Dems finally noticing they have a problem.

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 29-

This week:

  • Panic time for Hillary
  • All eyes on Biden
  • 2015 governor update

President 2016

“Every time you think, ‘Ok, when has she hit bottom?’ it feels like there’s a new bottom.”

— Chuck Todd

It’s panic time, and a great number of articles and television segments reflecting this were published even after this newsletter was being prepared at the end of last week.

For months, the Democratic Party’s rank and file has stood by Hillary Clinton. Her email scandal created enormous and noticeable public doubt about her honesty, and her poll numbers sagged in critical states for both the primary and the general election. But her supporters remained steadfast.

She was going to be the nominee, and there was little point in saying or speculating otherwise. In fact, any suggestion to the contrary was just plain counterproductive.

This attitude finally seems to be changing as it becomes clear that Clinton is in big trouble. We may be reaching the tipping point at which Democratic voters decide she is not just a scoundrel, but something far less tolerable — a loser.

Take, for example, a few of the most recent polls:

  • The latest Washington Post poll has her at only 46 percent and leading Donald Trump by only three points nationwide.
  • Clinton ties Trump, trails Ben Carson by five points, and trails Jeb Bush by two points nationwide in the latest CNN poll.
  • She trails Trump by five points nationwide in a recent Survey USA poll.
  • She trails Trump by five points and Jeb by 11 points in Iowa in the latest Marist poll.
  • She trails Bush by five and Trump by one in New Hampshire, according to Marist.

These numbers are ominous for Clinton, especially when we add the customary disclaimer about her universal name recognition. As a candidate whom all the voters know already, she has little room to grow. Any result that puts her too far below 50 percent is quite bad, even if she happens to have a small lead. And there is no poll that shows her with a large general election lead.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden fares better in nearly every matchup — although he does not lead in all of  them.

We are now reaching the point where these polls are emboldening the Democratic opposition and challenging the faith of Hillary’s die-hard supporters. It is no coincidence that just as Clinton is looking like a less-than-inspiring general election candidate, both Bernie Sanders and Biden (still just a theoretical candidate) are surging in state and national primary polls. For example:

  • Quinnipiac now has Sanders leading in Iowa by a hair.
  • CBS/YouGov, though it uses a less reliable methodology, now has Sanders up 10 points in Iowa.
  • Sanders continues to lead in New Hampshire by a much wider margin of nine points.
  • As recently as June, Clinton led her Democratic rivals nationally by somewhere between 40 and 60 points. The latest CNN poll has her lead down to 10 points, with both Sanders and Biden exceeding 20 percent support.

The great fear for Democrats at the rank-and-file level is that they could end up stuck with an unelectable nominee. And this cuts more than one way. It may be that their two current choices are both unelectable — Clinton because she is perceived as untrustworthy and dishonest, and Sanders because he is just too far to the left politically.

If Clinton is unelectable, many liberals would rather take their chances with Sanders. And of course, there’s always the third potential option, if Vice President Biden actually decides to run.

Of course, Biden hasn’t jumped in yet, and the clock is ticking. As we have noted previously, the last candidate to wait until October and still succeed was Bill Clinton in 1992, and that happened under a very different set of circumstances.

To most people, Biden’s choice might seem like a no-brainer. The market demand is definitely there  for a formidable, mainstream Democratic candidate, and they are in short supply. With the Democratic field thinned significantly by the 2010 and 2014 elections, Biden is now the only realistic third alternative to those two. Neither former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee nor former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has managed to gain any traction, and so barring some kind of miracle for one of them, there just aren’t any other choices.

But as Biden makes up his mind, it’s also important to remember that politicians are people, too. Biden’s son died this year. He also knows it will not be pleasant to go up against the Clinton machine, and that a bloody battle against her could leave the eventual winner in a hopeless position for the general election.

Even so, he has every reason to jump in. Republicans seem unable to recover from Trump fever, and Donald Trump is an opponent he could probably defeat. Moreover, even though he currently polls well behind Clinton, her eternally unfolding scandal, which now includes an aide taking the Fifth, offers him a great opportunity to pass her up in support if he ends up deciding to run. As we have noted here previously, he will also enjoy a lot of support from Obama’s donor base. At the very least, it seems safe to say that if he does not get in, he will regret it later.

Governor 2015

Kentucky: There has been a dearth of polling in this race, but surprise Republican nominee Matt Bevin appears to be neck-and-neck with Attorney General Jack Conway. Businessman Bevin’s ability to write himself a big check could prove decisive down the stretch.

Bevin, once a party gadfly, has taken a page from Donald Trump’s playbook in his pitch to voters, framing himself as beholden to no one and willing to listen to anyone. “I will come with a blank sheet of paper, including ideas I have on things,” he said recently while discussing the sort of appointments he’d make as governor. “I’m not a zealot for anything, one way or the other. I’m willing to listen to good pragmatic people.”

And so the rigid ideological formula he used in his failed 2014 challenge to Sen. Mitch McConnell, R, seems to have fallen by the wayside as he tries to convince the state’s business community that he can govern. The one exception to this may work very much to his advantage — he has strongly defended county clerk Kim Davis in her conscientious objection to issuing same-sex marriage licenses. He has attacked Conway for failing to defend the state’s constitutional definition of marriage in court, and he has argued that Davis at least should not have been imprisoned.

Any inroads he can make in the heavily Christian but also heavily Democratic coal regions of eastern Kentucky will work to his favor, as they did to McConnell’s favor last November.

A big question in this race is whether Kentucky has reached the point at which Democrats can no longer count on dominating local politics as they have for so many decades. Just as Oklahoma was a few years ago, Kentucky is an extraordinarily Democratic state, even if it has never been so in presidential races. And just like Oklahoma, that might change soon, and for good.

The primary in the Bevin-Conway race, which took place in May, marked the first time Republicans had ever turned out in greater numbers than Democrats for a gubernatorial primary. In terms of registration, the GOP still lags, but at 39 percent of registered voters is now much closer to parity with the Democrats (53 percent of registered voters) than it ever has been before. In a pool of 3 million voters overall, Republicans have added a net 12,000 new voters since the 2014 election, whereas Democrats’ numbers have fallen by about 1,200.

Louisiana: No surprises here — Sen. David Vitter, R, is on pace to finish in the top two in round one and should have no problem winning the runoff.