By Hastings Wyman –
Donald Trump’s presidential prospects took a nosedive after the two major party conventions. He had one disaster after another, plus two or three missed opportunities for each disaster. His poll numbers plummeted, not just nationally, but in virtually all of the swing states, plus in some long-time solid Red states that have now become competitive.
But after nearly a month of bad news, Trump last Friday finally had a good day. He accepted the resignation of campaign chairman Paul Manafort, good on delegate-counting, but not so good on running a General Election campaign (especially given his looming Ukraine problem). Presumably influenced by his new manager, long-time GOP pollster/strategist Kellyanne Conway, he landed in flood-ravaged Louisiana with a truck load of much-needed supplies, said in North Carolina that he regretted his personal attacks that hurt other people, and delivered a meaty – if contentious – speech on what his presidency could offer African Americans.
One day does not a winning campaign make, and Hillary Clinton, well aware that Trump’s volatile personality is the overriding issue in this campaign, has continued to focus on serious questions about Trump’s readiness to serve as president. Her own campaign has problems – she still can’t shake the email controversy – but the voters have given that a low priority. And Trump has so far either neglected or been unable to exploit her other vulnerabilities, such as allegations that when she was Secretary of State, donors to the Clinton Foundation got favorable treatment by the department.
Nevertheless, several factors could benefit Trump. If, and it’s a very big IF, Trump stays true to his new more presidential persona, voters might start to see him in a more favorable light.
Second, Trump’s delaying his television advertizing until later in the campaign, when more voters are paying attention, could help him strengthen his support in the swing states. While Clinton has already spent some $61 million on television ads aimed at the General Election and benefited from $43 million more spent by pro-Clinton groups. Trump – until this week – had spent none. Pro-Trump groups did spend $12.4 million on TV, but the net television deficit for Trump, reports Heavy.com, was $91.6 million.
This can change quickly. Trump has a flush war chest; he raised $80 million in July and probably raked in the money in August as well. He has now begun TV campaigns in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nevada and North Carolina and can probably flood the airwaves in other swing states as well. (But Clinton won’t lack for cash and is already using her largesse for ads focusing on Trump’s personal attributes.)
Another factor is that supporters for Libertarian Johnson, who are more likely to be frustrated Republicans than Democrats, may enter the voting booth and vote for Trump. Third-party candidates show up better in opinion polls than in election returns. Moreover,
Republican voters, motivated by large GOP budgets in Senate and House races, might, once in the voting booth, pull the Trump lever. (But the lagging support for once-favored Republican incumbents makes up-draft “coattails” for Trump less likely.)
So there is a way forward for Trump, but his task is formidable. NBC last week, citing polling data, gave Clinton 288 electoral votes (270 needed to win) to 174 for Trump, with 76 deemed toss-ups. The network put former toss-up states that Trump needs to carry, such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, in the “Lean Democratic” category. (But Ohio remains competitive, a good sign for Trump.)
In the South, once the GOP’s stronghold, the New York billionaire is rapidly losing ground.
In Georgia, which last went for a Democrat in 1992, the latest Opinion Savvy Poll of likely voters showed Clinton and Trump with 43% each, followed by 11% for Libertarian Gary Johnson and 3% undecided. The pollster’s analysis said that to win the votes of suburbanites and independents, Trump has to show “that he possesses, behind the scenes, a cool and prudent businesslike demeanor.” Another problem for Trump: The white population has declined from 74% in 2000 to 58% in 2016.
In South Carolina, which last deserted the GOP for fellow Southerner Jimmy Carter in 1976, a Public Policy Survey (D) shows a competitive race: Trump 41%, Clinton 39%, Johnson 5% and Stein 2%.
And even in Texas, Trump’s lead is down to 6 points, a state which Mitt Romney carried by 16 points.
Trump’s numbers in Virginia are so bad many commentators now put the former GOP stronghold in the Leans Democratic category. In the latest Washington Post poll, Clinton led 52% to 38% among registered voters, and a still healthy 51% to 43% among likely voters (usually a more accurate indicator).
In Florida, essential to a Trump victory, he is still in the running, but he is not running well. According to a Monmouth University poll of likely voters released last week, Clinton had 48%, Trump 39%, Johnson 6% and the Green Party’s Jill Stein 1%. Marco Rubio, however, is still running ahead in his bid for reelection to the Senate – by 50% to 38% over US Rep. Alan Grayson (D) and by 48% to 43% over White House-backed US Rep. Patrick Murphy (D).
And in North Carolina, in the latest Marist Poll, Clinton had 45%, Trump 36%, Johnson 9% and Stein 2%. Trump’s poor showing is trickling down to state races, with Roy Cooper (D) leading Gov. Pat McCrory (R) by 51% to 44% (there are other factors) and relatively unknown former state Rep. Deborah Ross (D) leading two-term US Sen. Richard Burr (R) by 46% to 44%.
The Trump campaign reboot – if it sticks – gives him a positive way forward. Thus, Clinton’s election is not a done-deal, but it’s damn close to one. Stay tuned.