Clinton 302
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Trump 236
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Click for Senate
Dem 49
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Ties 1
GOP 50
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  • Strongly Dem (144)
  • Likely Dem (62)
  • Barely Dem (96)
  • Exactly tied (0)
  • Barely GOP (56)
  • Likely GOP (84)
  • Strongly GOP (96)
270 Electoral votes needed to win This date in 2012 2008
New polls: CO ME MN MO VA
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: IA NV OH

Trump Keeps Debate Prep Secret

One of Donald Trump's strengths is his unpredictability. His opponents during the primaries never knew what to expect next, and neither does Hillary Clinton. To increase his unpredictability and heighten the drama, Trump has said nothing about how he has prepared for tonight's debate (if he did so at all). Rep. Peter King (R-NY) met with him a week ago. Trump suddenly excused himself from the meeting, saying, "I think I'm going to do some debate preparation today." King, a strong Trump supporter, said, "I don't know what that meant or where he was going." Neither does anyone else. A few times in the past month Trump has met with Rudy Giuliani and Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) for debate prep, but this apparently meant thinking of clever one-liners to throw out. Is there more than this? Only Trump and his inner circle know.

Earlier this week, Trump sent an email to his supporters asking for their advice. For example, he asked if he should refer to his opponent as "Crooked Hillary." He has met with some advisers, such as Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (ret.), but whether they did serious debate prep or just shot the bull is not known. Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) has said that Trump has been "doing a lot of serious reading on foreign policy and budgeting." On the other hand, Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) said that Trump wasn't a briefing book kind of guy. In short, very few people know whether Trump has prepared for the debate at all, and if so, how.

In contrast, Hillary Clinton has been studying thick briefing books on every possible topic for weeks, and is conducting mock debates with Philippe Reines on a stage that is an exact replica of the real debate stage. Which strategy is better? We'll find out tonight. (V)

The Candidates and Moderator Will Be on Stage, but the Audience Also Matters

During the primaries, the studio audience was allowed—even encouraged—to indicate its approval or disapproval of what was being said on stage with cheers or boos. Many times Donald Trump would shoot off a one-liner or disparage one of his opponents and the audience would cheer, something seen all over the country. That won't happen tonight, as the audience will be given clear instructions in advance to remain silent during the entire debate, with violators immediately removed from the studio by security. Silence has been the rule since 1976, and no audience has ever broken the rule. Trump does well in a boisterous environment, and that won't be present tonight.

There will be an opportunity to interact with the audience, but not tonight. On Oct. 9, in St. Louis, the second debate will have a town hall format, moderated by ABC's Martha Raddatz and CNN's Anderson Cooper.

Tickets to tonight's debate are hotter than World Series tickets. About a third are given to the campaigns, so each side gets 1/6th of the total. The host university gets one third, and the Commission of Presidential Debates gets the remaining third. For the Oct. 9 town hall, by contrast, the Gallup Organization will select the audience, which will consist entirely of uncommitted voters. These voters will pose half the questions and the moderators will ask the other ones. Trump has the advantage here, since he does well with live audiences. But tonight, Clinton has the advantage: a silent audience. (V)

Lester Holt Has the Toughest Job of All

The debate will be tough for the candidates, but it will be even tougher for moderator Lester Holt. Both Trump and Clinton can be all but certain that no matter what happens, at least 45% of the country will say they did a fantastic job. Not so for Holt. In the first event in which the two candidates appeared on the same stage, moderator Matt Lauer was roundly criticized by almost everyone for lobbing softballs at Trump and allowing lies to go unchallenged. That event is weighing heavily on Holt.

Holt has to think up the questions, but that is the easy part. Harder is what to do when a candidate evades the question. Suppose Holt asks Trump if he still plans to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants and Trump replies that he will initially focus on those who have committed crimes. Holt will have to decide in real time whether to follow up with something like: "And after all those have been deported, will you deport all the ones who have never committed a crime?" And if Trump evades that, should Holt demand a "yes" or "no" answer?

Holt's other problem is what to do if a candidate blatantly lies. Should he call the candidate on that? Historically, moderators have not done real-time fact checking, but we have never had a campaign like this in which one of the candidates lies all the time (see below). Holt alone will have to decide whether to challenge candidates when they clearly are lying.

Holt is free to consult with anyone he wants to before the debate starts. He has been relieved of his normal NBC duties for the past week in order to prepare. He has talked to many people at NBC and gotten their advice, but in the end, he makes all the decisions. During the primary debates, the moderators had earpieces through which producers could suggest follow-up questions or lines of attack. Tonight, the only person in Holt's ear will be the Commission's long-time executive producer, Marty Slutsky, who has produced all the debates since 2000. Slutsky's main job is telling Holt when to wrap up, although Holt is more than likely to bring his watch as well. (V)

Priebus Predicts Trump Will Be Consistent and Measured

Yesterday, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus predicted that Donald Trump would give a consistent and measured performance at tonight's debate. Priebus said that Trump has matured as a candidate and his message discipline has improved. He also said it continues to get better. (V)

Will the Debate Matter?

