(Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) – We’re on the road again this weekend in the Keystone State of Pennsylvania. A number of polls out this week show it could be a dead-even Presidential race in November between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. But all kinds of factors can evolve between now and then to influence the outcome. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:
“October Surprise” – This gets talked about every election cycle, but - in my recollection - has never happened. There is always supposed to be some lurid detail about a candidate that is expected to come out at the last minute and torpedo his or her chance to win the White House. About the closest we ever got was the revelation the Sunday before Election Day in 2000, that George W. Bush got a DUI in Maine many years earlier. It’s unlikely it was a factor in the election’s outcome.
“Running Mate Choice” – I don’t believe it has ever been shown empirically that a vice presidential running mate swung the ticket for any candidate to win the White House. Still, some VP choices have hurt the ticket, e.g. Tom Eagleton, Dan Quayle (though Quayle won), and Sarah Palin. However, this year it’s a more delicate dance. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have historically high unfavorable ratings. Plus Trump will be 70 in June, Clinton will be 69 in October, and Bernie Sanders will be 75 in September. We’ve never had a field this old! A healthy substitute may be an important consideration for voters!
“Financial Market Meltdown” – No one can predict the ebb and flow of financial markets, or else we would all be millionaires! The collapse of Lehman Brothers and the subsequent financial market meltdown in September 2008 caused John McCain to lose the election to Barack Obama. Until that day, McCain had been ahead in the polls, and the next day they flip-flopped, never to return to McCain’s favor. A lot can happen between May and November; and, remember, most people are prone to vote their pocketbooks.
“Debate Performance” – Debates matter. Just ask former President Jimmy Carter. He won in 1976 – in part - on the strength of his debating against President Ford. Carter scored points by coming across as an “honest outsider” with no ties to Washington in the wake of the Watergate era. Ford also had a bad debate gaffe about communist domination of Eastern Europe that hurt him. Fast forward to 1980, and Carter was crushed in the debates by an aggressive, confident Ronald Reagan. In fact, Carter was well ahead before their debates began; but once the debates were over, Carter was finished.
“Unforeseen Events” – Things can happen on the national and international stage that can suddenly swing the public mood. The Iranian hostage crisis, which began one year before his reelection bid, badly crippled President Carter in 1980. The degree to which the anti-war movement attacked President Johnson in the mid-to-late 1960s, prompting opposition from within his own party, ended his reelection bid in 1968. There has been critical news recently about former Secretary Clinton’s private email server. Will that cause her further political grief? Stay tuned.
“The Public Mood” – We know the public mood is unsettling on both sides of the aisle this year. Usually, one party or the other is mad about something, and is in a foul mood. Never have I seen both parties in such an internal uproar at the very same time, which explains the Trump-Sanders phenomenon. After the West Virginia primary, the CBS News exit polling showed that 44 percent of Sanders’s supporters said they would vote for Trump in November if Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination. That is stunning and unprecedented in U.S. Presidential politics. Whether they hold to that pledge in November remains to be seen.
“The Bottom Line” – This is anyone’s race to win. People in the Clinton campaign who think it’s in the bag are dangerously overconfident. And Trump’s backers think he can steamroll Clinton, as he did the 16 other Republican candidates he faced in the primaries. Overconfidence can be political suicide. I have a friend in public office who once told me, “No matter what, I always run as if the polls have me six points behind!” She is one of the best retail politicians I have ever met, and she hasn’t lost an election yet. Wise words!
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