One of the most interesting features of this most interesting presidential election is how the 2016 campaign has shaken up the electoral map.

Over the last six contests, 31 states and the District of Columbia have gone for the same party every time. Eight additional states have chosen one party on five occasions since 1992. Located either in the Democratic strongholds of the Northeast, Pacific Coast, and industrial Midwest or Republican heartlands of the South and Great Plains, these states have been locks.

For several, that is no longer the case. A single candidate explains this sudden fluidity. Whereas, with the exception of her sex, it is probably fair to characterize Hillary Clinton as a rather conventional Democratic presidential candidate, Donald Trump is anything but a traditional Republican.

He is not a patrician establishment type like George H.W. Bush or Mitt Romney, a seasoned Washington insider like Bob Dole or John McCain, or a more ideological conservative like Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush.

Trump has mobilized a group of voters who are older, whiter, and with fewer years of formal education than those in the usual GOP presidential coalition. As reflected by his positions on issues like immigration, trade, and the social safety net, it is also one with deeper antipathy to globalization and the competitive international marketplace Americans have been forced into.

It is not surprising that Trump is making a serious play for the four solidly blue states of Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin. They have suffered from repeated contractions in the manufacturing sector since the early 1980s and have many blue-collar whites in their voting populations. Trump also is likely to win one of Maine’s four votes. It has gone straight Democrat every time since 1992, but can divvy up its electors and will give the Republican its second congressional district.

Trump’s politics and style are also a liability, however. They threaten his party’s hold on other states, including Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina, all with large minority populations and fairly plugged into the global economy through immigrant flows, direct foreign investment, and numerous export-driven and multinational companies that call them home. By red-state standards, moreover, all three have a high percentage of college graduates.

Trump faces particular challenges in two previously reliably Republican states. The parties have split Colorado since 1992, but even Bob Dole won it for the GOP in 1996. Virginia went Democratic for the first time since 1948 when it voted for Barack Obama in 2008.

With 22 electoral votes between them, they are not a trivial prize. But both have growing Hispanic populations, very high numbers of college graduates and residents with advanced degrees, outward- and forward-looking economies, and, in Colorado’s case, a Western-style libertarian bent. In fact, they are the kind of places where Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz would have done well, and certainly better than Trump.

Given the Democrats’ recent record — winning the electoral vote in four and the two-party popular vote in five of the past six elections — Trump’s redrawing of the map might not, on the whole, be bad news for Republicans.

The “electoral lock,” however, remains unpicked. Make no mistake, this is an uphill battle for Trump and will be for other Republican presidential candidates, at least in the foreseeable future.

To demonstrate the problem, let’s take the states where there is little meaningful competition. I won’t list them, but together the 22 that almost certainly will vote for Trump deliver only 164 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win. The 18 solid Democratic states get Clinton to 200 votes.

This means Trump must win over 60 percent of the remaining 174 electors. Even if he sweeps the highly competitive states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada to avoid having to capture either Michigan or Wisconsin — according to the polls a pretty tall order at the moment, despite Trump’s
appeal in the Rust Belt — he must win Florida and two of North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The eye of the needle he has to thread is small.

Regardless of how Trump does in November, Republicans would do well to engineer a key to unlock this electoral safe well before 2020. The winner-take-all method of distributing electoral votes to the candidate securing a plurality of popular votes means that the focus of this effort should be large and growing purple states.

The No. 1 target remains Florida, but North Carolina is next on the list. Get ready, fellow residents of the Tar Heel State: The intense war for our presidential votes has only just begun.

Andy Taylor is professor of political science at the School of International and Public Affairs at N.C. State University. He does not speak for the university.