Clinton 294
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Ties 18
Trump 226
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Click for Senate
Dem 50
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Ties 1
GOP 49
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  • Strongly Dem (164)
  • Likely Dem (56)
  • Barely Dem (74)
  • Exactly tied (18)
  • Barely GOP (71)
  • Likely GOP (30)
  • Strongly GOP (125)
270 Electoral votes needed to win This date in 2012 2008
Dem pickups vs. 2012: NC
GOP pickups vs. 2012: FL IA

Clinton's Campaign Is Entirely Data Driven

If people say that Hilary Clinton's campaign is as cold and unfeeling as data on a computer screen, that is because fundamentally it is data on a computer screen. Barack Obama pioneered the idea of a data-driven campaign in 2008, and now Hillary Clinton has taken that over and pushed it even further. Nothing she does happens until she asks her data chief, Elan Kriegel, what she should do. Politico has a long piece on this little-known statistician and data analyst. Money talks in politics, and the fact that Kriegel is the second highest paid person in the campaign speaks volumes.

Kriegel has turned politics from a finger-in-the-wind guessing game to an experimental science. Obama's team had a database of almost every voter in the U.S.; Clinton has expanded it to include up to 150 markers for each voter. If the voter owns a pickup truck and subscribes to Guns & Ammo magazine, that gives a hint, but some of the other 148 markers (when available) might show that the voter is actually a rural Democratic hunter with a strong interest in preserving wildlife at sustainable levels and protecting the environment. Obama knew which voters to talk to and what to say to them, but Kriegel has intensively studied the question of when to talk to them. During the 50 primaries and caucuses, he ran multiple experiments, airing ads, sending out emails and flyers, and knocking on doors at different times in different parts of the state. By looking at the precinct by precinct results, he was able to learn whether a day, a week, a month, or a quarter before the election is the best time to contact the voter. Needless to say, the results are top secret and Hillary is not going to email them to anyone.

The other thing Kriegel has done to advance the state of the art in data analytics is to add cost to his model. During the campaign, he invented a new term, "cost per flippable delegate," that could easily be generalized to "cost per flippable voter" in the general election. As a consequence of Kriegel's data analysis, Clinton's campaign spent more on ads in Waco, TX (pop. 132,000) before the Texas primary than on the biggest city in the state (Houston, pop. 2.3 million). Why? Because ads in Waco are cheap, and those in Houston are very expensive and according to Kriegel, not worth the money. In other words, searching out smaller and cheaper places to advertise gives more bang for the buck than the biggest city, but figuring out which cities are the most cost-effective requires a huge and detailed database. The strategy worked. In the Texas primary, Clinton won 72 more delegates than Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), more than enough to offset all of Sanders wins from before the Texas primary. Previous campaigns would never have done anything like this. They automatically go for the biggest markets in the states they are aiming at, cost be damned. Kriegel's penny pinching means the campaign will get far more mileage for its money than Trump's campaign will, since Kriegel runs a group with 60 data nerds, while Trump doesn't have a data team at all. (V)

Trump's Spending Reveals His Priorities

How a campaign spends its money gives a clear idea of its priorities. NBC published a list of where the Clinton and Trump campaigns are spending their money in swing states. For the previous week, here are the numbers, sorted on Trump's advertising expenditures (rounded to thousands). The states colored blue are part of the Democrats' "blue wall." Arizona is part of the Republicans' "red wall." The others are swing states.

State EVs Clinton Trump
Virginia 13 $0 $2,103,000
Colorado 9 $94,000 $967,000
Nevada 6 $927,000 $712,000
Florida 29 $3,112,000 $670,000
New Hampshire 4 $318,000 $517,000
Ohio 18 $1,621,000 $509,000
Pennsylvania 20 $1,453,000 $428,000
North Carolina 15 $1,392,000 $362,000
Michigan 16 $0 $346,000
Iowa 6 $559,000 $333,000
Arizona 11 $175,000 $0
Total   $9,761,999 $6,948,000

What is very surprising is that the states where Trump is spending the most, Virginia and Colorado, are states where Clinton has basically stopped spending because she thinks they are in the bag. No doubt, this is not because somebody's gut feeling tells her they are in the bag, but because Kriegel has spreadsheets full of numbers telling her precisely that. Trump doesn't believe in data, so the campaign's decision to dump a lot of money in Virginia and Colorado is undoubtedly due to someone's hunch that if they throw enough money at the problem, it will solve itself.

