Joe Biden’s advisers see three categories of competitive states in the general election, with Arizona at the “top of the list” of places where they believe they can expand the map against President Donald Trump, Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon told reporters Friday.
Arizona, Georgia, and Texas are among those the Biden team is targeting as “expansion states” — those that have been reliably Republican in recent cycles but because of changing trends could be more favorable to Democrats this year.
“This is something that we are very, very focused on,” O’Malley Dillon said during a virtual presentation via Zoom. “We believe that there will be battleground states that have never been battleground states before.”
“I’m bullish on Arizona,” she later added.
Early public polling over the last two months shows tight races between Trump and Biden in Arizona, Texas, and Georgia. Arizona currently appears the most promising of the three, with several polls in March and April showing Biden with a slight lead.
Trump won each of those three states by a significant margin over Hillary Clinton in 2016. The Arizona result was closest, where he won 48.1% of the vote to Clinton’s 44.6%. Arizona split in 2018’s statewide races, with Democrat Kyrsten Sinema taking a Senate seat and incumbent Republican Gov. Doug Ducey winning reelection.
Winning Texas has been a Democratic dream for years, as the state’s population shifts with a growing number of Latino voters. Texas has 38 electoral votes, second only to California, and pulling it from Republicans for the first presidential election since 1976 would radically change Democrats’ path to power. Trump won Texas by 9% in 2016; in the last statewide election there in 2018, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz beat Beto O’Rourke 50.9% to 48.3%.
Biden’s campaign is also focused on Democratic states it needs to protect and swing states it would like to win back after Trump’s successes in 2016. Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Virginia are in that first group. With those states, Biden would have a lock on 232 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win, according to his campaign’s forecasts.
In the second group are Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
“We don’t have to win all of these states,” O’Malley Dillon said, “but obviously these are core states to our path to victory and represent the bulk of our focus and attention as we think about battleground states.”
Friday’s call, which also included chief strategist Mike Donilon and deputy campaign manager for communications Kate Bedingfield, did not cover detailed strategies for their targeted states. Their optimism is fueled largely by polling.
“We are pulling ahead in Florida, in Pennsylvania, in Michigan, in Wisconsin, and in Arizona, and if we kept these numbers and we kept them through November, that’d put us at 318 electoral votes,” O’Malley Dillon said.
The coronavirus pandemic has largely frozen Biden’s campaign and prevented the type of organizing, hiring, and on-the-road rallying that usually begins once a candidate becomes a party’s presumptive nominee. (Biden has been that since early April, when Bernie Sanders ended his campaign.) Biden has been hosting events online, broadcast over the internet from his home in Wilmington, Delaware. His staff has been working remotely, away from their Philadelphia headquarters.
O’Malley Dillon said Friday that the campaign plans to have more than 600 battleground state organizers on board next month.
“Our expectation is we will have people on the ground in this campaign doing the traditional work of organizing, but we will do that when safety allows,” she said. “And not a day sooner.”