by Paul McGeough
September 19, 2016
WASHINGTON: Hillary Clinton is in trouble - big, sweaty-palm trouble. Her polls are falling off a cliff, as Donald Trump-wary Republicans gradually shift from the "undecided" column to back a candidate who fills them with dread.
The decline has accelerated since Clinton's reckless "basket of deplorables" speech on September 9 and her seeming collapse in public on September 11, when she got knocked by a bout of pneumonia.
A once formidable Clinton advantage has evaporated.
Trump, by contrast is on a roll. Since the days after the Republican convention in July, he has risen almost steadily in the polls - chipping an incredible six points off Clinton's lead in averages of the polls, and seemingly immune in the minds of some voters to his shocking/appalling/inept/dumb utterances that analysts and pundits rate as political suicide.
It's as though, in the minds of voters, some other force - not Trump - is responsible for the verbiage that he sprouts. And in the face of a backlash, he doubles down, refusing to apologise and/or blaming others.
This is an incredible moment in modern American history. It is not overstating the case to say that both candidates are hated, but at this stage Republicans could be forgiven for resorting to that all-purpose adage in which those who invoke it insert their epithet of choice - which in this case would be something like: "he might be a f--- wit, but he's our f--- wit."
In another time and with another candidate, Trump's bizarre "Obama is not/is an American" nonsense and his reckless return on Friday to language that seems to invite a gun nut to go for Clinton would have sealed the deal for a runaway Democratic win.
The once formidable Clinton advantage has evaporated. Photo: Leigh Henningham
Let's face it - in any other cycle, neither party would have endorsed a Trump-like candidate. And if truth be told, the Democrats might have been less adamant that Clinton was their best standard bearer. Recall that, when she offered her services in 2008, the party said thanks, but no thanks.
Now that Clinton is back on the trail, it remains to be seen if she can claw back that sliding support and if the seemingly real threat of the Trumps moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue might send wary undecided voters back into Clinton's column.
Hillary Clinton. Photo: AP
Trump has mounted many comebacks - look at the dizzying graph that accompanies the Real Clear Politics average of national polls.
On six occasions since July 2015, the two candidates' respective lines of support have intersected or come within a few points of each other, before yo-yoing away from each other.
The decline has accelerated since Hillary Clinton's seeming collapse in public on September 11, when she got knocked by a bout of pneumonia. Photo: Twitter
The all-important question is this: where will those lines be in the days before the November 8 vote?
Equally important is this question: what impact might those levels of national support have on voter intention in the dozen or so swing states in which this election will be decided?
Donald Trump has seized the momentum. Photo: Bloomberg
The big risk for Clinton is that some undecided voters in swing states will be more inclined to get behind Trump if they sense that increasing numbers of voters nationally are ready to bet on him.
That's the hope in the noticeably cockier Trump bunker.
Claiming to have "the momentum and enthusiasm dynamics right now", Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway declared on the weekend: "People are starting to see that Trump can actually pull this off."
On this nerve-racking roller-coaster, Democrat vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine could be forgiven for feelings of whiplash.
Signing on in July, he rode a rising wave of support for Clinton, coming off a pre-convention low and cresting at close to 50 per cent at the end of August - only for her campaign to be dumped in recent days on the rocky shoals of the mid-40s.
Speaking in New Hampshire on Friday, Kaine, a senator and former Virginia governor, put a brave spin on his circumstances.
"This race is close [but] I'd rather be us right now than them," he said.
"I think we have a more straightforward path to win and they have a more complicated path. But [there's] nothing to take for granted because, let's be honest, it's been a season of surprises."
Ditto Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook, who told The Washington Post he expected the polls to get worse before they get better.
"We expected this to tighten. We expect it to tighten even further - that's why we built a robust campaign in all 50 states, but especially in the battleground states," he said.
"It's going to come down to small margins ... We're spending a lot of time making sure of our vote."
More troubling for Camp Clinton than the national polling, is a fracturing of support in vital swing states such as Florida, Iowa, and Ohio - and how it factors into the distribution of votes in the Electoral College, which tilts much more favourably for Clinton than it does for Trump.
She's in trouble, too, in North Carolina and Nevada and on the verge of crisis in New Hampshire, Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia. All these are states in which Democrats claimed they were spending so much and had such fabulous grassroots operations that victory was, or close to, being in the bag.
The Trump campaign's Conway is loving it all.
"Everybody loves a winner," he said.
"People now see these polls tightening where we're up, tied or within the margin of error in nearly all of the swing states."
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