Donald Trump bids to target traditionally Democrat states
Donald Trump is working to install operatives in several states that traditionally favour Democrats, pointing to a general election plan consistent with his campaign so far - defying conventional wisdom and political trends.
The staffing expansion includes Maine, Minnesota and other places where Mr Trump opens as the underdog, with the New York billionaire seeking to expand the electoral battlefield by drawing on his appeal among working class white voters - and probable Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton's perceived weakness with them.
Winning states that no Republican presidential candidate has carried since the 1980s is an unlikely path to the White House, but Mr Trump is defiant, saying recently: "I will win states that no Republican would even run in."
The Trump campaign has identified roughly 15 states where it plans to install state directors by the end of the month. They include traditional battlegrounds like Ohio, Florida and Virginia and more challenging terrain such as Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Maine - places Republicans have lost for the last six presidential elections or longer.
Target states may also include Republican-leaning Georgia, where demographic shifts benefit Democrats.
Mr Trump's deployment of political operatives was outlined by campaign strategists. The plan will be subsidised, at least in part, by the Republican Party's new "building fund", a lightly regulated pool of money that can include donations of more than 100,000 US dollars (£70,000) from individuals.
But Mr Trump is still playing catch-up. While Mrs Clinton is already weeks into her own swing-state effort, Mr Trump's team is scrambling to build a national organisation essentially from scratch.
"Up until three weeks ago, there were 102 or 103 employees, which is fewer than Ben Carson had in January," Mr Trump aide Barry Bennett said. "Today, that number is much bigger, and it's growing every day."
The former reality television star's success in the GOP primary season was fuelled almost exclusively by personality and a flood of free media coverage.
His expansion into new states signals recognition that Mr Trump must grow his bare-bones operation to be competitive, even if he does not fully embrace other modern-day political tactics.
He refused to add a pollster for the first 11 months of his White House bid, relying on sometimes questionable public polls when making strategic decisions. Shifting towards November's vote, he recently hired GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio.
It is a step towards professionalising the campaign. Up to now, Mr Trump's strategists have relied on the Republican National Committee's voter data and internal polling to guide the battleground state staffing plan.
Going forward, Mr Fabrizio will work with Mr Trump and committee staff on voter modelling, overseeing polling and voter targeting.
Mr Trump's team aims to have about 15 state directors on the payroll by June 1, supplementing more than 200 committee operatives nationwide. Communications, events and "coalitions" chiefs will augment the campaign's presence.
But bringing in more players does not necessarily make a winning team.
Some of the most experienced swing-state Republican operatives have shunned Mr Trump and it is unclear how many might work for him now that he has almost clinched the Republican nomination. Without them, he would be left with a pool of state-based loyalists, many inexperienced and unknown to the campaign's leaders.
To help fund the expansion, Mr Trump's strategists said he will draw heavily from a fundraising deal with the Republican National Committee that should be signed in coming days. Mrs Clinton has a similar agreement with Democrats, enabling her to collect cheques of more than 350,000 US dollars (£243,000)from individual donors.
Mr Trump's team concedes it was not prepared to shift so suddenly towards the general election. Up until only two weeks ago, it appeared as though the GOP primary would last until the party's national convention in July.
"Nobody is complaining that we're behind schedule," Trump supporter Representative Chris Collins said, noting the Democrats are still locked in a primary fight.
Mr Collins expects Mr Trump's message to resonate in "traditional rust belt areas" such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, where many working-class voters usually do not support Republicans. Among Democrats, Mrs Clinton won those three states but lost in Michigan and West Virginia to Bernie Sanders.
"Whether you call them Reagan Democrats, blue dog Democrats, whatever, that's what puts those areas in play and why I think he's going to win in a landslide," Mr Collins added.