Republican Donald Trump has spent much of the past week in enemy territory, desperate to poach a Democratic state and carve a perilously narrow path to victory in his White House race against Hillary Clinton.
Polls, history, demographics and Trump’s abrasive rhetoric are not on his side, even as he seeks to capitalize on never-ending revelations about his rival’s use of a private email server while secretary of state.
But with the campaign in its final week, the braggadocious billionaire is determined to make a last-gasp play for a blue state or two that could put him over the top – if he holds on to Republican ground and seizes the crucial battleground of Florida.
On Sunday he was in Colorado and New Mexico, both of which voted for president Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and are leaning toward Clinton.
On Monday it was Michigan, then Tuesday it was Pennsylvania, also favouring Clinton. Both states have voted Democratic in presidential elections since 1992. Also on Tuesday, Trump visited Wisconsin, whose Democratic streak goes back further, to 1988.
But Trump’s team is showing some swagger in blue states.
‘I feel like it’s going to happen,’ Carol Robertson, a 57-year-old on disability assistance, said at Trump’s rally in Eau Claire.
Polls have shown Clinton reliably ahead in Wisconsin for several months, and she is leading by 5.7 percentage points now, according to the latest RealClearPolitics aggregate.
Robertson dismissed polls as unreliable, and said a silent majority will rise up in Wisconsin and elsewhere.
‘People are afraid to say ‘I support Trump,’’ but they’ll vote for him in the privacy of the polling booth, she said.
In his quest to reach the 270 electoral votes needed to prevail on November 8, Trump is aiming to snatch Rust Belt states like Ohio, a bona fide swing state which voted twice for Obama but where working-class voters feel disenfranchised with the collapse of the manufacturing sector.
If Trump holds all the states Republican Mitt Romney won in 2012, and wins Ohio and Florida, he is still short. He needs to break into Democratic states.
‘If you look at the electoral map, there’s little question that Trump has to find some of these blue states to flip over,’ said Geoffrey Peterson, chair of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
Wisconsin could be ‘a logical target’ because of its large manufacturing base, which has shrunk in recent decades.
Its population is also considerably whiter than the national average, which means a broader potential base for Trump who draws heavily from white working class males.
But Peterson said it won’t be about Trump winning over new voters at this point: ‘It’s a get-out-the-vote race.’
Trump’s deputy campaign director David Bossie stressed that the team is knocking on millions of doors in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere.
‘It’s going to be a very, very close race, and they need everybody out to be... ambassadors for Donald Trump,’ Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Brad Courtney said.
Democratic stalwarts insist the state is safe.
‘Trump is wasting his time in Wisconsin,’ said Stephanie Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO labour union in the state.
‘They know when they’re being conned by a billionaire brat.’
Clinton voters aren’t so sure.
‘A lot of Democrats don’t want to vote this year, because they don’t like either of the options,’ said 21-year-old college student Olivia Knutsen, who protested Trump’s visit to Eau Claire.
Such a depressed turnout ‘is a big reason we’re kind of scared it could go either way,’ she said.
Broghan Reilly, who cast his ballot for Libertarian Gary Johnson in early voting Tuesday, said Wisconsin’s ‘populist cities’ like Eau Claire, Milwaukee and Madison tend to be more Democratic.
‘But you go even a mile or two outside and hit a corn field and all you see is Trump signs,’ said Reilly, who owns a chiropractic business.
Jim Nichols, 64, was drinking dollar beers at The Joynt, a dive bar in Eau Claire, after protesting at the Trump rally. It felt bittersweet to him.
As he squared off with Trump supporters, he said, ‘I was nervous because I have no defence of Hillary.’
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