Clinton 323
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Trump 215
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Click for Senate
Dem 51
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GOP 49
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  • Strongly Dem (152)
  • Likely Dem (108)
  • Barely Dem (63)
  • Exactly tied (0)
  • Barely GOP (32)
  • Likely GOP (96)
  • Strongly GOP (87)
270 Electoral votes needed to win This date in 2012 2008
New polls: IL NC PA TN
Dem pickups vs. 2012: NC
GOP pickups vs. 2012: IA OH

Vice-Presidential Debate a Tense Affair

Presidential debates are a fairly new thing in American politics (dating to 1960), and vice-presidential debates are even newer (1976). The theory in adding a VP-centered event was to allow the candidates to demonstrate their fitness for a job that is only a heartbeat away. In practice, though, that's rarely where the focus is, and Tuesday's event held true to form. What we got was roughly 5% Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN) explaining their personal qualifications for president, 30% them promoting their respective running mates, and 65% them slamming their opponent's running mate.

Kaine's strategy was particularly built around going on the attack. He tried to rattle Pence with frequent interruptions, at a rate similar to Donald Trump's interrupting of Hillary Clinton during the first presidential debate. Kaine also worked hard to inject the campaign's talking points into the discussion, and to corner Pence into defending Trump's controversial statements and proposals. It was certainly a "take one for the team" performance; being an attack dog is not something that Kaine is particularly comfortable with, and is not something that will help his likability.

Pence's strategy, by contrast, was clearly focused much more on Pence 2020 than it was on Trump 2016. He was less overtly aggressive and, as a former radio and television host, was considerably more smooth in front of the camera. When Kaine (or moderator Elaine Quijano) put him in a tough position, he dodged with the deftness of a bullfighter. Time after time, Pence was asked about his running mate's birtherism, his refusal to release his taxes, his remarks about Alicia Machado, his immigration policy, and so forth. Almost invariably, he changed the subject. Eventually, it got to the point that Kaine was keeping a running count of how many times Pence declined to defend Trump. Pence did embrace Trump's ideas on a few issues, like stop-and-frisk, but just as often he disagreed with Trump (for example, on The Donald's praise for Vladimir Putin), and even more often than that he turned to carefully-articulated statements of mainstream conservative positions. English translation: "GOP voters, once you get this populist thing out of your systems, here I am, ready to run."

With Kaine's interruptions, Pence's deflections, and both men constantly talking over each other, it was not a particularly watchable 90 minutes. Quijano has little experience with this kind of thing, and it showed. Although she had some very good questions, she struggled to keep the candidates on track, and they regularly used questions about one subject as a launching point for a tangentially-related attack on the opposition. For example, a question about North Korea's nuclear capacity led to a Trump-is-soft-on-Russia diatribe from Kaine, and then a Clinton Foundation harangue from Pence. We're still waiting to hear what the candidates would do about North Korea. Quijano also couldn't seem to decide exactly how strict the rules about speaking time were. At one point, she encouraged Kaine's interruptions, explaining, "This is our open discussion." Later, she complained that, "The people at home cannot understand either one of you when you speak over each other."

Ultimately, neither candidate had a great night. Kaine seemed nervous for the first half hour or so. He talked too fast, and he was a bit jittery. Further, he went a bit overboard with the interruptions and the attacks; he would have been well advised to dial it back about 20%. He also came across as over-prepared, and his zingers and talking points were a bit too obviously pre-written. So much so, in fact, that Pence began ribbing him for it. For example, after Kaine delivered a line about how Clinton would be a "you're hired" president while Trump would be a "you're fired" president, Pence remarked:

Well, first, let me say, I appreciated the "you're hired," "you're fired" thing, Senator. You use that a whole lot. And I think your running mate used a lot of pre-done lines.

Pence also deserves his fair share of criticism. His tap dancing around the questions he was asked was extremely noticeable; he's not nearly as skilled a matador as Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan. Further, Pence had a large number of "pants on fire" moments; the most noticeable may have been when he looked straight into the camera and insisted that only 10% of the Clinton Foundation's money goes to charitable endeavors. This was an unnecessary and unforced error. He could easily have slammed the Foundation without putting such a specific, and easily double-checked, number on it. If this were true (it's not), it would make the Foundation the most wasteful and inefficient charity in America by a long shot.

In terms of a "winner" and a "loser," CNN's post-debate poll gave the nod to Pence by a margin of 48% to 42%. That seems about right; the two men essentially tied on substance (or lack thereof), and Pence won the "mute" test: With the sound off, he looked a bit more presidential. Pence likely also benefited from lower expectations, since he has a slightly lower national profile than Kaine, and since his running mate has set the bar rather low.