For at least the last month, the punditry has taken for granted the notion that the debates are the final regularly-scheduled opportunity for the candidates to move the needle. And it's certainly possible, particularly in a year as strange as this one. However, recent history suggests they are unlikely to be a game changer. Looking at polling data since 1992, it is evident that most candidates' numbers were relatively stable before and after the debates. The only real exception is Barack Obama in 2012, who went from having a slight lead prior the debates to a semi-landslide on Election Day. The reason is plain: The debates happen so late in the campaign that most voters have already made up their minds.

There are a few examples of pre-1990s debates that may have influenced the outcome of the election. Reagan's trouncing of Carter in 1980, Ford's screw-ups in 1976, Nixon and his five-o-clock shadow in 1960. But all of these were a long time ago, and given that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are unusually famous candidates, it certainly argues for the notion that the vast majority of 2016 voters already know everything they need to know. (Z)

Could This Be the Only Debate?

"What's going to happen during Monday's debate?" is, of course, every commentator's favorite parlor game these days. One of the most popular speculations, which has been floating around for months, and has recently bubbled back up to the surface: It's going to be one-and-done for Trump.

In part, the evidence for this supposition comes from Trump himself. He's left himself a number of back doors for exiting the debates: saying his plan "at the moment" was to attend all three debates, questioning the fairness of the moderators, declaring that it is not the moderator's job to be a fact checker. There's also a tactical argument for the one-and-done approach. Trump is highly unlikely to "win" three debates. If he does well in the first, he might want to freeze the frame right there, not allowing Hillary Clinton two chances to dethrone him. And if he does poorly in the first, he might want to engage in damage control by not subjecting himself to another grilling.

In the end, the odds are that Trump shows up for all three debates. After all, there are few things he likes more than free advertising. Still, we would be remiss if we didn't point out the non-zero chance of a disappearing Donald act. (Z)

Mook: Republicans Are Coming Home to Trump

In the past few weeks, Donald Trump has been catching up to Hillary Clinton in the polls. Yesterday, Clinton's campaign manager, Robby Mook, said that this is due to some Republicans who at first couldn't stand Trump finally coming home and supporting their nominee. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is a case in point. Interestingly enough, Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said exactly the same thing. In the end we could have the usual situation with all Republicans voting for Trump and all Democrats voting for Clinton. The 10% or so undecided voters could swing the election either way, but the most important factor is probably turnout. If all Republicans actually vote, but supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) decide to sit this one out or vote for Jill Stein, Trump could win. (V)

Maybe Democrats Shouldn't Be Nervous

Nate Silver, whom we've been a bit critical of during this campaign cycle, has been sounding the alarm bells about a possible Trump victory recently (giving the Democrats fodder for many, many fundraising e-mails). Recently, he tweeted:

Never seen otherwise-smart people in so much denial about something as they are about Trump's chances. Same mistake as primaries, Brexit.

It's actually somewhat interesting, in that Silver got his start in baseball analytics. During that part of his career, there was a heated debate (now largely over) about the merits of old-school baseball scouting versus new-school numerical analysis. The old-school types said that the only way players could be evaluated was through subjective, gut-feel assessments rooted in experience. The new-school types said that while scouting was very valuable, so too was numerical analysis. In other words, the older generation preferred to use only one tool, while the newer generation preferred to use both. Silver seems to have forgotten this fight that he was a big part of, because in his political analysis he's aggressively pro-numbers, with almost total disdain for any sort of subjective, gut feel analysis. And since his numbers tell him Donald Trump has a 30% or 40% or 45% chance of winning, that's the end of the story. In a way, he's as guilty of the same stubbornness and tunnel vision as the crusty old baseball scouts he did battle with a decade ago.

By contrast, Daniel W. Drezner—an academic and Washington Post contributor—likes data, but also has some regard for gut feel and instinct. He shares our view that Silver is missing part of the picture, writing:

My model of this election is that Trump has a rigid core of supporters but also a hard ceiling on that support. Clinton has more voter support but also more "soft" support. These are voters who become easily disaffected when she has a bad news cycle or two. (It's also possible that those on the left get disaffected when she appeals to moderate Republicans and vice versa.) So when the race looks close, it's not because Trump is attracting Clinton voters, it's because possible Clinton voters are not feeling all that good about Clinton and might choose not to vote —or answer a pollster.

