If the polls have indicated anything, it is that Hillary Clinton has completely blown this contest. Her standing in every major poll is down from its high in July, her favorable and trust numbers have dropped like a rock since the drip, drip, drip of the email and Clinton Foundation scandals have persisted and Trump has actually resembled a more traditional candidate.
Recently, the candidates participated in a Presidential Forum which showcased their strengths and weaknesses. For Trump, his strength is being an outsider. But, more importantly, he does not have a record to defend. Matt Lauer trying to pin him down on Iraq is hard when you don’t have a vote to point to and only a soundbite. Of course, saying trust me is not the foundation strong foreign policy credentials are built on.
Clinton’s strength is her record and her weakness IS her record. Clinton can point to her foreign policy expertise and argue she has the experience to lead. Except, she voted for the War in Iraq, made questionable decisions as Secretary of State, and is running as Obama’s third term.
In truth, neither candidate came out of the forum a winner. Trump showed he lacks foreign policy experience and Clinton showed she lacks judgement and does not take responsibility for past decisions. Indeed, if anything, the forum highlighted that the final 60 days of this election will be a marathon, not a sprint.
If this election was a sprint Clinton would not have built massive lead in the polls for months only to see it disappear in July (on the eve of the Conventions). In August, she would not have built that lead back up only to see it start to disappear yet again.
Essentially, the contest between Trump and Clinton has fluctuated so much that even a small event can have a huge impact. Another Clinton scandal, another Trump gaffe, could significantly impact the race in ways we cannot anticipate.
While Trump has benefitted from this phenomenon, the Clinton camp has obviously anticipated the race to be a sprint. They keep expecting every Trump gaffe to be his death knell and every time he has come back. The problem for Clinton is that if you assume a race is won or lost quickly you tend to try to run out the clock and that is exactly what she’s done.
The result has been to give the media and Trump camp time to beat up on her in a vacuum. Only in the last week as the Clinton campaign responded in a sign they recognize their miscalculation and are trying to mitigate the damage. Problem is that the damage is everywhere in polls. In Ohio, Florida and North Carolina Trump has climbed to parity. He has put Wisconsin and Michigan in play and appears to have stabilized in Arizona (though a lack of decent polls out of the state makes this far from a certainty).
The media might be slow to pick up on the shift in the race but it is becoming more clear that this race will not be a blowout. Clinton is simply too unpopular to win in a landslide. Trump, if he wins, will have to count on Johnson and Stein to suck up liberal, young votes and prevail in a squeaker.