So, what impact will this debate have on the race? Zero. Zip. Zilch. VP debates rarely move the needle, and there's no reason to think that this one that ended in a near-tie is going to change that trend. Pence's credible performance may help stanch the bleeding that the Trump campaign has been doing for the past eight or nine days, but that will be a short-term effect. There's likely to be a new controversy or a new skeleton by Thursday or Friday, and even if there is not, the second presidential debate on Sunday is going to erase all traces and all memory of Tuesday's event. Although that does bring to mind one way in which the VP debate could actually have an impact. If Donald Trump's people can sit him down, show him the footage from Tuesday night, and convince him that this is how to debate and this is how to avoid taking your opponent's bait, then Mike Pence will have done The Donald a great service, indeed. Odds that this happens, though? Let's just say you probably shouldn't bet the farm (or the luxury hotel) on it. (Z)

GOP Website Gives Pence the Win--a Bit Early

Though we and most other commentators saw Tuesday's debate being fairly close, the Republican Party's official website,, gave Mike Pence the win by a large margin. Their coverage also included a list of "10 Things Voters are Saying About the Debate," as well as an item on the questions that the moderator Elaine Quijano refused to ask Tim Kaine.

Given that this is an organ of the Republican Party, its coverage angles are hardly surprising. There was one small issue, however. The site posted its "analysis" and its rundown of voters' responses at 7:00 p.m. EDT. In other words, about two hours before the debate began. Maybe they have a crystal ball, or a soothsayer on the payroll, or they borrowed a time machine. Whatever the case may be, the articles were quickly taken down once people began to tweet about them, and had not been reposted as of 4:30 a.m. EDT on Wednesday. (Z)

Politico Insiders: My Team Won

Politico asked its panel of activists, strategists, and operatives who won the vice presidential debate. A full 96% of the Republicans said Mike Pence won, whereas 79% of the Democrats said Tim Kaine won. The panel was also asked whether Pence gave a better performance than Trump did in his debate. 100% of the Republicans said that Pence did better than Trump. An Ohio Republican said: "Not even close." A Virginia Republican said: "No-brainer." A Colorado Republican put it this way: "If the Republican ticket were flipped, it would be game over."

A Virginia Democrat said "Kaine was aggressive and on message." A Florida Democrat agreed, saying: "Kaine did a better job of making Trump look bad than making himself look good, and that's just fine." A North Carolina Democrat went whole hog and said: "Donald Trump should just let Pence do the rest of the debates."

All well and good, but will it matter? Of the Republican insiders, 54% said Pence's performance will help the ticket and 46% said it wouldn't make any difference. Among the Democrats, 59% said it wouldn't matter, 37% said it would help Clinton, and 4% said it would help Trump. (V)

Changes in the Swing States of the Past 2 Weeks

Hillary Clinton has been climbing in the national polls, especially since the first debate. But what about the state polls? Here are the results for a dozen swing states comparing the polls two weeks ago, one week ago, and today. For example, on September 21, we had the Republican, Donald Trump, ahead by 4 points in Colorado (R+4), but today we have the Democrat, Hillary Clinton, ahead by 9 points in the Centennial State (D+9). The states colored blue are the ones where Clinton has gained in the past 2 weeks; the red ones are where Trump has improved in the same time period.

State Sep 21 Sep 28 Oct 05 Gainer
Arizona R+2 R+2 R+2 Neither
Colorado R+4 D+3 D+9 Clinton
Florida D+3 D+2 D+3 Neither
Iowa R+5 R+3 R+3 Clinton
Maine Tie D+2 D+2 Clinton
Nevada R+2 R+3 D+4 Clinton
New Hampshire D+4 D+7 D+5 Clinton
New Mexico D+9 D+9 D+4 Trump
North Carolina R+1 R+1 D+3 Clinton
Ohio R+2 R+1 R+5 Trump
Pennsylvania D+8 D+1 D+7 Trump
Virginia D+5 D+6 D+7 Clinton

The upshot is that in the past two weeks, Clinton has gained in seven swing states and Trump has gained in three. Currently Clinton leads in nine of them and Trump leads in three of them. If we exclude the two "swing states" of Maine and Pennsylvania, which are part of the "blue wall," Clinton is leading in Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Virginia, good for a total of 81 electoral votes. Added to her "blue wall" total of 242 electoral votes from the 18 states plus D.C. that have voted for a Democrat six times in a row, Clinton has 323 electoral votes. So clearly, she can afford to lose Ohio and Iowa, where she is currently behind, and still have a comfortable lead in the electoral college. (V)

