DETROIT — Up to 12 “swing” states are in play as Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump steam into Election Day after one of the most long-running, unpredictable and bitter campaigns in our times.
History is in the making, one way or another. Clinton has a chance to become the first female president of the United States. Trump could become just the sixth person to win the White House without ever having won a previous elective office; Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, in 1952, was the last. Unlike the previous five, Trump was never a military general or a high-ranking federal official.
The chances for each candidate have, as expected, gone up and down since the conventions in July, with the race tightening, widening and tightening again. Here is where forecasts generally have it now: Clinton has the slight edge going into Tuesday, but Trump has a very real shot.
But the degree of confidence varies from the Princeton Election Consortium — which says Clinton has a 99 percent chance of winning — to FiveThirtyEight.com, which pegs it at 64 percent.
“It would not necessarily require a major polling error for Trump to be elected, though he would have to do so with an extremely narrow majority in the Electoral College,” Nate Silver wrote on FiveThirtyEight.com, the forecasting site.
As we move toward Election Day, here are five things to watch:
Florida looms largest again
It was the site of the determinative — and controversial — recount in the 2000 presidential election. It has the most electoral votes (29) of any swing state. It could give Trump hope. It could give Clinton a lock.
Like most recent presidential elections, Florida is at the top of the list of states to watch.
Going into Tuesday, experts say it looks this way: Trump almost must have Florida. Clinton needs it but could win without.
Marist College pollster Lee Miringoff has this blunt assessment: “Trump has to carry it. If he doesn’t, then he’d have to make up the difference in states where it’s more difficult for him. He’d have to clean out the industrial Midwest. On the other side, the state for a quick Clinton knockout is Florida.”
Forecasts vary, and the candidates are running neck-and-neck in the Sunshine State — that’s why each camp has made multiple stops there in the final week of the race.
What Trump likely needs
The Republican needs wins in three states that carry large numbers of electoral votes: Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
He also needs to keep North Carolina in the Republican fold and make a breakthrough in the Midwest. He and running mate Mike Pence have made last-week swings to Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota, hoping to “flip” one or more of those to the Republican column.
And he’s hoping for a domino effect, in that, if he does well in Michigan, that bodes well for him doing so in other states across the region.
Trump also is hoping Republicans “come home” — that although many have objected to his campaign, they still will back the party’s candidate. He’s also wants to prevent independent Evan McMullin from scoring an upset win in Utah, a usually reliable GOP state where Trump is doing poorly.
What Clinton likely needs
If you throw out Florida for a second, she needs to hold the Democratic “Blue Wall,” which hinges mostly on Pennsylvania. Tiny New Hampshire, with its four electoral votes, is important, too.
Even if she loses Florida, Clinton still has a path to the 270 electoral votes necessary to win if she can take states such as Nevada, New Hampshire, Colorado and Virginia.
Clinton also hopes undecided voters got the word yesterday that FBI Director James Comey has maintained its conclusion that she should not face any criminal charges for her handling of classified emails. Clinton’s poll numbers dipped and Trump pulled even in national polls when, on Oct. 28, Comey roiled the campaign by saying the agency had found more emails to be reviewed. After further review, Comey reached the same decision as he had last summer, when he said there were be no charges.
Turnout is everything: who and where
The demographics and geography of who casts votes will determine the winner. Trump has been leading all along with white, noncollege-educated voters. But he’s not doing so well with white, college-educated females who previously back the GOP. In fact, if the polls are accurate, some are saying his deficit among women is what could doom him.
Or it could be Hispanics. Early voting totals — especially in Florida and Nevada — show Hispanics flocking to the polls. That should certainly boost Clinton, while offsetting apparent sluggish early turnout among African-Americans.
Trump needs a high turnout from blue-collar workers in areas that have been hit hard economically — think Upper Midwest.
In 1992, whites accounted for 87 percent of the vote, Miringoff noted. By 2012, it was down to 72 percent.
“It will be interesting to see whether that decline continues this time or whether Trump is able to hold it steady or reverse it,” the pollster said. “If it’s 68, 69, he’s in trouble.”
Further, there is the question of each team’s “get out the vote” operation — which seems to favor Clinton. The Democrat has a far better field operation of local representatives and volunteers. Trump is banking on “shy” voters who will back him despite telling pollsters otherwise and a digital and direct marketing operation that his campaign contends will shock the world — much like Britain’s “Brexit” vote.
Who controls the Senate
Most election forecasters say the U.S. Senate could be headed for a 50-50 split, but suggest that if one party has a better chance of getting to 51 seats, it’s the Democrats.
Right now, the Democrats need to pick up three seats to get to 50, four to get to 51. The five states to watch for Senate balance: Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada and Missouri. And maybe Florida.
The top two to watch might be Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. In each case, the Republican incumbent (Pat Toomey in the Keystone State; Kelly Ayotte in the Granite State) would have to fare a little better than Trump is right now in state polls to pull off a victory.
If it ends in a 50-50 tie, the vice president (either Tim Kaine or Mike Pence) would cast the tiebreaking vote on some fights.