Trump campaign aims to expand the 2020 electoral map amid challenging landscape

Are the Trump campaign's massive ad buys a sign of strength or weakness?

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — President Trump will head on Saturday to the key battleground state of New Hampshire, where he will hold his second rally since the coronavirus pandemic swept across the nation.

The president’s trip will be his first to the Granite State in five months. The last time he was here, he made a prediction.

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Speaking to a jam-packed crowd inside Manchester’s downtown arena on Feb. 10, on the eve of the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary, Trump vowed that “we are going to win New Hampshire in a landslide.”

Fast-forward five months and much has changed in the country — and with the electoral landscape.

The pandemic has jolted the nation and temporarily flattened the economy. And the country experienced massive protests the past six weeks over police brutality and systemic racism.

There are still four months to go until Election Day in November – a lifetime in campaign politics – but the most recent public opinion polls conducted in many of the key battleground states show presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden topping Trump.

Now, winning some combination of New Hampshire and Minnesota, Nevada and New Mexico – the four states Trump narrowly lost to 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton – may be a case of the Trump campaign trying to expand their electoral map as they face the possibility of losing some of the key Midwestern states they flipped from blue to red four years ago.

The president's Saturday rally in New Hampshire comes as his campaign is now up with TV spots in Minnesota, Nevada and New Mexico.

The Trump campaign has publicly stressed that the president is still competitive in all of the 30 states he won four years ago. Campaign officials spotlight that Trump has a big enthusiasm advantage over the former vice president, they slam public opinion polling as "cheap" and "flawed," argue that those surveys under sample Republican voters, and say that their own internal polls paint a very different picture in the key swing states.

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"Then-candidate Trump flipped a lot of historically blue states red because hard-working Americans had been lied to by lifelong politicians like Joe Biden for decades - and it’s no surprise the Trump re-election campaign is looking to win more states with the fact President Trump rebuilt, restored and renewed our great nation once, and is the only one who can do it again," Trump campaign national press secretary Hogan Gidley told Fox News.

Gidley touted that "the Trump campaign has $295 million cash on hand, so we have the resources, record and best candidate to be competitive in states beyond just the 2016 map.”

A Republican strategist close to the campaign spotlighted that the current ad buys in Minnesota, Nevada and New Mexico are "a continuation of the plan to not only defend the states we won in 2016 but expanding the map into 2020."

News of the trip to New Hampshire and the running of television commercials in those three states came as the Trump campaign dipped into its massive war chest to reserve TV airtime to run spots from September through Election Day in 10 states — including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona. The ad tracking firms Advertising Analytics and Medium Buying put the reservation at nearly $100 million.

Trump won all six states in 2016, and some of them – such as Arizona and Ohio – were not considered to be battlegrounds at the start of the 2020 election cycle.

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On Tuesday, Advertising Analytics reported that the Trump campaign was also reserving just over $1 million in Iowa and nearly $2 million in New Hampshire for Labor Day through Election Day. Iowa also wasn't expected to be a battleground — but recent polling suggests is tightening up in both the presidential and Senate races.

The campaign is also currently running commercials in Georgia — another state once considered safe for the president and the GOP.

Plenty of political pundits point to the ad buys as a sign of weakness.

But the GOP strategist close to the campaign emphasized to Fox News that, "if you're not reserving ad time now for the fall and taking advantage of the rates before the inventory gets sold out, regardless of the state, that's malpractice on your campaign. So buying ad time for September and October is just smart business."

The strategist pushed back at the current public opinion polls, noting Trump's come-from-behind win four years ago.

"A lot of folks were wrong in 2016 and a lot of people will be wrong in 2020," the strategist predicted. "What matters right now is building out the team and doing the persuasion and the voter ID and all the ground work that's necessary to have a successful fall. Because when you get into the fall, you don't have time to make that up. You've missed the opportunity."

But the developments have some of the president’s top supporters ringing alarm bells.

“President Trump may lose this election,” Fox News host Tucker Carlson tweeted last month.

Carlson’s tweet linked to a video from his previous night's primetime program on the cable news network, where he kicked off his show warning that “not many people are saying it out loud on the right, but the fact is that President Trump could well lose this election. In fact, unless fundamental facts change soon, it could be tough for him to be reelected.”

And Dan Eberhart, a major donor and bundler for the president and other Republicans, recently told Fox News that "the poll numbers are definitely concerning."

The oil industry chief executive and managing partner of the investment firm Eberhart Capital warned that "donors that are focused on metrics are increasingly concerned that the president is slipping further and further behind."