Saturday, October 15, 2016

5 Questions Still to Be Answered for the Election

We have just 23 days to go left of the election, and I think I speak on behalf of all of you, political junkie or not, in saying "can we just do it today?"  It's become a cliche at this point, but honestly-who actually wants this election to continue.  And yet, there are still several questions that seem like they're very much influx, and I figured now, with just a few weeks left, is the time to put them out there, perhaps to give us something to channel our thoughts into other than fear and dread that something cataclysmic like he-who-must-not-be-named winning in the biggest upset in American political history.  Without further adieu, here's five questions I can't quite venture an answer to:

1. Can Hillary win a McCain/Romney state?

There are a lot of polls indicating that Hillary is leading in a number of states, more-than-enough to win the White House.  However, almost all of these states are ones that President Obama won at least once.  The reality is that this is more than enough; Clinton doesn't need to prove anything by winning with more votes than Obama to be the president.  In 2012 President Obama got 61 more electoral votes than he needed, and as a result states like Florida, Ohio, and Iowa are just gravy if Clinton can pull them over the finish line as long as she wins her wall.

However, given that she's continually outperforming Trump in almost every swing state, the question has become-can she bring into her purview a state that President Obama didn't win?  At this point, it seems possible, and three states in particular have emerged as the likeliest contenders: Arizona, Georgia, and Utah.  All three are longtime Republican steadfasts that have been friendly to Clinton for a variety of factors.  In Arizona, a growing Latino population combined with a suburban population that may be more conducive to Clinton could mean victory.  Georgia has a very large African-American population (one that made it close for President Obama in 2008/12), that is overwhelmingly favoring Clinton in poll-after-poll.  And in Utah, the strangest of these states (considering that President Obama lost the state by his biggest margin in 2012), a confluence of hatred for Donald Trump in the Mormon community and a significant third party candidate mean the state could be won by the candidate who hits 30-35%, which is achievable for Clinton.  Of the three, the polls clearly show Arizona as the most likely contender, but right now all three could be in contention.  It's still a question, however, if one of them can actually buck at least twenty years of tradition, and in the case of Utah, over fifty.

Democrats like Catherine Cortez Masto are hoping a
surging Clinton can carry them to victory.
2. Why the Senate Break?

It's quite apparent at this point that the Senate is in play, but it isn't in the spot that Democrats had hoped it would be this time last week.  Democrats assumed that with Donald Trump at the helm, Republicans would be losing a massive number of Senate/House seats, but the down-ballot effect hasn't exactly taken a-hold.  The only Senate seat that really seems to be breaking for the Democrats (in comparison to where it was ten days ago) is Nevada, where Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D) who has been down most of the fall, has now pulled into a dead-heat, and could be on an upswing as undecideds in the state start to go for Clinton/Democrats, rather than Clinton/???.

However, the Senate has broken for one party every cycle the past sixteen years.  Every year, one party has won the majority of the close races, and that trend could well hold this year.  It's worth noting that Real Clear Politics has Democrats ahead by 3+-points in three races in aggregate polling (Wisconsin, Indiana, and Illinois), and has 5 seats within three-points on either side (Pennsylvania, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, and New Hampshire).  If the Democrats were to win all of these, or all-but-one (usually there's one outlier in competitive races), they would certainly win them the Senate, giving them 52-53 seats (remember, with Clinton doing so well at the top of the ticket, it's almost certain the Democrats only need four seats, not five, to win since Tim Kaine will almost certainly break a tie rather than Mike Pence).  However, it's worth noting that polling, at the very least, hasn't gotten me to a point where I'd say all-hope-is-lost for the Republicans in holding the majority.

3. Will an incumbent Democrat lose?

This is a strange question, but one worth asking.  With the Senate looking like a near certainty for every incumbent Democratic senator running for reelection, and the House being the most Republican it's been in several generations, will a Democratic incumbent actually lose in the general?  Since 1980, only one cycle the Democrats have made it through without at least one incumbent losing on election (2006), so it would be very strange to see such a phenomenon repeated.  However, there's very few candidates that spring to mind as being vulnerable.  Gwen Graham, Patrick Murphy, and Ann Kirkpatrick's seats could (and in the case of the first one, likely will) end up going to the GOP, but they're all pursuing higher office.  The only incumbent House members that seem vulnerable appear to be Reps. Ami Bera (CA-7), Rick Nolan (MN-8), and Brad Ashford (NE-2), but none of those are seats that you'd consider particularly troublesome, and aside from Nolan, there's a decent chance Hillary Clinton wins all three seats-it's hard to see voters tossing out someone they already have shown they liked (if these three made it through 2014, they are liked well enough), and none of them are in any sort of scandal.  I'd keep a watch here, but it could be the rare cycle where no incumbent Democrats end up actually losing.

4. Will Trump campaign against the GOP...and will it matter?

This question has started to be answered, though not nearly as clear-cut as you'd have anticipated.  Trump has slammed in interviews and on Twitter Republicans whom he sees as being "not loyal enough," like Paul Ryan and John McCain, but overall he hasn't made a point of saying, "skip them on the ballot" that seems to have resonated in any major way.  I have thought from the start that if Trump makes this a central tenet of his campaign (and all indications are that he would do this after all of the rescinded endorsements), it would be in New Hampshire, where Sen. Kelly Ayotte has been a frequent target of Trump's criticism (she's never been a strenuous supporter of him, but she had endorsed him up until this past weekend).  New Hampshire is a state that, despite most polls showing it not as an option for him (he's never led a poll there in the general election), he enjoys a fervent contingency, and it's the state that launched his successful run to the nomination.  If he were to turn his supporters against Ayotte there, it would spell her doom (something I'm guessing Trump knows), as she can't really afford to lose any support in her tight race against Maggie Hassan.  I suspect that if Trump makes this something he wants to focus on, we'll know today as he has a big rally planned in Portsmouth.

5. Will the GOP stay home?

It's the question that everyone wants to know the answer to-the excitement gap is there, there are a number of Republicans (particularly women) who are upset with Trump and not enthused with Hillary Clinton.  It's hard to see a lot of people coming out for Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, or Evan McMullin (outside of, perhaps, Utah), when they know they have no chance at being president.  The RNC is trying with all of its might to get them out for down-ballot candidates, which might do the trick (there's a reason that Republicans do well at Midterms, and it's largely because casual Democrats only care about the White House), but a Midterms electorate would destroy their chances at the presidential level (a fact I'm convinced Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus don't care about, considering they both likely hate Donald Trump and want him to lose) and at a congressional level (where they clearly have a passionate interest in keeping their majorities).

This is perhaps the biggest aspect of this entire race that's a wild card, because it's difficult to tell if Republicans will stay home on Election Day.  I don't think it's going to be particularly reliable in polling based on the strangeness in this election, and even if the Democrats seem to be doing well in early voting (Virginia and Florida in particular have been cited as states where Democrats are outperforming the GOP), we won't know until Election Day if the nastiness of the Trump campaign turned off Republicans completely, or just in terms of voting for him.  If Republican turnout is depressed, that's when questions about whether the Democrats hit double-digits in terms of picking up state legislatures or if they win the House back come into play, as well as when Senate seats that seem relatively unlikely to turn (such as Florida or Arizona) could be an option.  It's the biggest question haunting pundits, because in an election like no other, could Americans decide they've had enough and just sit it out?

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