Even so, McGoldrick says that in October Trump outspent Clinton and her allies on television by about seven-to-one in Wisconsin and two-to-one in Colorado. “This strategy does leave her exposed, particularly in Wisconsin,” he says.
Almost all analysts agree that Clinton has more plausible options for reaching an Electoral College majority than Trump does. And among analysts from both parties, there’s broad agreement about the states that offer her the most straightforward path to victory. That path starts with the 18 states that form the blue wall, a term I coined in 2009. These states have backed the Democratic nominee in at least the past six presidential elections; together with the District of Columbia, they offer 242 Electoral College votes.
The blue-wall states include the eleven states from Maryland to Maine, except for New Hampshire; Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois in the upper Midwest; the three West Coast states of California, Oregon, and Washington; and Hawaii. Of those, the states usually considered the most competitive for Republicans are Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. That may be especially true for Trump this year, given his strength among working-class white voters, who are prevalent in all three states, and his weakness among the minority and white-collar whites more numerous in other blue-wall states.
Clinton’s electoral map thus starts with defending Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, the three loosest bricks in the blue wall. (Of the remaining blue-wall states, perhaps only Maine might be plausibly at risk to Trump.) After that, both sides agree her easiest pathway to a majority runs through three heavily diverse Sunbelt states: There’s New Mexico, which has voted Democratic in five of the past six elections; and then Colorado and Virginia, which have moved from Republican-leaning in the 1990s, to closely contested in the first decade of this century, to Democratic-leaning at the presidential level since 2008. The last piece in the most direct path for Clinton is New Hampshire, a state where she struggled during the primaries, but has led in almost all polls during the general election.
If Clinton holds the 15 blue-wall states that neither side sees as seriously contested, and adds the seven core states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia, and New Hampshire, she amasses 273 Electoral College votes. That means she wins regardless of what happens in any other battleground, including Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio. She still holds a narrow majority of 272 Electoral College votes even if Trump wins the rural second district in Maine, one of the two states that awards Electoral College votes by congressional district.
Yet of those seven core states, the Clinton campaign and Priorities USA—the principal super PAC supporting her—has treated only Pennsylvania and, to a somewhat lesser extent, New Hampshire as true battlegrounds. The tally of campaign advertising spending maintained by Ad Age and Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group shows that through late October, Clinton had spent almost $38 million in Pennsylvania and over $28 million in New Hampshire, but only about $23 million combined in Michigan, Wisconsin, Colorado, and Virginia. New Mexico had attracted almost no spending from either side through that point.