After nearly two years of speculation, prognostication, calculation and now consternation, it is the moment we have all been waiting for — the time to vote and decide who will be the next president of the United States.
Yes, our long national nightmare will be over. And then a new one can begin.
The game of presidential politics is a never-ending business for us in the media. As soon as President Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney for re-election in November 2012, the media were already speculating who would be the next group of candidates vying for the White House.
The day after Election Day 2012, Public Policy Polling put out results of a survey showing Hillary Clinton up big over Joe Biden and Andrew Cuomo on the Democratic side looking to the presidential election in 2016. On the Republican side, another Public Policy Polling survey showed Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio up big over Mike Huckabee as possibilities for that same contest.
The Public Policy Polling survey was one for two. No one foresaw the rise of Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders or, most significantly, Donald Trump back in 2012.
Later, many wondered if the GOP’s solid showing in the 2014 midterms was a sign of things to come. A flurry of presidential announcements in March 2015 followed the midterms and quickly the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire became the most important thing to American democracy.
During the primaries we watched the usual, never-ending flurry of debate and pundits speculate about the possibility of a brokered or contested party convention.
Unlike in past primaries, Trump was an unpredictable wild card in the process. Trump established a lead early — almost immediately after announcing his candidacy. He demonstrated his early popularity by attracting big crowds to stadiums in Mobile and Huntsville leading up to last March’s Republican primary.
As Trump shook the presidential race this cycle, the state of Alabama also had a reinvigorated role in the presidential race. Prior to 2008 Alabama’s presidential primaries were later in the season. Over the last three elections, Alabama learned it is not necessarily how early the primary election is scheduled, but that there is power in numbers and partnering with other nearby so-called SEC primary states can have a larger impact on a primary race.
While the general election may have less significance, Alabama’s overall reliably Republican leaning and its heavily African-American Democratic voting base will keep it relevant in selecting the two major party candidates for presidential elections to come.
Once the candidates got past the intraparty fighting of the primaries, it was all about calculating the path to 270 electoral votes. The candidates have given the usual suspects — Ohio and Florida — a lot of time and attention, but in the late going the map has changed.
It’s not just enough for a Republican to win those two states anymore. But if a Democratic presidential candidate takes just one, it is probably over for the Republican.
“If Hillary Clinton wins Florida, Hillary Clinton will be president,” Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine said at a rally last week in Tallahassee.
He is right. While the population is generally split down the middle, give or take a percentage point or two, the way the Electoral College is laid out, winner-take-all states with major population centers go almost automatically to Democrats. Therefore, if you are a Republican and you want to be president, you’d better have those two locked up and be aiming to pick off one or two other states.
We are witnessing this phenomenon now. Clinton and her surrogates are barnstorming Florida in the late going. Trump has scaled back his Florida rally stops and is attempting to expand the map by scheduling events in Colorado, New Mexico, Michigan and Wisconsin.
All of this is not without the ugly part of the politics, which is the October (and sometime early November surprise). Trump misogynistic dirty talk and Hillary emails are the dominant themes of this campaign cycle, as each side tries to find a magic bullet that lessens the chances of the other side.
Perhaps it is happenstance, but Trump seems to be winning this stage of the battle — especially with the most recent development in Clinton’s ongoing email saga/scandal. Last week FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to Congress notifying it that his agency was reopening its investigation into possible criminal wrongdoing regarding the email server Clinton used while secretary of state.
The key in this stage of the election is to peak at the right time. Between the time I’m writing this and the time of publication, something else could emerge. It is just a matter of catching the tailwind right as people head to the polling place to vote. Polls are lagging indicators because they often don’t reflect the news of the moment.
A candidate can peak too early, as Clinton did after the Alicia Machado and “Access Hollywood” episodes. In some polls Clinton showed an 11-point lead as a result. Regardless, polling largely tightens in the remaining days of the election.
We are told that every presidential election is the most consequential of our lifetime — a cliché, to be sure, but one aimed at getting people out to vote. Whether that is the case or not this time around remains to be seen.
As far as the election goes, it will be remembered as one that defied what the textbooks say about campaigns and one that — in the age of WikiLeaks — offered the public a more up-close glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes.
Consultants, political scientists and history professors will be studying the 2016 race for many years to come.
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