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Trump remains the underdog as campaign enters final six-week stretch

This year has felt anything but stable in most aspects of American life, but the presidential campaign of 2020 has been bucking that dynamic and has proven to be remarkably stable for the last several months.

Posted Updated

David Chalian
, CNN Political Director
CNN — This year has felt anything but stable in most aspects of American life, but the presidential campaign of 2020 has been bucking that dynamic and has proven to be remarkably stable for the last several months.

There have certainly been several jolts in the race since our last electoral college outlook, even before the death of Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Friday night. From former Vice President Joe Biden's historic pick of Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate to the largely virtual party conventions, from the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the continued protests for racial justice to the deadly violence that emerged, from the bombshell revelations in Bob Woodward's new book to a President and administration at public odds with its top scientists in the midst of a pandemic.

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None of it seemed to dramatically alter the fundamental position the candidates find themselves in. President Donald Trump enters the final six weeks of the election season as the underdog as Joe Biden maintains his edge both nationally and in many of the critical battleground states that will determine the outcome and as he completely erased the fundraising advantage that the incumbent had amassed earlier this year.

Ginsburg's death and the immediate supercharged political fight over her successor are the latest shock to the campaign environment, and we now wait to see if that has a real impact on the structure of the battle between Trump and Biden, which to this point, has shaped up to be a referendum on the President's first term in office -- particularly his handling of the coronavirus.

In our new electoral college outlook, we have made four moves -- three of them in Biden's direction, one of them toward Trump. As always, we base this outlook on public and private polling, the strategic bets the campaigns are making with tens of millions of advertising dollars, where Trump and Biden and their top-level surrogates are spending the bulk of their time, and on conversations with state-based and national political operatives, elected officials and advisers to both campaigns.

The battle for 270 electoral votes is largely playing out across 14 states and two congressional districts. These are made up of true toss-up battleground states combined with states slightly leaning in one party's direction or the other.

Biden continues to demonstrate real strength with suburban voters, independent voters, women, seniors, White college-educated voters and voters of color and even has a decent foothold with White non-college-educated voters. That demographic portfolio is what is helping the Biden team move both Wisconsin and Arizona -- two of the most critical states on the board -- from that true battleground category to now leaning Democratic. After seeing the battle for the single electoral vote in Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District (Omaha area) become much more engaged over the last month, it has become clear that that contest is no longer a Republican leaner but a straight up battleground.

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Biden's building blocks to 270 start with a solid base of 203 electoral votes from 16 states and the District of Columbia. When you add in the 66 electoral votes that are leaning in his direction, it brings his total to 269 electoral votes -- just 1 away from winning the presidency.

The one move that we are making in the President's direction is the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, as we move its 20 electoral votes from leaning Democratic to a straight-up battleground. Of the three so-called blue wall states that Trump busted through four years ago, Pennsylvania may be the best proving ground for Team Trump to pursue its theory of the case that it can produce an outsized turnout of primarily non-college-educated White male voters to deliver yet another victory in a state that had been Democratic for more than a generation in presidential campaigns prior to 2016.

However, Pennsylvania may end up being the most temporary of all of these moves. The polling there clearly shows a slight edge for Biden, and the demographics of the state play to some of his unique strengths this election season. Last week's court rulings preventing the Green Party candidate from appearing on the ballot and extending the window for when absentee ballots can be received after Election Day in order to still be counted were also welcome developments to the Democrats in this state. Yet, both the Trump and Biden campaigns currently believe Pennsylvania is going to be a hotly contested state all the way through to Election Day so we have moved it to our battleground category for now.

For his path to 270 electoral votes, Trump starts with a solid base of 125 electoral votes from 20 states that are most likely to be uncontested in the fall. When you combine that base of solid states with the additional 44 electoral votes that are currently leaning in his direction, it brings Trump's total to 169 electoral votes -- 101 votes away from reelection.

That leaves us with five states and two congressional districts worth a total of 100 electoral votes that will likely prove decisive in selecting the direction the country heads in for the next four years: Florida, Georgia, Maine's 2nd Congressional District, Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

If Trump runs the table and wins all 100 electoral votes currently in our battleground category and Biden wins all the states we currently have either solidly or leaning in his direction, it would be a 269-269 tie and head to the House of Representatives to be resolved. That's clearly not a likely outcome, but it is 2020 so buckle up.

Solid Republican:

Alabama (9), Alaska (3), Arkansas (6), Idaho (4), Indiana (11), Kansas (6), Kentucky (8), Louisiana (8), Mississippi (6), Missouri (10), Montana (3), Nebraska (4), North Dakota (3), Oklahoma (7), South Carolina (9), South Dakota (3), Tennessee (11), Utah (6), West Virginia (5), Wyoming (3) (125 total)

Leans Republican:

Iowa (6), Texas (38) (44 total)

Battleground states:

Florida (29), Georgia (16), Maine 2nd Congressional District (1), Nebraska 2nd Congressional District (1), North Carolina (15), Ohio (18), Pennsylvania (20) (100 total)

Leans Democratic:

Arizona (11), Colorado (9), Michigan (16), Minnesota (10), New Hampshire (4), Nevada (6), Wisconsin (10) (66 total)

Solid Democratic:

California (55), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), DC (3), Hawaii (4), Illinois (20), Maine (3), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (11), New Jersey (14), New Mexico (5), New York (29), Oregon (7), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), Virginia (13), Washington (12) (203 total)

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