Let's start with the broader map, then drill down to North Carolina. As we've been saying for months, Donald Trump's route to 270 electoral votes appears to be quite challenging. But with Hillary losing some steam as email scandal news and Obamacare's failures commandeer many headlines, Trump's path is looking less impossible than it did just after the presidential debates -- when Hillary Clinton had wiped out the gains of the "disciplined Trump" era. In order to win, the GOP nominee first needs to lock down all of Mitt Romney's states, which includes the Tar Heel State. More on that soon. Next, he simply must have both Florida and Ohio, as well. Ohio is looking pretty good so far, both in terms of polling, as well as early voting trends:
Ohio Absentee's - Half of the 381,763 decline has occured in four counties - Cuyahoga, Franklin, Summit and Lucas. Huge Democratic counties— Michael D. Dawson (@midawson) November 1, 2016
Trump is also back from the dead in Florida, where he's pulled ever so slightly ahead of Hillary, and where early voting is looking competitive. On that score, check out these state-by-state comparisons against 2012. Both the Sunshine State and Buckeyeland are relative bright spots for Republicans:
Comparing 2012 vs. 2016 in early vote by party affiliation -- one week out before election, via NBC/TargetSmart pic.twitter.com/GEYOgRxcJb— Mark Murray (@mmurraypolitics) November 1, 2016
So for the sake of argument, let's push both Florida and Ohio into Trump's column, plus every Romney state where Trump currently leads (including places like Arizona and Georgia, which look worrisomely close for Trump's campaign). That combination would put Trump at 244 electoral votes (assuming no stray electoral votes from districts in Maine or Nebraska in either direction). That renews our focus on North Carolina, a state Romney carried, but in which Hillary Clinton has maintained a stable lead for weeks. Well, earlier in the week, a Republican pollster showed Trump up two in a statewide survey. Then Elon University published a poll measuring an exact tie -- with Richard Burr up by three in the Senate race. And then WRAL/Survey USA dropped a stunner putting Trump up seven points, with Burr also leading comfortably:
That's definitely an outlier for now, but taking those three surveys together, it's not crazy to suggest that Trump is making a serious final-stage comeback push in the state, even if it's still an uphill climb. If that momentum is real and carries him over the finish line, that pushes Trump to 259 electoral votes; eleven shy of the magic number. That means that in addition to safeguarding all the Romney states, plus tacking on Florida and Ohio (and Iowa, which is close but leaning red), Trump would still need to reel in at least one more 2012 Obama state to win the presidency. If you're wondering why the Trump campaign is making an eleventh-hour blitz in some blue states, there's your answer. Colorado alone wouldn't cut it. Wisconsin alone wouldn't cut it. Nevada plus New Hampshire wouldn't cut it. Virginia, Pennsylvania, or Michigan would get the job done, but those states are all still looking very shaky for him. And so, frankly, are New Hampshire Colorado, Nevada, the latter two of which are generating some ominous early voting data (see above). Trump cannot breathe easy almost anywhere, and his margin for error is basically zilch. But if OH/FL/IA/NC keep trending in the 'right' direction, all eyes will turn to those blue states that could conceivably be in play. If any real movement along those lines is detected, then you really might start to witness Democratic panic.
Bottom line: The data and polling averages still point to a modest but clear Clinton victory. But the cake walk she was dreaming of doesn't appear to be materializing at the moment, as her own scandals and failed policies are dragging her down. Trump supporters need to root for decisive momentum in the final days (which isn't necessarily a pipe dream), and for the "intensity gap" electoral trend to continue. Plus, one never knows if pollsters are badly blowing a state or two that could result in some surprises next week. Polling is generally pretty darned sophisticated these days, but the professionals do blow it from time to time. Think Iowa and Michigan in the 2016 primaries, the 2014 Kansas Senate race, or the 2015 Kentucky gubernatorial race. So that's the magic elixir for a possible Trump upset: Late momentum cutting against Hillary, plus a strong enthusiasm advantage, plus underwhelming turnout among key Democratic demos, plus national pollsters misfiring on the composition of the overall electorate, plus some state-level surprises. Is that likely? I wouldn't bet on it right now. Is it possible? Yes.