Trump's Accountant Says He, Not Trump, Was the Genius

Donald Trump's former accountant, Jack Mitnick, yesterday challenged all the talk about Trump's being a genius for avoiding $916 million in taxes. Mitnick said: "I did all the tax preparation. He never saw the product until it was presented to him for signature." After the New York Times broke the story about Trump's losing $916 million in 1995, Trump and his surrogates have spun the story as Trump being brilliant for getting such a big tax break. Now that the accountant himself has clearly and publicly said that Trump knew nothing about his tax returns until Mitnick handed them to him for signature, it will be hard to maintain the "Trump is a genius" story any more. It is hardly surprising that Mitnick, not Trump, is the real "genius." Tax law is extremely complicated and Mitnick is a specialist in doing the taxes of very wealthy real-estate investors. (V)

Poll: Not Paying Taxes is Selfish

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released yesterday probed what Americans think of the possibility of Donald Trump's not paying any income taxes for decades. Trump says that makes him smart. The voters disagree. According to the poll, 67% said it is "selfish" of him and 61% said it is "unpatriotic." However, 46% said it was "smart." Respondents could choose more than one adjective in the poll. (V)

Candidates' Strategies Differ on Early Voting

Early voting has already started in a number of states. About one-third of the vote was cast early in 2012 and the percentage this year is likely to be as much or more. The candidates have different strategies to deal with it. At Trump rallies, lines often form before the event. Clipboard-toting volunteers offer priority seating to anyone willing to fill out an absentee-ballot request on the spot. At some rallies, there is a special section for mail-in voters. The downside of this strategy is that it doesn't scale. Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence, can be in only two places at once and they can do at most two or three rallies a day.

In contrast, Hillary Clinton is running a more traditional campaign. She can blanket each of the swing states with ads targeted to that state, urging people to cast an early ballot. She also has a huge data operation, in which she can target individual voters known to lean Democratic and have a volunteer knock on their door, hand them the application for an absentee ballot, and help them fill it out if need be. The campaign can follow up later, asking if the voter got the absentee ballot and if the voter filled it out and sent it back. (V)

Trump May Have Illegally Used His Foundation to Bootstrap His Campaign

As if Donald Trump hasn't had enough trouble with his foundation, what with donating money to the Florida attorney general in an attempt to influence her case against him, possible self dealing, and more, now another problem has come to light. When Trump was toying with starting a presidential run in 2011 and thinking about the South Carolina primary, South Carolina activist Oran Smith said: "Trump would be thumped here." Trump called Smith to his office and they talked. On the way out, Smith asked for a donation to his political group. Trump wrote on him a check for $10,000 from his foundation. This was only the first of many checks to conservative groups. A study of his foundation's filings showed donations from 2011 through 2014 of at least $286,000 to political groups. None of it was Trump's money, since he hadn't donated to his own foundation since 2008. Thus his "charity" was giving other people's money to political groups. In a number of cases, the recipients gave him something of value in return, such as a speaking slot at a key conference in Iowa where he could pitch his brand and political ambitions. This is very close to self-dealing and violates federal law.

Even more suspicious was the coincidence that Trump's foundation donated $100,000 to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and then, in April 2011, Franklin Graham—Billy Graham's son and the current leader of the group—expressed support for Trump as a presidential candidate. Filings show there were many more "coincidences" in which Trump's foundation donated money to a conservative group and suddenly the group gave him a key speaking role or the leader praised him. Previously, these groups wouldn't touch the thrice-married casino owner (who supported abortion) with a barge pole. But coincidences happen, of course. (V)

Bill Clinton Attacks ObamaCare, Pitches Medicare for All

Hillary Clinton is promising to build up the Afford Care Act ("ObamaCare"), but husband Bill is having none of it. He blasted President Obama's signature health care law, pitching a new system in which people could buy into Medicare or Medicaid, essentially the Medicare-for-all system Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) wants. So the Clintons are not in agreement on health care, but of course, Hillary is the candidate, and Bill is just the potential first gentleman. Bill pointed out that premiums are skyrocketing and insurance markets are collapsing. Republicans immediately picked up on the "ObamaCare is bad" part but not so much on the "Medicare for all" part. (V)

Today's Presidential Polls

Today's presidential polling news is good news for Hillary Clinton. She is maintaining her small lead in North Carolina. If she loses Ohio, which seems increasingly likely, North Carolina almost makes up for it (18 vs. 15 EVs). The best news though is her 10-point lead in Pennsylvania. Furthermore, the long-term trend in the Keystone State is bad for Trump. Clinton has led in the last 20 polls in Pennsylvania. In fact, Trump has led in Pennsylvania in only one of the 34 polls in our database, and that one was taken in early July, in the lead-up to the Republican National Convention.