Look at it this way: Trump's top three states in order of spending are Virginia, Colorado, and Nevada, which together have 28 electoral votes. Clinton's top three states are Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, which together have 67 electoral votes. It appears that Trump is going after the smaller fish, which Clinton's data say are lost to him anyway, and he is letting himself be outspent in crucial Florida by almost 5 to 1, and in very swingy North Carolina by almost 4 to 1. It is an unusual strategy, but maybe Trump knows something that no one else knows. (V)

Trump Raised $90 Million in August

Yesterday, Donald Trump's campaign announced that it had raised $90 million in August. This is less than the $143 million Hillary Clinton's campaign raised, but still very respectable. In any event, Republican fears that they would be outspent 3 to 1 or 4 to 1 nationally are completely unfounded. If Trump's campaign is being outspent in key states like Florida and North Carolina by large margins, that is not due to lack of money, but due to its own priorities. (V)

North Carolina Reduces Early Voting

North Carolina recently lost a court case about its voter ID law, but 23 of its 100 counties have found another way to reduce minority turnout: reduce voting hours and eliminate voting on the Sunday before Election Day, when large numbers of black voters traditionally cast their ballots (often being taken to polling places on buses after attending church). The usual argument for requiring voter ID is to prevent voter fraud, but it is hard to see how allowing voting to start 17 days before the election—except for the Sunday and Monday before Election Day—has anything to do with fraud. Consequently, Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, came up with another reason for eliminating voting on the Sunday before the election: It violates the religious beliefs of some of the state's Christians. Interestingly enough, those Christians don't mind voting on the Sunday nine days before the election.

Not entirely surprisingly, the three counties with the largest black populations (around 60%)—Bertie, Northampton, and Edgecombe—are slated for major reductions in early-voting hours. The steepest cuts are in Lenoir County, which will have only 106 hours of early voting, down from 443 hours in 2012. Lenoir County is 40% black.

Nevertheless, some counties, including Democratic ones, will expand their voting hours compared to 2012. These include Guilford, Forsyth, Buncombe, and Wake Counties, all of which went for Obama in 2012.

If the U.S. sent election monitors to some country in Africa as part of a U.N. team verify the integrity of the elections, and discovered that the government was imposing all kinds of crazy rules to make it harder for its opponents to vote, it would report that the government was corrupt and the election dishonest. Fortunately for the U.S., there are no U.N. election monitors in North Carolina. (V)

Trump Speech on Military Readiness Fails to Impress

Appearing in Philadelphia yesterday, Donald Trump delivered what was billed as a "major" speech on military readiness. The response to the speech was almost uniformly critical.

To start, many commentators noted the seeming incongruity built into the speech. Trump spent much of his time lambasting Hillary Clinton, calling her "a warmonger" and "trigger happy" and declaring that she produced "only turmoil, suffering and death" while serving as Secretary of State. "Sometimes," he said, "it seems like there wasn't a country in the Middle East Clinton didn't want to invade." At the same time, Trump wants to expand the United States' military power, and create a "more robust" military presence. To put numbers on it, he envisions expanding the army to 540,000 people, the navy to 350 ships, and the air force to at least 1,200 fighter aircraft. He also wants to build a missile defense system. Not easy to be a peacemaker when all you're doing is building more guns, planes, and ships.

The speech also raised questions about funding, as in: How does Trump plan to pay for all the things he proposes? He spoke of "commonsense reforms that eliminate government waste and budget gimmicks" and "reducing the size of the federal bureaucracy" and "respectfully asking Germany, Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia to pay more for the tremendous security we provide them." However, these things—two of them very non-specific—are not going to raise anything close to the hundreds of billions of dollars needed to execute Trump's vision. The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget calculated that Trump's plan would cost $450 billion, and that even the most generous estimate of his proposed savings wouldn't be more than $300 billion, leaving a budget hole of $150 billion.

The harshest criticism, however, was reserved for the portions of the speech about ISIS. Previously, Trump declared that he had a secret plan to defeat the organization, but that he was unable to reveal details. He also insisted that he knew more about ISIS than America's generals. On Wednesday, he changed course on both points, saying that if he wins election, he will "ask the generals to present a plan within 30 days to defeat and destroy ISIS." Quite a few observers, such as the Washington Post's Aaron Blake, noted that he seems to have been caught red-handed. "It's almost like Donald Trump's secret plan to defeat ISIS never actually existed," read the headline. Others were furious that Trump trivialized the issue by suggesting that the only reason that ISIS still exists is that nobody has bothered to sit down and take a month to think about what to do. Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling (Ret.), for example, was interviewed by Anderson Cooper on Wednesday evening, and said, "I had to ask myself, what the hell does he think we've been trying to do for the last 14 years?" Hertling also characterized Trump's approach as "simplistic" and "sophomoric," and said the speech "shows a complete lack of understanding of the threat and the ways to fight it."

