Biden's path to victory is much narrower following his debate disaster with states like New Mexico and Virginia suddenly in play for Trump


  • President Joe Biden already had a narrow path to reelection before his disastrous debate.

  • But if the bottom drops out, Democrats could be fighting to defend states like New Mexico or Virginia.

  • At that point, Trump‘s victory would be a near foregone conclusion.

President Joe Biden’s already narrow path to reelection is getting even harder to navigate.

Biden’s best-case scenario before last week’s disastrous debate likely required him to run the table in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennslyvania while holding onto to the Omaha-based Nebraska 2nd congressional district. Trump, as Nate Silver pointed out, had much more flexibility in reaching 270 electoral votes and potentially reaching even higher.

Four years ago, Biden had the luxury of deciding whether to base his campaign on the Upper Midwest or bet on Sun Belt states like Arizona and Georgia that hadn’t gone for Democrats in decades. Trump has held a steady lead in both states, according to RealClearPolitics’ polling averages.

Biden’s underdog status can get much worse. In its latest update on Wednesday, Sabato’s Crystal Ball moved Michigan and Minnesota closer to Trump. As Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Crystal Ball, warned, this isn’t rock bottom.

“It does seem like from the polling that Biden has taken a small hit, but he needed to be catching up as opposed to falling back,” Kondik told Business Insider.

The Crystal Ball moved Michigan from “Lean Democratic” to “Toss Up” and Minnesota from “Likely Democratic” to “Lean Democratic.” Under the University of Virginia Center for Politics’ current projections, there are five true toss-up states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Nevada.

If Biden continues to decline, Virginia, New Mexico, and Maine (statewide) could all come into play.

A Republican hasn’t carried Virginia or New Mexico in 20 years. Maine, which like Nebraska only awards two of its Electoral College votes to the statewide popular vote winner, hasn’t crowned a Republican as a winner since then-Vice President George H.W. Bush in 1988.

“There’s the possibility that maybe Trump is able to win the popular vote that is a roughly five-point improvement from 2020 and if that sort of thing happens you would expect Trump to win the states where Biden won in 2020 but did worse than the national popular vote,” Kondik said. “That is also the situation where you would start to see a Minnesota or a New Hampshire or maybe even a Virginia or Maine be closer certainly like there were in 2016 and certainly even closer than that.”

A post-debate poll in New Hampshire showed the race there is too close to call. According to A Saint Anselm College poll, Trump leads Biden 44% to 42%. Independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is at 4% in the state. Biden won the Granite State just over 7 points four years ago.

In a memo after the debate, Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said that data showed the faceoff did not change the minds of voters in battleground states. She also claimed that if polling does show a drop it would be a temporary dip due to media coverage.

“If we do see changes in polling in the coming weeks, it will not be the first time that overblown media narratives have driven temporary dips in the polls,” O’Malley Dillon wrote in the June 29th memo.

Kondik stressed that there’s still time for Biden to turn it around and that one possibility for a post-debate slump is that Democrats remain depressed about the president’s performance. He pointed out that both the Democratic National Convention and the second debate remain. There’s also the chance that Biden is pushed out of the race before either of those things happen. The president could also remain in the race and struggle to mount the comeback campaign he needs to.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In April, the president’s campaign boasted that they could win in Florida, Trump’s adopted home and a state that has moved away from Democrats. Now, even a top Biden official has said Florida isn’t a battleground.

The issue for Biden is that he needed the debate to begin his upswing. Instead, his faceoff with Trump could lead to the president dropping out of the race entirely. Biden himself has acknowledged he did not debate well.

As CNN’s Harry Enten has detailed, every incumbent president that went into the first debate trailing and was viewed as having lost that debate went on to lose their reelection. Biden’s only saving grace is the debate’s early time on the calendar.

For now, prominent Democrats are sticking behind Biden. Most critically, this includes the list of potential replacements, including Vice President Kamala Harris, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom. On Tuesday, Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas became the first member of Congress to call on the president to drop out.

The reality is that if Biden is stuck playing defense in states Democrats usually win, Trump’s return to the White House will be a foregone conclusion. The only question then will be how many Electoral College votes would the former president win.

“If Biden’s position gets worse, that’s when you see maybe a Virginia or New Mexico get in play,” Kondik said. “But again, if that’s what we’re actually going to be talking about in October then the election itself shouldn’t be that dramatic. Virginia, New Hampshire, New Mexico, or Minnesota are not going to be the states that put Trump over 270. They are the states that would get him well north of 300 electoral votes.”

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