Trump's entire strategy is about winning over blue-collar workers in the Rust Belt, with Pennsylvania being the most likely state to flip. His being behind in the last 20 polls shows that it is not working, and there is little reason to think that might change going forward, absent some unexpected event such as a WikiLeaks dump showing that Clinton broke the law. (V)

State Clinton Trump Johnson Start End Pollster
Illinois 53% 28% 5% Sep 27 Oct 02 Southern Illinois U.
North Carolina 45% 39% 9% Sep 27 Sep 30 Elon U.
North Carolina 46% 44% 5% Sep 29 Oct 03 SurveyUSA
Pennsylvania 50% 40% 5% Sep 30 Oct 03 Monmouth U.
Tennessee 36% 48% 4% Sep 28 Oct 02 Middle Tenn. State U.

Today's Senate Polls

It looks like Wisconsin and Illinois are going to flip, and Ohio and Florida are going to stay Republican. So the big Senate battles are going to be in Nevada, Missouri, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and New Hampshire. That is where control of the Senate will be decided. (V)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Illinois Tammy Duckworth 48% Mark Kirk* 34% Sep 27 Oct 02 Southern Illinois U.
North Carolina Deborah Ross 44% Richard Burr* 43% Sep 27 Sep 30 Elon U.
North Carolina Deborah Ross 44% Richard Burr* 46% Sep 29 Oct 03 SurveyUSA
Pennsylvania Katie McGinty 46% Pat Toomey* 46% Sep 30 Oct 03 Monmouth U.

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct04 Vice Presidential Debates Rarely Matter Much
Oct04 Trump Offends Veterans Again
Oct04 Trump Ordered to Stop Raising Money for his Foundation
Oct04 Clinton Hammers Trump More on the Billion-Dollar Loss than on the Tax Avoidance
Oct04 Today's Trump Skeleton #1: He Rented to an Iranian Bank with Terrorist Ties
Oct04 Today's Trump Skeleton #2: He Harassed Women on His TV Show
Oct04 Trump Offices Open in Israel
Oct04 Republicans Anxious About Trump's Impact
Oct04 Politicians Supporting Trump Will Be Targeted for Years to Come
Oct04 Trump Grabs
Oct04 The Spin Room Is Dying
Oct03 Surrogates Defend Trump's Not Paying any Taxes
Oct03 What Has Happened to Rudy Giuliani?
Oct03 Could Donald Trump Do Worse in Second Debate?
Oct03 Attacking Bill Clinton May Not Work with Women and Millennials
Oct03 Could Poll Watchers Give Pennsylvania to Trump?
Oct03 Arizona Republic Gets Death Threats for Endorsing Clinton
Oct03 Is Ohio Still a Bellwether?
Oct03 Clinton Pulls in $154 Million in September
Oct03 Brown Signs Law to Radically Change Voting in California
Oct03 Vice Presidential Candidates Face Off Tomorrow
Oct03 Stone: Wednesday, Hillary Clinton is done
Oct02 NYT Bombshell: Trump May Not Have Paid Taxes for Decades
Oct02 Trump's Staff Can't Save the Candidate from Himself
Oct02 College-Educated White Women Are This Year's Swing Voters
Oct02 Asian Americans Could Be a Problem for the Republicans
Oct02 Trump Chases Sanders' Supporters
Oct02 SNL Hits Trump Hard
Oct02 Marginalized Haters Are Now Emerging from the Shadows
Oct02 Untrustworthy Voting Machines Are Still Widely Used
Oct01 Trump Can't Sleep, Starts Tweeting Attacks on Alicia Machado
Oct01 Evangelicals Are Scared, but Still Support Trump
Oct01 More Skeletons Found in Trump's Closet
Oct01 Clinton Is Now Focusing on Turning Out Her Base
Oct01 Ivanka Trump Stars in Trump Ad Aimed at Women
Oct01 Trump Has an Automated Army of Tweeters Working for Him
Oct01 Clinton Enjoying Post-Debate Polling Bump
Oct01 Weld: Clinton Most Qualified to be President
Oct01 San Diego Union-Tribune Breaks 148-Year Streak and Endorses the Democrat
Oct01 Trump May Not Accept Election Results After All
Oct01 There Actually Were Issues with Trump's Microphone During the Debate
Oct01 Saturday Night Live Returns
Sep30 Trump Wanted Fat Women Fired
Sep30 Trump Just Can't Cut His Losses
Sep30 Online Polls: Shady Behavior All Around
Sep30 Clinton's Newest Ad Focuses on Trump Flip-Flops
Sep30 New York Attorney General Widens Probe of Trump Foundation
Sep30 Appeals Court Strikes Down Law Prohibiting Photos of Ballots
Sep30 More Newspapers Dump Trump
Sep30 Christie May Be Put in Charge of Prepping Trump for Second Debate