Undoubtedly, these major policy addresses—last week's speech on immigration was the first—are the work of Trump's new management team. And his improving poll numbers may have everyone at Trump 2016 believing that they're heading in the right direction. But, as noted below, those poll numbers may be misleading. Further, it seems clear that Trump does not do specifics very well, and that every time he tries, it hurts him. He made it as far as he has by promising everything, and explaining nothing. For better or worse, he should probably stick with that approach to the bitter end. (Z)

Everyone Loses at Commander-in-Chief Forum

NBC News, in partnership with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, held a "commander-in-chief's forum" on Wednesday. For the event, which might be described as something of a debate warmup, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were given a half an hour to prove their worthiness to be commander-in-chief, under questioning from moderator Matt Lauer.

Put bluntly, it did not go well. For example, The Daily Beast's Tim Mak and Nancy A. Youssef wrote:

Clinton came off as a defensive and lawyerly—technical where unnecessary, vague where details were necessary, or simply utterly wrong. Trump, meanwhile, assumed the role of a huckster—a man who praised Vladimir Putin while insulting female combat troops, correcting a veteran with an incorrect figure about suicide, and suggesting the military needed to be purged of its generals and admirals.

Slate's Fred Kaplan was equally underwhelmed:

What an ill-focused forum, a senseless not-quite-debate, another wasted hour in an election season that's been more wasteful and dispiriting than anyone could have imagined possible, until it gets more dispiriting still.

While Clinton and Trump both got strongly negative reviews, however, the greatest vitriol was directed at Matt Lauer, who was clearly out of his element. He was borderline obsessive about Clinton's emails, ultimately spending nearly half the available time on that subject. This made it necessary for him to tell Clinton to "be brief" once she moved on to trivialities like Iran and ISIS. Meanwhile, he lobbed too many softballs at Trump—Why should you be Commander-in-Chief?—and failed to call Trump out on distortions or falsehoods (such as his declaration that he always opposed the invasion of Iraq). "This #NBCNewsForum feels like an embarrassment to journalism," tweeted the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof, while Slate's William Saletan described it as "one of the weakest, least incisive performances I've seen from a presidential forum moderator."

Though they both had a bad night, there's good news for the candidates. These forums don't get a fraction of the viewership that the debates will, and thus the poor showings won't hurt much. If they are wise, they will take this as a wake-up call and a learning experience, and will re-tool their approaches for the first debate, which is less than three weeks away. Will they do it, though? The smart money says that one is more likely to do that than the other. In any case, we'll learn on September 26. (Z)

Bad News for E-mail Scandalmongerers

Last week, those who hope that there's still hay to be made out of Hillary Clinton's email got some exciting news: Up to 30 previously-unknown Benghazi-related emails may have been uncovered. On Wednesday, however, the air got let out of that balloon. It now turns out that only one of the messages—from U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Tom Shannon—is actually new. Unless there's something very juicy in that single message, written from 6,000 miles away, then this story would appear to be dead in the water.

If that were not enough, FBI Director James B. Comey's internal memo about the e-mails also leaked. In it, he explained to his colleagues that the choice not to prosecute was "not a cliff-hanger" and "despite all the chest beating by people no longer in government, there really wasn't a prosecutable case." This will not, by any stretch of the imagination, put the email story to bed. But it will mean that Clinton will have a bit more ammunition to use in her responses. (Z)

Be Careful about Trusting the August Polls

Nate Cohn at the New York Times has written an article about how to interpret Hillary Clinton's slippage in the national polls in August. The takeaways are (1) the quality pollsters don't do much polling in the summer, so the marginal pollsters dominate the news, and (2) the voters are more interested in beaches and hot dogs in August than in immigration policy and the federal debt. In September, both are likely to change. Also to be considered are the difference between two-way (Clinton-Trump) and four-way (Clinton-Trump-Johnson-Stein) polls. Currently, Johnson and Stein are polling far better than third-party candidates have traditionally done on Election Day, but they may well fall by the wayside when people start realizing that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is going to be inaugurated on January 20, 2017. Finally, the current polls are mostly of registered voters. In September, we are going to see more likely-voter polls. (V)

Trump Held Fundraiser for Bondi after She Dropped Trump University Case

After Donald Trump donated $25,000 to the reelection campaign of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, she dropped the fraud case against Trump University, despite there being enough evidence to convince the attorneys general of New York and California to pursue it. Now it has been reported that after she dropped the case, Trump held a fundraiser for her at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, FL. The event raised $150,000 for her campaign. The Republican Party of Florida paid only $4,866 for use of Mar-a-Lago for the $3,000 per head fundraiser, while Trump has charged his own campaign $140,000 for using the facilities. In effect, discounted use of the facilities would also be a donation-in-kind to Bondi's campaign, possibly out of gratitude for her dropping the case against him.

