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Final NPR Battleground Map: The Race Snaps Back, But Clinton Maintains Advantage

Election Day is nearly upon us. So where does the electoral map stand? It's a close race, with Hillary Clinton retaining a broad and consistent but shallow advantage, according to the final NPR Battleground Map.

Compared with a couple of weeks ago, when Clinton hit her peak lead, the race has tightened. So our map reflects that — almost all of the moves benefit Trump, though because of one potentially determinative move, Clinton still surpasses the 270 electoral votes needed to be president with just the states in which she's favored.

It's worth noting that for all the vacillations in this race, Clinton has been above 270 with just Lean Democratic states in the NPR Battleground Map in every NPR map since May, except one. And even in that, she was just 2 electoral votes shy of 270.

The big moves in the final map: Former Toss-ups Ohio, Iowa, Georgia and Arizona are now in Trump's corner; New Hampshire was moved out of Clinton's column and back into Toss-up. But Nevada has also shifted from Toss-up to Lean Democratic. Clinton has driven up the score with early voting there.

That could prove crucial, because even if Trump picks up the remaining Toss-ups — New Hampshire, Florida, North Carolina and the two electoral votes between Maine and Nebraska — Trump would still come up short.

Let's repeat that: Even with Florida and Ohio, Iowa, North Carolina and New Hampshire, Trump would still need to pick up one more Democratic-leaning state. It's why he's barnstorming the country with a dizzying final push, hoping to pick off one state — Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia or even Minnesota, a state that's been closer in recent presidential elections than many might think.

The Trump campaign all but acknowledges it's behind in the Lean Democratic states in NPR's map, but notes that many of the races are tight.

If the Blue Wall holds, Clinton wins

There's an important reason Clinton's campaign is focusing on turning out black voters in Philadelphia and Detroit in the final days. If the Blue Wall of states leaning Clinton's direction holds, she wins.

Clinton continues to lead in Pennsylvania, though, by narrower margins than a few weeks ago. And polls have tightened in Michigan. President Obama is heading to Michigan and has acknowledged a lack of enthusiasm among black voters, whom he is strongly urging to turn out to protect his legacy. The Clinton campaign continues to be confident about both places, but acknowledges potentially close races, especially in Michigan.

Campaigning in both states in the final days of the race is also a strategic move by the campaign, because there's no early, in-person voting in either state. All voters have to be mobilized on Election Day. Clinton isn't going back to Florida, and that's because almost 60 percent of the state's voters are expected to vote before Election Day, an increase from 40 percent in 2012.

Even though we have Ohio as Lean R, and really only very slightly, Clinton isn't giving up on it. Some polls have shown the race to be within the margin of error there. The state has shifted slightly more in Trump's favor in the past two weeks, but the Clinton campaign is trying to mobilize voters in Democratic areas like Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland. She has the backing of Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, and the campaign held a concert focused on early voting, with Jay Z and Beyonce.

"I want my daughter to grow up seeing a woman lead our country and knowing that her possibilities are limitless," Beyonce said, backed up by dancers wearing blue pantsuits, a nod to Clinton's campaign fashion. "And that's why I am with her."

Early in-person voting in Ohio ends Monday.

Political gravity and a race that has been, in some ways, very stable

The contest between Clinton and Trump has been volatile in some ways, but remarkably stable in another — the views of both candidates remain largely unchanged since after the primaries ended. So perhaps it's not surprising that after the FBI's letter to Congress, all but reopening the investigation into Clinton's emails, that the race has snapped back to a natural position.

FBI Director James Comey on Sunday closed the investigation for a second time, saying from what the bureau saw of the emails, he still wouldn't recommend prosecution. NPR's Carrie Johnson reported that the emails were duplicates of what the FBI had already seen.

The FBI letter perhaps doesn't account for all the tightening in the past couple of weeks, though it certainly gave Republicans who were wary of Trump a reminder of why they distrust Clinton. Throughout this campaign, when a Trump controversy brewed, Clinton's lead expanded; but after a couple of weeks, the race slowly regressed to a natural position. Clinton's expanded leads — after the Democratic convention and the Access Hollywood tape just a couple of weeks ago — have proven to be soft. That's largely because of moderate Republicans.

There is also a natural tightening that generally happens close to elections. Third-party support drops (and it has in this election), and people revert back to their party corners. There's no greater indicator of how someone will vote than how he or she has voted. It's a little like Thanksgiving — the kids might threaten to stay away, especially at tense family moments through the year, but most of the time, they go home.

The NPR Battleground Map is based on a blend of historical voting patterns, demographics, on-the-ground reporting and polling.

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Domenico Montanaro
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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