to the state’s coronavirus restrictions banning gatherings of more than 50 people.
Trump will now hold the rally originally scheduled for Reno at a smaller airport in Minden and his Las Vegas event at a nearby manufacturing plant; other events are still expected to exceed state attendance limits. The campaign has also added a stop Monday in Arizona, where it is holding a Latinos for Trump roundtable event at a Phoenix resort.
The president was expected to raise $18 million this weekend between a fundraiser in D.C. on Saturday and the event Sunday in Las Vegas, according to a Republican official.
Trump lost Nevada’s six electoral votes to Hillary Clinton in 2016 by just over 2 percentage points, and Democrats won nearly every statewide race during the 2018 midterm elections; a new New York Times/Siena poll gave Democratic nominee Joe Biden a 4-point advantage over Trump in the state, making it one of the closest contests in the nation.
While Trump faces headwinds in Nevada, his campaign is looking to pick off whatever states it can as he trails Biden in at least six states he won in 2016, according to RealClearPolitics polling average.
Should he lose two or three of those states without adding any others, he would fail to win re-election. That has the campaign looking outside the 2016 map for a path to victory; Trump officials say they see Nevada, along with Minnesota and New Hampshire, as likely alternate routes.
Campaign advisers say there are several favorable demographics in Nevada that they believe could work to Trump’s advantage. The state has a large white working-class population, a group Trump has traditionally polled well with. His campaign also points to growing support among the Hispanic voters who make up more than a quarter of Nevada’s population.
"The blue wave was massive here in the midterm elections,” said Jeremy Gelman, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Nevada in Reno. “Biden is up a few points, but I think the Trump campaign and maybe the Biden campaigning see the race as tightening a bit.”
While Trump’s popularity among rural white voters in Nevada is extremely strong, he is struggling with suburban Las Vegas voters, Gelman said. Trump will also have to contend with the powerful Culinary Workers Union, which is making a push to get their members to mail in their ballots early, Gelman said.
Trump’s campaign has been battling in court to block a new state law that will send mail-in ballots to all active Nevada voters amid the coronavirus pandemic. Because Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state, the higher the turnout, the more likely Democrats are to win, Gelman said.
“If Democrats turn out to vote, it is almost impossible for a Republican to win,” he said.
Trump’s campaign had been investing heavily in Nevada — spending $2.2 million in June and July on ads there — but stopped spending there in August when the campaign said it was shifting its advertising focus to early voting states. In the meantime, the Biden campaign moved in, spending more than $3 million on ads there since the end of July.
The Trump campaign was scheduled to go back up on the air in Nevada this week but pushed the start of the ads back to Sept. 15. Still, the campaign plans to spend $5.6 million on ads in the state between now and Election Day, while Biden plans to spend $3 million, according to data from Advertising Analytics.
One Republican strategist close to the campaign said he had long written Nevada off, but believed coronavirus restrictions in the state, which include the closure of bars and a mask mandate, could shift voters to Trump. Nevada’s service-based economy has also been hit particularly hard, with the state’s unemployment rate at 14 percent and the economy remaining one of Trump’s stronger selling points, the strategist said.
“Nevada, I’ve always written it off, thought it was long gone,” the strategist said. “I think Nevada is a stretch, but I no longer have it in the Colorado bucket of 'don’t waste your time there.'”