The initial donation of $25,000 didn't come from Trump personally, but from his charitable foundation. Such donations are illegal, and Trump was fined $2,500 for breaking the law. This whole matter is not likely to go away, since as Trump continues to hit Clinton over people buying access to her via the Clinton Foundation, she is going to hit back with his quid-pro-quo donation to Bondi, which some people might phrase as "soft-core bribery," although it is unlikely Clinton will put it that way. (V)

Cornyn Refuses to Endorse Cruz in Senate Primary

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-RX) represent one of the reddest states in the country. But though they may be partners, of a sort, they do not like each another at all. That was underscored on Wednesday, when Cornyn declared that he would not be endorsing Cruz when he runs for re-election to the Senate.

Now, this story has nothing to do with the 2016 presidential race. In fact, it doesn't even have anything to do with the 2016 Senate races, since Cruz's next election won't actually be until 2018—Cornyn was just getting a head start on his non-endorsing. However, this is a 2020 election story. Cruz is already running, regardless of who wins this year, and he is loathed by almost the entire GOP establishment. Clearly, that's not enough to derail a nomination bid all by itself (see Trump, Donald), but it does make it much harder to win (again, see Trump, Donald). Cruz might do well to spend the next four years repairing some of the bridges he's burned, though it would not be wise to hold your breath waiting for him to do so. (Z)

Evan McMullin Picks a Running Mate--by Accident

Independent conservative Evan McMullin has managed to get on the ballot in nine states. Part of the procedure for getting on the ballot is to list the vice presidential candidate as well. McMullin chose "Nathan Johnson" as the name to put on the ballot, expecting to change it later when he picked his real running mate. But oops, in eight of the nine states, changing the name of the Veep is not permitted. Only in Colorado can it be changed, and then only if he submits a new name by tomorrow. So either McMullin has to find someone named Nathan Johnson to run with or be the butt of a lot of jokes for the next 2 months.

On the plus side, a search of turns up 2,918 people named Nathan Johnson, a number of whom live in swing states like Colorado (72), Florida (133), North Carolina (98), Ohio (140), and Virgina (68). One can only imagine the reaction when he picks one, calls him, and says: "Hello, my name is Evan McMullin. Would you be interested in running for vice president of the United States? The jobs pays $230,700 per year and doesn't require any actual work. Interested?" (V)

Today's Presidential Polls

Florida and Iowa continue to be close, as expected, but Arizona is also close, which was not expected until recently. If you note in the story above, Clinton is beginning to spend money in Arizona. Clearly her internal polling is also telling her that she has a chance there. A bonus for her in pursuing Arizona is that it will help Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) in her uphill battle to unseat Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). (V)

State Clinton Trump Johnson Start End Pollster
Arizona 35% 34% 7% Aug 17 Aug 31 Behavior Research Center
Connecticut 50% 35% 9% Sep 02 Sep 05 Emerson College
Florida 43% 44% 5% Sep 04 Sep 06 PPP
Iowa 45% 43%   Aug 30 Aug 31 PPP
Idaho 23% 44% 13% Aug 18 Aug 31 Dan Jones
Massachusetts 50% 33% 9% Sep 03 Sep 05 Emerson College
Maine 44% 35% 12% Sep 02 Sep 05 Emerson College
New Hampshire 42% 37% 14% Sep 03 Sep 05 Emerson College
New Hampshire 46% 41%   Aug 30 Aug 31 PPP
New Jersey 47% 43% 5% Sep 02 Sep 05 Emerson College
Pennsylvania 47% 42%   Aug 30 Aug 31 PPP
Rhode Island 44% 41% 8% Sep 02 Sep 05 Emerson College
Vermont 47% 26% 13% Sep 02 Sep 05 Emerson College

Today's Senate Polls

The Senate battle in Florida still favors Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), but not by much, and 23% of the voters are still on the fence. New Hampshire looks close, with one poll showing Gov. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) ahead and another giving the lead to Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH). In Pennsylvania, Katie McGinty has a small but consistent lead. (V)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Connecticut Richard Blumenthal* 54% Dan Carter 33% Sep 02 Sep 05 Emerson College
Florida Patrick Murphy 37% Marco Rubio* 40% Sep 04 Sep 06 PPP
Iowa Patty Judge 43% Chuck Grassley* 49% Aug 30 Aug 31 PPP
New Hampshire Maggie Hassan 46% Kelly Ayotte* 48% Sep 03 Sep 05 Emerson College
New Hampshire Maggie Hassan 47% Kelly Ayotte* 44% Aug 30 Aug 31 PPP
Pennsylvania Katie McGinty 44% Pat Toomey* 41% Aug 30 Aug 31 PPP
Vermont Patrick Leahy* 57% Scott Milne 34% Sep 02 Sep 05 Emerson College

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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