PITTSBURGH — Two weeks to go. So much uncertainty.

The presidential race has been distilled into two parallel struggles — for states and for constituencies. It is possible to win one area (big electoral vote states) and lose others (women, young people) and still capture the White House. No one knows this like Donald J. Trump.

But every election is different, with dynamics that are unique, offering candidates of different profiles and characteristics (with the exception of 1952 and 1956, when Dwight Eisenhower faced Adlai Stevenson both times). Every campaign is a road not taken. Here is a viewers’ guide to the moving parts in the 2020 campaign:

— Women. The gender gap continues to grow. Trump lost among women, who made up 55% of the vote in 2016, by 15 percentage points. He’s doing worse this time, an important element of the campaign that wasn’t helped by Vice President Mike Pence’s abortion comments in his debate this month. The latest Washington Post/ABC News Poll gives former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. a 23-point margin among women. The president cannot take much comfort in the Fox News Poll, either. It gives Biden a 19-point bulge.

— Older voters. Trump had an 8-point advantage over former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton among this group, which customarily votes in strong numbers. This time, older voters — a seventh of the voting population but four-fifths of the coronavirus deaths — are siding with Biden in a big way: a 20-point advantage in two recent polls. That is a huge swing of 28 percentage points.

— White voters. Trump soundly carried this group in 2016, with 58% of the vote. He still polls very strongly among these voters, but there are danger signs for him in critical states. In both Minnesota and Pennsylvania, he is running about even in this voting group.

— White male voters without a college degree. Trump cleaned up among this group in 2016, and major polls suggest that he may do even better this time. Several polls put Trump at around 60% among these voters. Plus this, which could prove important: a recent surge in registration among this population.

— Black voters. This is a hard group to crack for Republicans even in normal years. Statistics from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research demonstrate that Democratic presidential candidates in the past five elections have won about 91% of the Black vote. That figure may be inflated because of the presence of Barack Obama on the ballot two times, but it still is a formidable barrier for Trump, who has not embraced the Black Lives Matter movement and also faces claims he has stoked racial tensions. Wall Street Journal/NBC Poll soundings place Biden in Obama territory among Blacks, at about 90%.

The big question is Black turnout, which didn’t materialize substantially for Clinton but which Biden is hoping to inspire. It was Black support that created his momentum in the primaries, where his surge began among those voters in South Carolina. And the president’s stunning disapproval ratings among Blacks (87%, according to Gallup’s aggregated data) suggests these voters might swamp the polls in November.

— Swing states. The critical element in this campaign is how the composition of swing states has changed.

Months ago, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Florida were regarded as the principal swing states. That’s still true, and the races are relatively close in all of them, though Biden seems to be polling well in those states. But the important development is that many other states now qualify as swing states. One is Ohio, always critical for Republicans; no GOP candidate has ever won the White House without taking the Buckeye State. Many Democrats believe that with a strong Black turnout in Cleveland, Ohio may be within Biden’s grasp.

But other states have drifted into this category. Arizona has voted Republican in every presidential election but one (1996) since 1952. Biden has a 49-45 advantage there now, according to the FiveThirtyEight weighted composite — about the mirror image of the 2016 final election results, which Trump won by 91,234 votes. That is a big potential swing, fueled in part by advertisements during NFL games by Cindy McCain, widow of Arizona’s Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee who has been a special target of Trump’s enmity. Mrs. McCain’s endorsement is an arrow at the heart of Republican prospects in November, when astronaut Mark Kelly, who holds an 8-point lead over incumbent GOP Sen. Martha McSally, hopes to add to the Democratic ranks on Capitol Hill.

Trump also is playing defense in Iowa and North Carolina, two states he carried in 2016. But Biden is playing defense in Minnesota and New Hampshire, two Clinton states.

— The dynamics. No one should count out Trump, who lost the popular vote last time but triumphed in electoral votes. He could do it again; there is a built-in advantage for Republican candidates in the Electoral College. The flood of new registrants could push him over the top.

But Biden leads the national polls. Then there is a peculiar development that could be an important indicator:

Four years ago, Trump created a new constituency, stunning Democrats by reaching into their traditional voting groups, especially blue-collar voters, and in doing so winning the White House. At the same time, Clinton played it safe, campaigning principally in areas where her campaign knew she was strong, hoping to shore up her base. And she made a critical error: failing to spend even one campaign day in Wisconsin, with a progressive tradition but an insurgent conservative voting bloc.

This time the campaign is being run in reverse. Biden this month campaigned in Arizona. The other day Trump campaigned in Johnstown, near Pittsburgh. Biden’s Arizona challenges are clear; he must fight against a historical Republican wave. But Trump was campaigning in a county he won by a margin of more than 2-to-1.

Trump has governed to appeal to his base, and now that his survival in office is at stake, he is campaigning to appeal to that base. Biden is campaigning in his base, to be sure, but he is trying to expand it. That could explain the entire election.

David M. Shribman is the former executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Follow him on Twitter at ShribmanPG.

©2020 DAVID SHRIBMAN DISTRIBUTED BY ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.