Mark Curtis's blog

“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- August 14, 2016

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(Chambersburg, Pennsylvania) – We are on the road again this week, with a visit to my old stomping grounds in New England, plus a stop in the hotly contested state of Pennsylvania on the way. We’ve talked a lot about the Presidential race here of late, but the other big political story of 2016 is for control of the U.S. Senate. Republicans currently have a 54-46 majority, but a lot of toss-up races could swing it back to the Democrats. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Ohio” -- Incumbent Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) is in a tough battle against former Governor Ted Strickland (D-OH). Strickland also served 12 years in the U.S House. The most recent Public Policy Poll has Portman up by five points, 43 to 38 percent. But that leaves 19 percent undecided. If Hillary Clinton swamps Donald Trump in Ohio, this seat could switch. If the Trump-Clinton race is close – and one poll has her up by 1.8 percent - the GOP may hold the seat, even if Trump loses Ohio. Tight!

“Pennsylvania” – Incumbent Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) – a Rhode Island native – is in a tough reelection fight. The first-term Senator is facing Democrat Katie McGinty, a former aide to Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and former Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA). In the latest Susquehanna Poll, she leads 42 to 40 percent. Donald Trump is down eight points in the Keystone State, and a poor Presidential showing there could swing the Senate seat to the Democrats. Toomey’s campaign hit McGinty hard with radio ads during the DNC in Philadelphia, but that seems to have had little effect.

“Florida” – Incumbent Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) said he would not run for reelection this year as he sought the Republican nomination for President. But his Presidential hopes were crushed, and Rubio did an about-face and announced he would seek Senate reelection after all. A couple of prominent Republicans who were seeking to replace him had to duck and cover and go back to their House races.

“Wisconsin” – My home state of Wisconsin has a real donnybrook going on in a Senate rematch, between Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) and the man he defeated six years ago, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI). Senator Johnson – you may recall – was the one who provoked Hillary Clinton during the Benghazi hearings over the deaths of four Americans at the outpost. “What difference – at this point, what difference does it make?” Clinton shouted angrily during the hearing. You can expect to see that sound bite to be in many campaign ads this fall. Still, the battleground Badger State is polling with Clinton up 6 points, so that may have an impact on this Senate race.

“New Hampshire” – The only thing certain here is the next U.S. Senator from New Hampshire will be a woman. Incumbent Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) is in a tough battle against current Governor Maggie Hassan (D-NH). This race is all over the map. One recent poll had Hassan up by 10 points, and another had Ayotte up by 9 points. But Hillary Clinton is polling well ahead of Donald Trump in this key, battleground state, so the coattail effect could be in play.

“Missouri” – U.S. Senator Roy Blount (R-MO) is seeking a second Senate term, after serving 14 years in the House. He is opposed by Secretary of State Jason Kander (D-MO). A Recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch Poll had Blount up by a margin of 44 to 39 percent. Missouri is a battleground, swing state in the Presidential election. It has gone Republican for the past 20 years, so that could be good for Blount.

“History” – The last time a Presidential winner’s coattails mattered was in 1980 when Ronald Reagan shocked President Jimmy Carter in a landslide upset victory. Reagan’s coattails were so strong he carried the GOP into control of the U.S. Senate for the first time since 1956. This could be that kind of year. Trump likely wins only in a very close race, whereas Hillary Clinton could win in an electoral blowout based on recent poll trends. If she wins big, she likely carries the Senate back into Democratic control.

“Why All of This Matters” – The next generation of the U.S. Supreme Court rests on this Presidential election, like no other in modern times. First of all, there is still one vacancy already existing from the death of Antonin Scalia. Then you have Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, age 83; Anthony Kennedy, age 80; and, Stephen Breyer, age 77, all poised for possible retirement. That’s four possible appointments, even if the next President only serves one term. Wow!

What are your thoughts about the future of the U.S. Senate and the Supreme Court? Please let us know by clicking the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2016, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: senate.gov

“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- August 7, 2016

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(Charleston, West Virginia) – It’s been a wild week in the Presidential campaign, with Donald Trump’s poll numbers plunging amidst GOP infighting. The big question is "Can he make a comeback?" The answer is "Yes." Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Where the Polls Are” – Right now the numbers don’t look good for Trump and are trending downward. Yes, they can be turned around, but that requires a number of things we’ll discuss. Right after the Republican National Convention, Trump got a bounce; and the polls were dead even. In the days after the Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton got a bounce and opened a lead of three points. Then – after a series of Trump missteps – the Clinton lead opened to eight points, and is now up to 15 points in the McClatchy newspaper poll. Trump needs to reverse the trend.

