×

Trump vs. Clinton: These are the battleground states to keep an eye on

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton
Reuters
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

One of the things that's made this election exciting is the fact that a number of formerly safe red and blue states haven't been all that safe this time around. We've seen some strong polling numbers for Hillary Clinton in generally red states like Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina. And Donald Trump has logged competitive numbers in some polls in blue states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and even Rhode Island and New Jersey.

But obviously, not all of these decisive states will flip. Maybe none of them will. And looking at sampling polls alone, even aggregating and averaging several of them at one time like Nate Silver does, won't give us all the answers. This is especially true in this unique election.

The latest Real Clear Politics polling data puts Hillary Clinton ahead of Donald Trump in electoral votes, 209 to 154, with 175 votes in what they call "toss-up" states — too close to call.

Two of those states, Florida and North Carolina, I think could swing Trump. Why? One word: age. Trump has a significant lead among older voters, according to a recent CNN poll, and they tend to turn up at the polls in the best overall numbers compared to other age groups. Both of those states have a lot of retirees.

It's been hard for Trump to gain any traction in Ohio, another toss-up state, because of Governor John Kasich's strong opposition. But recent polls have shown Trump leading in the Buckeye State and I think that trend will continue. The same is true for Iowa.

That's 68 electoral votes for Trump right there from those four toss-up states.

I still think Pennsylvania (a toss-up state with 20 electoral votes) stays in Clinton's column (for now) — mostly because the growing Philadelphia suburbs give her a big population advantage over Trump's stronger support in Western Pennsylvania, where populations have been shrinking. Virginia's ethnic demographics and consistent poll strength for Clinton means that state (with 13 electoral votes) has to be kept blue for now, too. The most recent NBC NBC/Marist/WSJ poll did have Clinton ahead by just one in New Hampshire (4 electoral votes), so that state is really hanging on by a thread.

Both camps seem to be giving extra focus to Pennsylvania — President Obama campaigned Tuesday in Philadelphia for Clinton while she continued to recover from pneumonia and Trump billboards and other ads are all over the Keystone State.

Trump has to worry that focusing too much on Pennsylvania will allow Clinton to slip Arizona (11 electoral votes) and North Carolina (15 electoral votes) out of the red column and make it almost impossible for him to win.

But there are still 54 days until Election Day and these toss-up states could get tossed around several more times before it's all over.

Right now, I think the states most vulnerable to flipping are: New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Arizona and Florida.

I think it's worth keeping an eye on Ohio — it's truly an American cultural and political bellwether. Ohio has regions of its state that represent every other segment of the country. Cincinnati and its environs are very much like the South. Dayton and its large Air Force base community represent the military. Cleveland, Akron, and Toledo represent the once-manufacturing powerhouse of the Rust Belt. And Columbus represents upper middle class white collar suburban America with a healthy splash of college town to go with it.

In other words, if you win Ohio you're winning America.

Right now, Real Clear Politics has Ohio as a toss up.

If the election were held today, I think Clinton would win. However, I do expect Trump to overtake her in all the polls quite soon.

I think this election is closer than any of us ever imagined.

Don't blink!

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.