Los Angeles (CNN) Photo (CBS News) Donald Trump heads west this week, campaigning and raising money in diverse, heavily Latino states like New Mexico and California — and insisting that his favorability ratings among minority voters are on the upswing as he turns his attention to the general election.
But he faces more daunting hurdles here in the West than perhaps any other region of the country, most significantly the traditional battleground states of Colorado and Nevada — and possibly even Arizona — as he attempts to chart his course to 270 electoral votes.
Trump will officially win the 1,237 delegates he needs to clinch the Republican nomination when California holds its primary. After riding his wave of anti-immigrant rhetoric to the top of the GOP, Trump and his allies have sought to shift the political conversation to his opportunities in the industrial Midwest. He has argued that he can galvanize blue-collar workers and Reagan Democrats in those areas to put states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin into the GOP column.
But the questions the general election contest will hinge on is whether the enthusiasm for Trump among white, blue collar voters can overcome the anti-Trump fervor on the opposite side — and whether Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton can draw the same level of energy and enthusiasm from minority and younger voters that President Barack Obama did to build his winning coalition.
“One of the biggest cards in favor of Hillary Clinton is the vote against Trump, rather than the vote for her,” said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. “She has a lot of policies that are certainly friendly to Latinos… but I think the biggest thing that will energize them is Trump.”
Because of that, Trump’s industrial Midwest strategy may end up being more of a necessity than a choice given his soaring unpopularity among the fast-growing minority groups that are reshaping politics in the western states, as well as states like Georgia and North Carolina.
A Fox News Latino poll released Friday showed Clinton leading Trump among Latino voters 62% to 23%. A striking 74% of Latinos said they viewed Trump unfavorably.
Bill Whalen, a Hoover Institution research fellow at Stanford University, noted that even before considering Trump’s vulnerabilities among Latinos, “Hillary Clinton walks into the 2016 election — no matter how weak she might be as a candidate — knowing she’s probably going to have a minimum of 246 electoral votes in her pocket.”
“To win a national election right now, (Republicans) have to run the table. They have to win states they lost to Barack Obama,” Whalen said. “The problem for Republicans is when you cannot build support among Latino voters, more states come into play,” he said listing Arizona, North Carolina and Georgia.
“Unless Republicans can figure out to way to reach out to minorities and take that 27% for Mitt Romney and build it up to 35% or 40%, they’re going to be looking at a very hard time getting elected in the near future,” he said.
Complicating matters for Trump, his strongest appeal has been to older white voters. He has higher negatives among white women than recent GOP nominees, making it harder to do well in younger states like Colorado and Nevada where single women have been pivotal in recent contests.
All of those vulnerabilities have sparked a debate over whether Trump may have to simply cede the west to the Democrats and focus on swaying rust-belt voters with his anti-establishment credentials, anti-trade, anti-Wall Street message.
“He’s gotten what he can get out of the immigration issue. I think the trade issue is where he can make inroads against Hillary,” veteran Republican pollster Neil Newhouse said.
Newhouse said it is “way too premature to figure out the path to 270,” because there is no stability in the polling numbers. He expects them to swing wildly in battleground states over the next two months before the conventions.
“If it turns out we can’t win Colorado and Nevada,” said Newhouse, who was Mitt Romney’s chief pollster in 2012, “the play goes to the rust-belt through Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan — with Pennsylvania being really kind of a lynchpin. It’s a Rust Belt, I-95 strategy — and that would include North Carolina, Virginia.”