“What Does History Tell Us?” – Some races are very telling. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter was well ahead of Republican challenger Ronald Reagan in the polls - yes, even with double-digit leads. Yet, in the final weeks, Reagan turned the polls around and won in a landslide. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush was well ahead of Democrat Bill Clinton and Independent Ross Perot; yet Clinton surged ahead and won. My point is that reversing that downward trend can be done, but it’s challenging.

“The Message Is the Medium” – More than any one thing, Trump needs to stay on message. He needs more self-discipline in what he says, and in how he responds. He gets distracted by side-shows, and feels compelled to respond, taking him down a rabbit-hole in the mainstream media and social media from which he never recovers. His “Tweet fight” with Ted Cruz at the RNC was a waste of time, energy, and political capital. Trump WON the nomination, so why engage in a cat fight? The Twitter battle with Kazir Khan, who had lost his soldier-son in Iraq, was another unnecessary fight that Trump should have left alone. Then, his non-endorsement of House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) was another distraction, and polls plummeted (although now he has endorsed them both).

“Stick to the Issues” – People are worried about the national and local economies. Yes, the nation has recovered from the great recession of 2008, but the recovery is not nearly as strong as it needs to be. Workers and consumers feel very insecure. Then there is national security. With a growing number of terrorist attacks overseas and in the U.S., people fear for their safety. Polls indicate that Trump scores high on these two issues. He needs to play to his strengths and to appear as a strong, dignified candidate. Petty, petulant fights on Twitter are - quite simply - beneath the dignity of the office he seeks.

“Challenge Your Opponent” – Political campaigns are about defining yourself, then defining your opponent. Ted Cruz is not Trump’s opponent, nor is Kazir Khan. Trump’s opponent is Hillary Clinton, and he needs to go on the offensive against her and against her only. Like any political candidate, she has weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Polls indicate she has a very high level of untrustworthiness in the opinions of voters, mostly due to her email scandal, the attack in Benghazi, and the recent DNC email leaks. That is her Achilles heel, and that is where Trump needs to keep hammering away in his stump speeches and in his TV ads.

“Fuel for the Fire” – As with Trump, Clinton can at times be her own worst enemy. For example, on Friday while discussing a reporter’s question about her email accounts, she said, “I may have short-circuited [some of her answers] and for that I will try to clarify.” What does that mean? Was she not completely forthright and truthful? That’s red meat in a campaign. Trump should pounce on it.

“Hillary Strategy” – Someone complained to me this week that Clinton does not hold enough news conferences. I agree, and I think she avoids news conferences because she doesn’t perform well in a mob of reporters, preferring the safer one-on-one interview where she’s not being hit with an avalanche of combative questions. Trump was doing enough damage with his own self-inflicted wounds, while Clinton spent most of the week standing silent on the sidelines as her lead widened. As a political, tactical strategy, that was a good idea. But sooner or later, she will have to make herself available to more press scrutiny, or she’ll look weak and timid, and perhaps concealing. Jimmy Carter hunkered down in the White House in 1980 and avoided the press with his so-called “Rose Garden” strategy. He looked indecisive and lost reelection.

“On Balance” – I’m not here to coach the candidates; rather I am trying to assess their strengths and weaknesses, because this race is simply not over until November 8. Trump needs to be more focused and aggressive, with Clinton as his sole target. Clinton needs to be more open and available because - at some point - people are going to want to hear her speak with more candor, instead of her canned stump speech. The email mess, Benghazi, and now the DNC scandal have left a lot of lingering doubts.

“Why All This Matters” – Twenty-five percent of the electorate may still be up for grabs. Clinton has yet to secure the vast number of Bernie Sanders supporters; and polls indicate upwards of 17 percent of voters now plan to vote Libertarian or Green Party. Some had been Trump or Clinton supporters, but left. The two candidates need to make inroads into this significant number of voters, or risk losing them for good and losing the election.

What are your thoughts? Do you think Trump is done, or how could he stage a comeback? Leave your comments by clicking the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2016 Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: CBS news

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