Post Conventional Wisdom: The Dog Days of August?

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

While Hillary Clinton got a pronounced bounce from the Democratic convention, Donald Trump’s bounce from the GOP gathering is looking more like a splat.  While Trump pulled about even in the polls with Hillary Clinton in the weekend between conventions, she pulled ahead after the Democratic convention and has stayed there.  The GOP convention was mostly devoted to tearing down Clinton and—beyond boosting his “Good Father” bona fides-did little to bolster the Trump image, while the Democrats managed to both tear down Trump and paint a positive picture of Secretary Clinton.  Her favorability ratings have receded a bit from her post convention levels, but are still above where they were before the two party conclaves.  On the other hand, Trump has sunk back to his poor pre-convention approval ratings. 

One of the keys to success in politics is to get the right opponent.  Hillary Clinton had the misfortune to draw Barack Obama in 2008; but today it appears she is having the good fortune to go against Donald Trump this year.  Hillary Clinton may turn out to be a good President, but she remains a flawed candidate.  Her responses to questions about emails and paid speeches, give off the strong aroma of lawyerly calculation.  Even when telling the truth, she doesn’t always sound like she’s doing it.  Although improved, her delivery at campaign rallies still often suffers from a shrillness that is more perspiring than inspiring.  When she is conversational, she can be quite effective, but she isn’t an orator. Then again, Trump’s bluster seems to be wearing thin among many voters.

There has been a lot of kerfuffle over the Trump-Putin bromance and Trump honcho Paul Manafort’s connections to Russia and the Ukraine.  After the campaign, Hollywood may want do another remake of “The Manchurian Candidate” starring Donald Trump in the title role, with Manafort playing the part of his Soviet handler (originated by Angela Lansbury in the 1962 film). Speaking of movies, Trump’s latest campaign shake-up brings to mind “Titanic” and those deck chairs.

Although an overwhelming Clinton victory in November is looking increasingly possible, it can cut both ways in terms of down-ballot races.  Certainly, anti-Trump sentiment may depress GOP turnout, but if a Clinton landslide is widely predicted, the motivation for Latino and younger voters to cast ballots may also be inhibited.  The apparent lack of a Trump ground game, coupled with Democratic and union GOTV prowess, may make the difference.

With Clinton likely to sweep California by as much as a two to one margin, at least four House Republicans could be in danger—Jeff Denham, David Valadao, Steve Knight and Darrell Issa.  Democrats are even making noises about unseating House Armed Services Committee Chair Ed Royce in decreasingly Republican Orange County.  Multiple California pick-ups would be essential to any slim chance Democrats have to eke out a House majority or, at least, cut down the GOP majority.

With the Trump drag on down-ballot contests, Republican control of the U.S. Senate is in real jeopardy.   California, however, isn’t part of that equation, since two Democrats made the run off to fill Senator Barbara Boxer’s seat.  California Attorney General Kamala Harris continues to hold a lead in the polls and in fundraising, while Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez must bank on Republican and Independent votes and an expanded Latino turn-out to give her a chance.  It is an understatement to say that this contest hasn’t fired up the imagination of California voters. Or the media.

With ballot measures ranging from legalization of marijuana, gun control, the death penalty, drug prices, tax extensions and housing and school bonds, the California electorate may have to earn a doctorate just to get through the ballot pamphlet.  Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on initiative campaigns- a bonanza for consultants and broadcast stations. And far more money will be spent on issues battles on the November ballot than on the state’s Presidential and Senate contests.

What might all that mean to California’s state legislative races?  Will Democrats be able to regain two-thirds majorities in the Assembly and/or the State Senate?   And who will win the intra-party fights in Democrat vs. Democrat runoffs between liberal and moderate candidates?  The answers to both questions are difficult to predict at this juncture. The California GOP is facing a daunting arithmetic–demographically, financially, and ideologically. But the bottom line, in this election as in all others, is turn-out. And so far, it’s been nap-time for the Golden State’s major parties and voters. Stay tuned to see who wakes up first!

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