observations and opinion
The Democrat is uninspiring, is disliked by the left of the party and is distrusted by many others. The Republican is a wildcard – feared as extreme, erratic and not smart enough. The majority of voters would like another option. And the majority is waiting for a sign – can the contender be trusted? They need permission to vote for him, and if they get it, the Democrat will be washed away.
That was October 1980 and when Ronald Reagan’s single debate performance showed him bright, cheerful and not crazy, that was the sign. The undecided and tepid went Republican and Jimmy Carter was swept away.
I will be honest with you, the first week of November 2016 felt something like the same week in 1980. When the first Comey letter popped up, reigniting doubts about Clinton’s character you could feel the malaise percolate. Clinton’s poll numbers dropped like a stone – the undecided and tepid started to quit on her.
But that was last week, and this isn’t 1980. Donald Trump has quieted down but the fundamental doubts about his character and judgment haven’t been cured. Yes, some found “permission to vote for Trump” but many more held back. By Wednesday it seemed the worst was behind Clinton: her polls have actually improved in the last 5 days, and for what it’s worth, FBI Director Comey has now issued a second letter, clearing Clinton of alleged wrongdoing.
The last day’s polls are stable, and the campaigns’ behavior has reflected it: Clinton hammering down the crucial states, Trump flailing away at longshots he has to win. So who wins?
What will happen in the U.S. Presidential election on Tuesday November 8th?
When I did this four years ago, I was almost exactly right. I got one state wrong – Florida, and so instead of my predicted 303-235 result, President Obama came away with a 332 to 206 win. What did I miss then? The last NBC poll had Obama one point ahead of Romney, 49-48. What they didn’t catch, I didn’t catch: the momentum that gave the President a half a percentage point win in the Sunshine State.
This year, the momentum – the ineffable, weird quality that can’t be seen or measured on the last weekend, feels vaguely flat. Trump had it last week, but like the Cleveland Indians he petered out in Game 5. Clinton has fought her way back into it, but by holding onto her position, not doing what Obama did – gaining.
The conventional wisdom has it that Hillary Clinton has a secure base of states, and strong enough popularity in the battlegrounds, that all she has to do is hold on. If you’re playing with a lead, at the end of the game you play to keep it – you don’t take risks to add points, if you can stop your opponent from scoring. That is what Clinton is doing. She is playing defense in Pennsylvania and hoping she gets a lucky shot in Florida.
If you are behind, you try to play in the other team’s end – you take the risk of leaving your end undefended. That is what Trump is doing, out there in Michigan, Colorado and Pennsylvania. Trump needs a Hail Mary, if a quasi-religious reference isn’t offensive in the same sentence as his name.
Clinton’s strength is her weakness: she is presumed to be ahead in so many places, she has to guard them. She’s in a crouch. Trump’s weakness is his strength, as always – he doesn’t care about taking risks, so he takes them, and he often gains by them.
Let us begin by assuming that the conventional wisdom is right about Clinton’s firewall. Those states (Colorado, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginia, New Mexico) will hold. If so, adding in the absolutely reliable Democratic strongholds, Mrs. Clinton finds herself in a very odd spot: she has 269 Electoral votes. If so, she needs just one (1) Electoral Vote to become President.
That means Clinton can lose the hoped-for Ohio, Iowa, Florida and North Carolina. She can lose the once-dreamed of, now forgotten Arizona, Georgia and South Carolina. She can even lose New Hampshire or Nevada.
But she can’t lose both.
So it looks like the Granite State and the Silver State are the pivotal points in this election. If so, there seem to be four possible outcomes on Tuesday night. Three give Clinton a bare win. One gives it to Trump, by a technicality.
One: Nate Silver at 538 thinks New Hampshire will go to Hillary. He thinks Nevada goes to Trump. If Silver is right and he usually is, the map looks like this, 273 to 265 for Clinton:
Two: However, recent polling hasn’t been good for Clinton in New Hampshire. That state is at risk for her. At the same time, Nevada reports huge turnout from Hispanic voters, something we haven’t seen before. If they are as impassioned in opposing Trump as we imagine, Nevada could swing to Clinton. If Nevada goes to Clinton, and Trump takes New Hampshire, we get 275-263:
Three: But here’s the ugliest outcome imaginable: if the Granite State and the Silver State slip away from Clinton, then it’s a tie: 269-269.
That throws this horrific election into a whole new horrific stage, the House of Representatives. The Republican majority there will choose Trump.
All three of those scenarios hinge on Clinton clinging to her core firewall, and Trump reeling in states where he has recently drawn close or ahead (Florida, North Carolina).
The problem is, if Trump has the momentum to take New Hampshire, Florida and North Carolina, what does that momentum do in other places like Pennsylvania and Michigan, where white working class Democrats may like his message?
Now my whole theory and prediction blows up, if Trump or Clinton surprise us somewhere. As stated, if Clinton wins any additional states – especially Florida – it’s game over long before we get to looking out west. Similarly if Trump does something shocking – Pennsylvania comes to mind – that’s probably it for the Democrats and we are into Trumpistan.
What do I think will happen? I think the conventional wisdom is right about the predictable states and the battlegrounds. Clinton is hanging on by her fingers, but she has a terrified and motivated electorate. So I think the election will come down to the Granite State or the Silver State.
I have loved ones in New Hampshire. I like the state a lot and despite its historical Republican tendencies, it is very hard to believe that the most-informed voters in the United States will cast the majority of their ballots for Donald J. Trump. I may be in denial, but my heart at least tells me, it won’t happen.
Nevada, I haven’t been to, but its electorate has an almost polar opposite experience of politicians than New Hampshire. They see candidates on TV, but seldom up close. The state is young, its demographics are rapidly changing, its economy has been through hell. The Democrats have a good machine there and, as mentioned, the Hispanic vote apparently is titanic.
So based on that, I’m going with outcome #4: Hillary Clinton takes New Hampshire and Nevada to win 279 to 259:
Can there be a surprise? Yes, but if there is, it will be unexpected strength for Hillary Clinton – in particular among Hispanic voters and perhaps, better than expected white female results. If that happens it will translate into a few more battleground states: Florida’s 29 EVs, maybe North Carolina’s 15 and if things go very well for her, Ohio’s 18.
Such a swing would push Clinton’s EV total to 308, 323 or even 341. I actually think Clinton will win either 279 Electoral Votes, or 341. Hoping for the latter, praying for the first.