US Elections 2016

Totting up trouble for Trump

An unidentified boy with a pro-Trump sign at a rally for the candidate in Fresno last week. Mr Trump has pitched much of his election rhetoric at working-class white voters who welcome his hard line on immigration and trade. Two-year-old Noah Gomez w
(RIght) An unidentified boy with a pro-Trump sign at a rally for the candidate in Fresno last week. Mr Trump has pitched much of his election rhetoric at working-class white voters who welcome his hard line on immigration and trade. (Left) Two-year-old Noah Gomez with a protest sign outside a pro-Trump rally in Fresno, California last week. Mr Trump has alienated many Hispanic voters, pushing typical swing states such as Colorado, Nevada and Florida towards the Democrats.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE / PHOTO: REUTERS

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has pulled even or ahead of Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton in recent polls. But if he is to be elected US president, he must compete on a political map that looks forbidding. In the four regions likely to decide the presidency - Florida, the upper South-east, the Rust Belt and the interior West - Mr Trump faces obstacles. They are home to some 90 million Americans, who hold many of the 270 electoral votes he needs to win.

Florida 

Loss of Latino support could prove costly

Had Republicans nominated Florida senator Marco Rubio or governor Jeb Bush for president, Mr Tomas Regalado would have hurled himself into campaigning. But the Republican mayor of Miami intends to sit out the campaign.

He considers Mrs Hillary Clinton untrustworthy, but views Mr Donald Trump as a poisonous candidate who has aggravated racial divisions.

In Miami, Mr Regalado said, Mr Trump is seen as "a bully, as a person who despises people that don't look like him"."This is my country," he added. "I can't go back to Cuba."

Mr Trump has pulled nearly even with Mrs Clinton in many polls, including in Florida. But the southern tip of the nation's most populous swing state is an exception to the trend - most of all in Miami-Dade County, a densely populated bastion of diversity.

If Mr Trump has effectively staked his campaign nationwide on strong support from whites, Florida may present the most punishing test of his strategy as Hispanics here, including conservative-leaning Cuban-Americans - who twice helped Mr George W. Bush win - turn away from his candidacy.

If Mr Trump has effectively staked his campaign nationwide on strong support from whites, Florida may present the most punishing test of his strategy as Hispanics here, including conservative-leaning Cuban-Americans - who twice helped Mr George W. Bush win - turn away from his candidacy.

Mr Trump has trampled local sensibilities, from belittling his rivals to his personal coarseness, slashing comments on immigration and endorsement of open relations with the Castro government.

In addition to Mr Regalado, two Republican members of Congress from Florida, Ms Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mr Carlos Curbelo, have said they will not back Mr Trump, as has Mr Carlos Gimenez, the Republican mayor of Miami-Dade County. All four are Cuban-American.

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The Upper South-east

Voters torn by split political impulses 

Ms Debbie Holt owns a barbecue restaurant in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. She is a staunch supporter of abortion rights. Signs in her storefront window also say "Stop Profiling Muslims" and "Go To The Bathroom Where You Feel Best", referring to state legislation aimed at transgender people.

Yet Ms Holt is also an outspoken supporter of Mr Donald Trump. "He don't take any stuff, just like me."

Ms Shannon White is as confused as Ms Holt is confident. A Mormon and Arizona transplant who usually votes Republican, Ms White said she had no regard for Mrs Hillary Clinton, but doubts Mr Trump's adherence to any principles and is uneasy about his "abusive" language. "I'm actually thinking more that I am going to go Libertarian," Ms White, 42, said at her clothing store.

For decades, this state has embodied contradictory impulses, capable of simultaneously electing a racial hard-liner and progressives.

Its two biggest population centres, Charlotte and the Research Triangle of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, have been transformed by an influx of centrists from other states. The fastest-growing party registration preference is not Republican nor Democrat, but unaffiliated.

Rural white conservative Democrats are dying off. Elections are now won in fast-growing towns.

Neither Mr Trump nor Mrs Clinton are natural fits.

"They don't like either party, and they don't like either candidate," said Mr Carter Wrenn, a veteran Republican strategist. "It will just depend on which one they dislike less on Election Day."

