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Trump is running out of ways to win

Right now, Donald Trump's pathway to the presidency resembles a goat path more than a superhighway. It is narrow, rocky, and steep.

Right now, Donald Trump's pathway to the presidency resembles a goat path more than a superhighway. It is narrow, rocky, and steep.

As the Republican nominee has swooned and Hillary Clinton has surged in the polls nationwide over the last three weeks, at least a half dozen must-win battleground states have been reclassified from competitive to leaning Democratic.

She has led by double digits in the most recent polls of Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Michigan, and Wisconsin - and is up by an average of 5 percentage points in always-close Florida.

Trump is hanging tough in other target states - Ohio, Nevada, and Iowa - but pollsters and strategists say that unless something jolts the campaign dynamics, the math might not add up to the 270 electoral votes he needs to move into the White House.

After a series of self-inflicted wounds, Trump moved to stanch the bleeding Wednesday, announcing new top campaign aides, the second shake-up in two months. And Friday, his campaign launched its first general-election TV ads with a $4.8 million buy in four states, including Pennsylvania - a state polls show is moving out of his reach.

It is too soon to say whether the moves will help; on the same day he announced the staff shake-up, two new Quinnipiac University polls suggested the swing states of Colorado and Virginia are almost out of reach for Trump, with Clinton leading by 10 and 12 percentage points, respectively.

Colorado has a skyrocketing Latino population, and Trump has alienated many Hispanic voters with his remarks that some illegal immigrants from Mexico are "rapists" and his pledge to build a wall on the nation's southern border and to deport the 11 million people in the United States without proper documentation.

In Virginia, Clinton is undoubtedly helped by rapid growth in the Democratic-leaning suburbs of Washington.

"Eight years ago, both of these states were leaning Republican, and 20 years ago they were strongholds for the party," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. "It's a scary scenario for Republicans: Mr. Trump would have to win almost every other state that was thought to be in play in order to have any chance."

Demographics

Even as Clinton opens up leads in the battlegrounds, polls show some states considered long lost for Democrats now look competitive. The former secretary of state has a lead of less than 1 percentage point in Georgia, according to the Real Clear Politics average of state polls. Trump has a similar lead in Arizona.

Republicans have won Georgia in seven of the last eight elections, but Clinton's campaign is making a show of competing there - and in Arizona, which has gone Republican in 15 of the last 16 elections. (Bill Clinton carried Georgia in 1992 and Arizona in 1996.)

The broader story behind Trump's summer doldrums lies in the demographic breakdowns of the polling. He has not expanded his appeal far beyond the core of his base in the Republican primaries: white men without bachelor's degrees.

He trails Clinton badly among Latino and African American voters, and among women of all races. Trump also is fading among college-educated white men.

These dynamics are playing out in Colorado and Virginia, states with sizable minority populations that also have high numbers of residents with college educations. In Colorado, 39 percent of non-Hispanic whites over age 25 have at least a bachelor's degree, according to the most recent data from the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau. Virginia stands at 38 percent.

Four years ago, Republican Mitt Romney won that group, which votes at a higher rate than those without college degrees. Recent national polls show Trump underperforming Romney.

Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Center for America Progress, a left-leaning think tank, estimates that Trump would have to beat Clinton by 40 percentage points among noncollege-educated whites to make up for his deficits with voters in other demographics.

"Unless he can either reverse his slide among white college-educated voters or do unprecedentedly well among white, noncollege-educated voters, he doesn't have a path," Teixeira told Talking Points Memo.

White voters are shrinking as a share of the electorate, from 88 percent in 1980 to 72 percent by 2012. Most demographers estimate whites will make up 70 percent or less of the electorate this fall.

No Republican has carried Pennsylvania since 1988, but Trump has been banking on the state. Clinton is leading by an average of 9 percentage points in state polls, according to Real Clear Politics.

A Franklin and Marshall College poll two weeks ago indicated Trump was running up against the same educational divide in Pennsylvania that has hurt him in other states.

The poll found that Trump led Clinton 53 percent to 31 percent among white voters without college degrees. But Clinton led Trump by 30 points among white college-educated voters.

A greater percentage of Pennsylvania whites over the age of 25 have college degrees than do whites in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, or Wisconsin. Twenty-nine percent of white adults in Pennsylvania have college degrees, compared with the national average of a notch over 30 percent.

Percentages of whites with college degrees are even higher in the populous Philadelphia suburbs - 46.5 percent in Montgomery County, for instance.

This may help explain why Trump is lagging so badly in a state where many thought he would be competitive - nationally, he is trailing Hillary Clinton among college-educated whites by 14 percentage points.

'Outside help'

Trump "needs a sea change" to get back into contention in Pennsylvania, said Franklin and Marshall pollster G. Terry Madonna, noting that more than a third of the state electorate lives in Philadelphia and its suburbs.

"I think he needs outside help. I don't think he can run a commercial or stand up and make a speech and change," Madonna said. "He needs something profound to shake up the political environment."

Trump last week brought in Steven Bannon, the head of the hard-right news organization Breitbart, to be CEO of his campaign, and pollster Kellyanne Conway will be the manager. Trump said he felt "boxed in" and "controlled" by former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, a Washington insider who was trying to moderate Trump's approach and maintain ties with the GOP establishment.

It seemed Trump was doubling down on the smashmouth style that got him the nomination.

Yet he gave a well-received speech Thursday in battleground North Carolina, expressing "regret" for hurtful things he has said that caused "personal pain" for people - the closest he's come to apologizing for anything.

Worried Republicans are taking a wait-and-see attitude. After all, Trump has sometimes dialed back the incendiary rhetoric for a few days, only to return to it.

"Everyone talks about, 'Oh, you've got to pivot,' " Trump said in an interview with WKBT-TV in La Crosse, Wis., on Tuesday, after he had made the decision to change up his staff, but before it was announced.

"I don't want to pivot," he said. "I am what I am. I don't want to change. You have to be you. If you start pivoting, you're not being honest with people."

tfitzgerald@phillynews.com 215-854-2718 @tomfitzgerald www.inquirer.com/bigtent

Staff writer Jonathan Tamari contributed to this article.

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