Unconventional Wisdom: Election Pre-mortem

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe & Doug Jeffe
Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, Professor of the Practice of Public Policy Communication, Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California, and Doug Jeffe, Communications and Public Affairs Strategist

It certainly seems appropriate that disgraced former Congressmember Anthony Weiner is surfacing in the middle of the latest Presidential campaign kerfuffle. After all, the dominant themes of this fracas have been sex and emails.  Will this latest soap opera episode qualify as an October surprise that will completely upend the race?  Probably not, although it is sure to energize Trump supporters—and recent poll numbers indicate Republicans are coming home.  Alternatively, the Clinton campaign has banked a healthy number of early votes cast before the latest grenade exploded in the political arena.

Most voters appear to believe that Hillary Clinton did something wrong  regarding her email server and that she hasn’t been totally forthcoming about the issue, so that is pretty much embedded in the election calculus.  It seems doubtful that any new revelation likely to surface before the election will put her in any worse light.   

However, this has been a contest where it is best not to make choppy waves.  When the media attention is all about Donald Trump, he loses ground.  When the spotlight is on Clinton, she loses ground. In both cases, the candidate has been able to scratch back up in the polls a bit after the media’s and voters’ attention shifts elsewhere. However, now the message clock is running out (although the possibility of a November surprise is not impossible in this crazy election season).

Camp Clinton was clearly caught by surprise when FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congress surfaced, and her reaction has been to push back hard.  That strategy may not be the best.  Even if the Clinton campaign  wins the debate over whether Director Comey’s action was kosher, the back and forth is keeping the issue front and center.  Clinton might have been better off brushing it off as just another wild goose chase.  Or maybe anger over the timing might motivate her base to turn out.

There may not be a lot of suspense over who is going to grab California’s 55 electoral votes, but that doesn’t mean the Golden State isn’t relevant.  It will provide Hillary Clinton more than 20% of the electoral votes she needs to reach the magic number of 270.California is about 12% of the nationwide electorate and Hillary Clinton looks to have a two-to one lead over Donald Trump in the state; that accounts for about a four-point margin nationally, if she just breaks even everywhere else.   That means that if the Real Clear Politics average lead for Clinton is 4%, that’s pretty much all California-based.  Almost all of President Obama’s popular vote margin in 2012 came out of California.

[SJ1] Whether or not there is a Democratic wave nationally, it appears likely that there will be one in solid blue California.  Registration and voter participation numbers are up significantly.  Even though the state is hardly a presidential nail biter, there seems to be a surge in voter participation, fueled largely by anti-Trump sentiment.  Trump’s rhetoric and anti-immigrant policies are providing real impetus for an unprecedented mobilization of Latino voters.

The demographic and electoral arithmetic already favors Golden State[SJ2]  Democrats and there is a shriveling GOP presence in state government and on the voter rolls. That will not change, no matter how the Presidential election turns out. It’s a lot like being in New Jersey, back in the day, when you knew the results six weeks before election day (always in favor of the Democrats). Today New Jersey is more of a purple state, just as The U.S. is a purple nation, split right down the middle. Except in states like California, the “Big Enchilada” whose 55 electoral votes may turn out to be Hillary Clinton’s real firewall.

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