President Donald Trump is spending nearly all of his advertising money to keep states he won in 2016, playing a game of defense in areas a Republican incumbent should be able to count on.
More than 92% of his state-based spending in the month of July is in states he won in 2016, according to a Bloomberg analysis of television advertising data compiled by Advertising Analytics.
Joe Biden, leading in all national polls, is spending in seven key states that Trump won in 2016, too, banking on at least some of them swinging Democratic with widespread voter dissatisfaction over Trump's handling of the coronavirus and the accompanying economic crash.
"It would be fair to say that Trump winning this time would be a bigger upset than 2016," said Kyle Kondik, an analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "Yes, he's the incumbent, but 2020 is not the year you'd want to be running for president as an incumbent -- and that would be true whether it was Trump or someone else."
The spending data paints a very different picture than Trump himself, who boasts that he's in strong shape for re-election and that a string of recent polls showing Biden leading comfortably are wrong. For an incumbent president to be defending so many once-friendly states is a sign of trouble.
Trump is spending heavily on attack ads against Biden in states like Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio -- all states Trump won so handily in 2016 that most analysts wouldn't call them swing states in 2020. But Biden is ahead or within striking distance in those states.
Trump's campaign manager Bill Stepien calls that "protecting the map."
"You've heard this before. The polls had us losing for pretty much all of 2016, and we ended up winning," Stepien told reporters last week.
Trump's 74-vote margin of victory in the Electoral College in 2016 means he can afford to lose one or two of his 2016 states and still be re-elected, Stepien says, but that means he has to keep traditionally Republican states like Arizona and North Carolina.