In this way, the very tightening of the race prevents Trump from winning. There is a bevy of voters who are not jazzed by Clinton but are petrified by a Trump presidency. Once polls start to show that it's close, they will decide to vote for Clinton or say so in a poll. When the lead expands, they get more complacent and disaffected by Clinton's flaws.

Another, and perhaps simpler, way to put Drezner's argument is this: Which seems more probable, a person who says, "If I absolutely have to, I'll hold my nose and vote Clinton," or one who says, "If I absolutely have to, I'll hold my nose and vote Trump"? The former certainly seems more likely, particularly given all the Clinton-ambivalent former Sanders supporters.

Drezner also makes some specific points in support of his argument:

  • There's no evidence that Trump is bringing new voters to the polls, despite his claims otherwise.
  • Clinton still has a comfortable lead in the swing states she needs to win.
  • Clinton has the better ground game; that could very well mean 1-3 points that polls aren't accounting for.
  • Clinton is not only better prepared for the debates, but she also has one-on-one debate experience (thanks, Bernie!) and Trump does not.

The upshot is that there is some reason to believe that Nate Silver and millions of Democrats are more pessimistic about Hillary Clinton than they really should be. (Z)

Politico Fact Checked Both Candidates for a Week

On Sept. 16, Donald Trump said he was not responsible for the birtherism campaign that tried to delegitimize President Obama. That was the last straw for Politico, a somewhat right-leaning publication. The publication decided to fact-check every statement made by both Trump and Clinton for an entire week and write a report on what it found. Here is what it learned:

The conclusion is inescapable: Trump's mishandling of facts and propensity for exaggeration so greatly exceed Clinton's as to make the comparison almost ludicrous.

Mathematically, Politico determined that Trump averaged one falsehood every 3 minutes and 15 seconds during his public appearances all week, for a total of 87 recorded lies. The Politico article provides a numbered list of all 87 lies, explaining what is wrong with each statement. Here is a very brief summary of some of the bigger ones.

  • Clinton plans a $1.3 trillion tax hike
  • Clinton's war on energy will cost our economy $5 trillion
  • [ISIL is] very strong...They were started by Hillary Clinton
  • Right now, the world has no respect for our country
  • I was against going into the war in Iraq
  • Our local police are afraid of going after terrorists for fear of being accused of profiling
  • Clinton would bring in 650,000 refugees
  • We're going to build the wall. Mexico's going to pay for the wall.
  • Hillary Clinton is taking the day off again, she needs the rest
  • I won 42 states in the primaries
  • My foundation gives money to vets
  • Lester Holt is a Democrat

Every one of those statements (and 65 others) are false. The truth about each issue is given in the article.

Clinton also lied, but far fewer times, and rarely about policy issues. Her lies were mostly about herself, for a total of 8 lies during the examination period, although she didn't speak as much as Trump did. (V)

Trump Campaign Hopes To Buy $140 Million in Ads

The Trump campaign plans to buy $100 million worth of television ads between now and Nov. 8, as well as $40 million worth of online ads. However, paying for them may be an issue, as the campaign had only $50 million cash on hand at the end of August. The ads will run in 13 swing states. So far, the campaign has spent only $22 million on TV and radio ads, compared to Clinton's $124 million. (V)

HB-2 Has Already Cost North Carolina Almost $400 Million

North Carolina's HB-2, the law that requires people to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate, is one of the hot campaign issues in the Tar Heel State. It's also been wildly controversial on a national level, causing artists to cancel concerts, businesses to think twice about planned expansions into North Carolina, and sports leagues to relocate major events. WIRED magazine wondered exactly how much money has been lost to the state, and came up with a figure just shy of $400 million.

This gives Democratic candidates—Hillary Clinton, senate hopeful Deborah Ross, and so forth—a fairly powerful hammer to wield. They can argue that HB-2 is unjust, and that even those who feel otherwise must still be concerned about the loss of nearly half a billion dollars to the state's coffers. Donald Trump and Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) don't really have an equivalent argument, unless it's, "Making sure people use the bathroom that matches their birth certificate is so important, it's worth any amount of money." Given that North Carolina looks to be very close, particularly the Senate race, this kind of thing might just be a difference-maker. (Z)

Bush May Make Another Run in 2020

On February 20, Jeb Bush ended his 2016 campaign, sent packing with tail between legs by a political amateur with zero experience in elected office. Apparently, though, Jeb—er, sorry, Jeb!—didn't learn his lesson. Bush has been personally calling his supporters and his donors, feeling them out for the possibility of a 2020 campaign. His pitch is that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be a one-term president, and that in four years the country will be ready for real leadership. Reportedly, Bush has been getting very positive responses.

