The Briefing, Vol. IV, Issue 44:
- Trump needed a miracle, he gets the FBI
- Still needs to make up a lot of ground in several states to have a chance
- GOP Senate candidates could benefit from a late Trump surge
If you’d written off Donald Trump on the basis of a very bad month of news and polling, you might just have to rethink that today.
Not that he’s ahead with his presidential bid. But suddenly Hillary Clinton’s lead is precarious once again, as it was just before the first debate.
Hit Trump as hard as you like — with insults, tax returns, old tapes, allegations, or what you will. Between the polarization of the electorate (a constant), and Clinton’s continued problems with her email scandal (a factor peculiar to her), Trump just refuses to go off into the night.
October surprise? Last week, we said Trump needed something big — a miracle, perhaps — to take the lead. He got part of what he needs, but maybe not all.
On Friday, FBI Director James Comey notified Congress that the bureau had reopened its investigation into Clinton’s emails. Strangely, it is on the basis of emails discovered in the Weiner/Abedin household on the . On Sunday, the Washington Post/ABC tracking poll showed him down just one point in a four-way race.
It’s important to keep the FBI director’s announcement in perspective. Although the investigation is almost certain not to turn up anything new before the election, the reopening of the investigation serves an important purpose. After a month of highly negative Trump news — a couple of poor debate performances, of reminding people why they distrusted Hillary Clinton in the first place.
So far, we haven’t seen evidence of Trump’s viability in polls of the states where he would have to win. But this tracking poll, which hasn’t been especially favorable toward Trump, could be a sign of things to come.
What Trump still lacks — and what he hasn’t had in quite some time — are polling leads in the states where he needs them. Take the following states, worth 85 electoral votes in all, which are all necessary for Trump to win but not sufficient without additional wins. Next to each is the RCP polling average as of Sunday:
AZ: Clinton +0.6
NC: Clinton +2.9
OH: Trump +1.0
NV: Clinton +1.7
IA: Trump +1.4
Even if Trump carries all of the above, plus hangs on in Utah and Alaska, and carries the close congressional seats in both Maine and Nebraska, it still leaves him four electoral votes short of 270. And it isn’t obvious which other state Trump could put into play with a modest surge.
Prior to the FBI announcement, the RCP polling averages for the most obvious candidates for a Trump pickup are all well outside the margin of error:
VA: Clinton +8.0
PA: Clinton +5.8
MN: Clinton +6.0
MI: Clinton +6.1
CO: Clinton +4.5
That said, there was already some movement in Trump’s direction in many of these states cited above. In most cases, all the polling factored into the above averages is from last week. Still, he has a lot of ground to gain if he is to carry all of the states in the top group, and then one of those in bottom group, which is what he’d need to become president.
Another note, perhaps not insignificant: Early voting works against Trump in terms of this late surprise. The estimated 13 million votes that had already been cast by Friday won’t be affected by it at all.
Whether or not it costs her the election, the FBI revelation could dampen Clinton’s turnout. The group most likely not to show up would be younger voters, but this late surprise, along with the generally negative tone of the entire campaign, could turn off many other voters besides. To whatever extent that happens, it could well help Republicans down-ballot.
The Good: Republicans seem poised to win Ohio — and if you believe the more reputable polls, Florida as well. Success in those two incumbent defense operations keeps them in the ballpark for maintaining control of the Senate. Some polls show Florida close, but none show Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy ahead of Marco Rubio, who beat him up pretty nicely in debate.
Without those two seats safe, it would be impossible for the GOP. With them, they still have a longshot chance at keeping the upper chamber.
The Bad: Republicans are also widely expected to lose in Illinois (where Mark Kirk self-immolated in a recent debate) and Wisconsin. It is worth noting, however, that former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold’s lead over Sen. Ron Johnson came in at just two points in the last Marquette University Law School poll. That was a month ago, and many other polls hint at a bit Feingold win, but Marquette’s poll is the gold standard in the state. Democrats now have jitters about Wisconsin, prompting Harry Reid’s SuperPAC to jump in with some late money.
The Ugly: But assuming a Republican loss in Wisconsin, that puts Republicans on 52 seats, with one possible pickup (in Nevada) and five shaky seats of their own to defend. Provided Clinton wins the White House, Democrats are guaranteed the Senate if they can win at least three of the six. If Trump wins, they need four of the six to guarantee it. These are all the races that really seem like they could still go either way.
Republicans have to be unhappy that Missouri is on shaky ground, but Sen. Roy Blunt (R) is indeed in the race of his life against Democrat Jason Kander. The Show-Me State’s recent Republican shift has not prevented Blunt’s sudden collapse from a lead that is small but comfortable to a lead that is razor-thin and within the margin of error. This is precisely the kind of race where a last-minute surge by Trump could help a Republican, even if Trump ultimately comes up short.
In North Carolina, the situation is similar, but worse for the GOP. Sen. Richard Burr (R) probably has to be considered the underdog, even though he doesn’t trail in all of the most recent polls. He is within the margin of error on one side or another of Deborah Ross, and perhaps lucky he didn’t face a more formidable opponent. This is one race where a late Trump surge could be just enough for the Republican to squeak it out, but Republicans fret that Trump lacks an adequate operation for getting out the vote.
In New Hampshire, Trump is all but certain to lose, but Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) is still very much in her re-election race and could even be considered a narrow favorite to win. She leads or is tied in the last four polls. Given her state, she probably walked the tightrope with how and whether she’d support Trump about as well as she could.
In Pennsylvania, Sen. Pat Toomey (R) trailed or tied in all four polls released last week. He hasn’t trailed by much, but for an incumbent any deficit is a very bad sign. And only two recent polls — released mid-month — show him higher than 45 percent. To win, he’d probably need Trump to significantly outperform his current polling in his state.
Indiana is a bit of a black box because state laws make polling much more expensive to do — and rarer. Republican Rep. Todd Young is still the underdog, but seems on course to overtake the Democratic nominee. Former Sen. Evan Bayh began the race to get his old seat back with a substantial lead, but has been rocked by several back-to-back revelations in the past month broken by (surprise!) mainstream media outlets. Trump should win Indiana. Obamacare’s problems in the Hoosier State can only help Young because Bayh (like every Democrat who served in 2009) cast the deciding vote for the health care law.
The Nevada race, where Republicans hope to pick up the seat of the retiring Harry Reid, is kind of a head-scratcher. One (generally unreliable) Republican pollster shows Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto up by 6 points; an NBC poll shows GOP Rep. Joe Heck up by 7. And there is more than one recent poll with contradictory results. The outcome of this race is probably dependent on Trump’s performance in the Silver State. It would be ironic if, for all of the enmity between the parties involved, it is a late FBI-driven surge by Trump that ends up saving the GOP congressional majority for Republican leaders.