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Trump’s Struggles Ripple Across the Sun Belt, Endangering G.O.P. Stronghold



President Trump is fading nationally as he alienates women, seniors and suburbanites, polls show. But private G.O.P. surveys show he is in close races in solidly red states, too.

New polls show Mr. Trump’s support is collapsing nationally, as he alienates women, seniors and suburbanites. He is trailing not just in must-win battlegrounds but according to private G.O.P. surveys, he is repelling independents to the point where Mr. Biden has drawn closer in solidly red states, including Montana, Kansas and Missouri, people briefed on the data said.

Nowhere has Mr. Trump harmed himself and his party more than across the Sun Belt, where the electoral coalition that secured a generation of Republican dominance is in danger of coming apart.

“There are limits to what people can take with the irresponsibility, the untruthfulness, just the whole persona,” said Jeff Flake, the former Republican senator from Arizona. Mr. Flake is crossing party lines to support Mr. Biden, who made his first visit of the general election here Thursday.

Many of the Sun Belt states seemingly within Mr. Biden’s reach resisted the most stringent public-health policies to battle the coronavirus. As a result, states like Arizona, Georgia and Texas faced a powerful wave of infections for much of the summer, setting back efforts to revive commercial activity.

In Arizona, a low-tax, regulation-resistant state, the focus on reviving business helped drive the unemployment rate down to 5.9 percent in August, with some of that apparent improvement coming from people leaving the labor force in a state with a large hospitality sector that has suffered in the pandemic.

Still, Arizona continues to face a long climb to return to its pre-pandemic economy. Twice as many Arizona residents filed new claims for unemployment benefits at the end of September than they did at the previous time last year, the Labor Department reports.

Mr. Biden is mounting an assertive campaign and facing rising pressure to do more in the historically Republican region. He is buttressed by a fund-raising gusher for Democratic candidates, overwhelming support from people of color and defections from the G.O.P. among college-educated whites in and around cities like Atlanta, Houston and Phoenix.

“Cities in states like Arizona and Texas are attracting young people, highly-educated people, and people of color — all groups that the national Republican Party has walked away from the last four years,” said the Oklahoma City mayor, David F. Holt, a Republican. “This losing demographic bet against big cities and their residents is putting Sun Belt states in play.”

Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona, a Republican who like Mr. Holt has won in increasingly forbidding environments, said his party needed to recognize an enduring verity about politics: “It’s a game of addition.”

Some of the states that appear effectively tied today, such as North Carolina and Georgia, could still prove difficult for Mr. Biden to carry. Few Democratic nominees have proven able to forge coalitions to tip these states and the president’s appeal among working-class whites in the South will at least keep him competitive.

Even in South Carolina, Republicans have grown deeply concerned about Senator Lindsey Graham’s re-election campaign, and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has had several sobering conversations with Mr. Graham, according to Republicans familiar with the discussions.

The Senate Republican campaign arm has also intervened in Mr. Graham’s imperiled campaign, with a handful of senior aides at the committee taking a more hands-on role.

On Thursday, in a conference call with a group of lobbyists, Mr. McConnell vented that the party’s Senate candidates are being financially overwhelmed because of small-dollar contributions to ActBlue, the online liberal fund-raising hub.

Now Republicans are at risk of that wave cresting again, and even higher.

“Racism and misogyny and demagoguery and being just hateful and cruel and intolerant are not things in the Southwest that play very well,” said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, a Democrat. She said Republicans had left a wide space for her party in her region by clinging to “messaging that’s 40 years old” on issues like immigration and climate.

If Mr. Biden wins by simply flipping back the Democratic-leaning Great Lakes states, Mr. Trump and his allies can pin the blame on the virus. But if Mr. Trump loses across the South and West, it would force a much deeper introspection on the right about Trump and Trumpism — and their electoral future in the fastest-growing and most diverse part of the country.


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