One has to wonder if those responses are serious, or if Bush's friends and allies are merely being polite. In 2020, he'll still have the same liabilities that he had in 2016: lack of charisma, terrible public speaker, out of step with the modern GOP, voters are tired of the Bushes, and so forth. Meanwhile, he'll be four years further removed from his time as governor, with an elderly political base that will be four years older (at least, the ones still among the living). If Bush wants to tilt at windmills, and his supporters want to throw another $160 million down a hole, it's their business, of course. But even if a President Clinton or a President Trump proves to be a disaster, it's hard to see how Jeb Bush would be the one who steps into the breach. (Z)

Today's Presidential Polls

Maine's getting closer, and more importantly, support for Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump is split along geographic lines. She has the cities in the south, he has the rural areas in the north. Therefore, Maine looks likely to split its electoral votes for the first time, with Trump taking ME-02 and Clinton taking the state's three other EVs. However, Clinton is likely to pick up NE-01, so the two EV splitting-states will be a wash. (Z)

State Clinton Trump Johnson Start End Pollster
Colorado 40% 39% 7% Sep 21 Sep 23 YouGov
Maine 40% 36% 12% Sep 15 Sep 20 U. of New Hampshire
Minnesota 46% 39% 6% Sep 16 Sep 20 SurveyUSA
Missouri 37% 46% 5% Sep 21 Sep 23 YouGov
Virginia 45% 37% 7% Sep 21 Sep 23 YouGov

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep25 Nevada Is Proving Difficult for the Democrats
Sep25 Trump Accepts Cruz's Endorsement
Sep25 Cruz Begins 45-day Walk Along a Fine Line
Sep25 No Fortune 100 CEO Is Backing Trump
Sep25 New York Times Endorses Clinton
Sep25 Clinton Is Actively Chasing the Biggest Minority Group
Sep25 Philippe Reines Is Playing Trump in Clinton's Mock Debates
Sep25 Trump Might Put Gennifer Flowers in the Front Row Monday
Sep25 Trump Could Be a Harbinger Rather than an Aberration
Sep25 Appeals Court Strikes Down Ohio Voter Purge
Sep24 Ted Cruz Caves and Endorses Trump
Sep24 Cincinnati Enquirer Endorses Clinton
Sep24 Clinton's E-mails Will Not Be Released Before the Election
Sep24 Each Candidate Has Different Things to Think about before the Debate
Sep24 Trump's Money Woes Are Causing Internal Squabbles
Sep24 Trump Campaign: No Hablamos Español
Sep24 Eric Trump Says His Father Began With Just About Nothing
Sep24 Trump Adviser's Ties to Russia Being Investigated
Sep23 Ad Spending Reveals the Campaigns' Priorities
Sep23 Why Isn't Clinton 50 Points Ahead of Trump?
Sep23 75 Ambassadors Endorse Clinton
Sep23 Trump's Primary Opponents Give Advice on How to Debate Him
Sep23 How Trump Can Win the Debate
Sep23 Trump Warns Lester Holt About Fact-Checking
Sep23 Running for President for Fun and Profit
Sep23 Judge Rejects Attempts to Unseal Trump's Divorce Records
Sep23 Heck's Son Embarrasses Campaign
Sep22 Trump Attacks Washington Post Story about His Foundation
Sep22 Clinton's Bad September Could Help Her in the End
Sep22 Trump Supporters Respond to Fake Story about Trump's Taxes
Sep22 Trump Would Boost National Debt by More Than $5 Trillion
Sep22 Trump Endorses Stop-and-frisk as Solution to Inner-City Crime
Sep22 Cruz Considering Trump Endorsement
Sep22 About a Third of All Voters Are Voting Against Rather Than for a Candidate
Sep22 Trump Attacks Yellen for Helping Clinton
Sep22 Trump Could Continue to Run His Business from the White House
Sep22 Democrats Advise Clinton to Let Trump Hang Himself in Debate
Sep22 Political Commentary Is Full of Myths
Sep22 Billionaire Republican Commits $2 Million to Defeat Trump in Florida
Sep21 $258,000 of Trump Foundation's Money Went to Settle Personal Legal Issues
Sep21 Ethics Lawyers, Scientists Speak Out Against Trump
Sep21 Terrorist Acts Don't Help Trump
Sep21 Times Editor Confirms Change in Approach
Sep21 Donald Trump, Jr. Gets More Blowback about Skittles Tweet
Sep21 Trump Disparages Black Communities
Sep21 Local Issues Dominate North Carolina Races
Sep21 Karl Rove: Electoral Map Favors Clinton
Sep21 Trump Says that Holt Will Be Fair
Sep21 Senators Sniping at Each Other Over Judicial Nominees
Sep21 We Are Removing the Ipsos Polls from the Database