Mr Trump needs the state much more than Mrs Clinton does. With his difficulties among Hispanic voters pushing typical swing states such as Colorado, Nevada and Florida towards the Democrats, Mr Trump will probably need the 28 electoral votes from North Carolina and Virginia to win the White House. But Virginia is a step to North Carolina's left, increasing the pressure on Mr Trump to win there.

Some Republicans worry that the backlash to the state's "Bathroom Bill" could lead moderates to cast their ballots for Democrats in November.

What could tip the scales for Mr Trump is to improve his negative image. "I'm not a fan of his antics," said Mr Rick Peele, 57, who works for an architecture firm, and leans Republican. "But I haven't been impressed with Hillary, either."

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The Rust Belt

Key is winning voters across economic scale 

Mr Donald Trump's best play for the White House is to cut a swathe through the Rust Belt, flipping states traditionally won by Democrats with large numbers of working-class whites who welcome his hard line on immigration and trade.

A handful of victories in the Rust Belt states, stretching from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin, could allow Mr Trump to lose Florida and still become president. But not all Rust Belt states are equal: Ohio, which President Barack Obama won by 2 percentage points four years ago, is the most likely Republican pick-up. Michigan, which Mr Obama won by about 10 points, is a big stretch.

Pennsylvania - the second-closest battleground in 2012 after Ohio - perennially tempts Republicans to pour in resources in hopes of expanding the electoral map. To win the Rust Belt, a region that has generally gone Democratic in six straight presidential elections, Mr Trump will have to win there.

The challenge for him in Pennsylvania is to expand his appeal to blue-collar voters without alienating white-collar Republicans, including women repelled by his free-floating insults and business people who doubt his conservatism.

"I don't think that he's going to be able to speak to other nations and not cause us problems," said Ms Melissa Wilson, a pre-school teacher and normally a Republican voter.

Two counties in eastern Pennsylvania illustrate the give and take: In working-class Luzerne County, registered Democrats far outnumber Republicans, but Mr Trump won more votes in his April primary than Mrs Clinton did in hers.

Ms Elaine Bernardo, who works for Nabisco - the Oreos maker Mr Trump assails for moving production to Mexico - said she was a Democrat, "but a Republican at heart", and would vote Trump.

In wealthy Chester County, by contrast, it seems as though minds are still being made up. Mr Val DiGiorgio, county Republican chairman, said he hears from both Republicans who say they will not vote for Mr Trump and others, including "a lot of Democrats and independents", energised by his candidacy.

Said Ms Peg Layden, a grandmother: "I'm not enthusiastic; I'm afraid he isn't trustworthy."

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The Interior West

Backlash brewing over immigration 

Mr Hector Salinas, 21, was born in Phoenix, Arizona, but grew up in Mexico. Ms Nancy Herrera, 31, was born in Mexico but entered the US illegally when she was three and gained legal status only when she married an American citizen 10 years ago. They are co-workers at a non-profit group that helps Latinos become citizens and register to vote.

"The moment we talk about immigrant rights, immigration reform, people stop us and say, 'Where do I sign? I'm going to vote this year because I don't want Donald Trump to be my president'," Mr Salinas said.

Arizona is both a flashpoint in the nation's immigration battles and a microcosm of a changing US. One in three residents is Latino, and one in four Latinos is old enough to vote. And while the white population is ageing - its median age is 43 - the median age of Latinos is 26.

The November election presents a unique enticement. Not only is Mr Trump on the ballot, so is one of his most outspoken supporters: Mr Joe Arpaio, the swaggering Maricopa County sheriff seeking re-election and famous for his crusades against undocumented immigrants.

But will Hispanics vote this year?

The November election presents a unique enticement. Not only is Mr Trump on the ballot, so is one of his most outspoken supporters: Mr Joe Arpaio, the swaggering Maricopa County sheriff seeking re-election and famous for his crusades against undocumented immigrants.

Canvassers and candidates alike are highlighting the financial costs and reputational harm to Arizona brought on by Mr Arpaio. And they are portraying Mr Trump's and Mr Arpaio's stances as indistinguishable. Mr Arpaio welcomed the association with Mr Trump, saying the November elections would not be decided by party affiliation or ethnicity. "Personalities count more than ever this time around," he said.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2016, with the headline 'Totting up trouble for Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe