Just days away from the second of three presidential debates, the fallout from the first meeting between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton has become pretty clear, and it’s terrible news for the GOP nominee. Both nationally and at the state level, Clinton has solidified her lead, raising the possibility that another poor performance on Sunday could send the Trump campaign into an electoral death spiral.
The latest analysis from the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia shows just how dramatically the contours of the race have been reshaped in the past two weeks. In their latest analysis of the electoral map, Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley of Sabato’s Crystal Ball see shifts across almost all of the major swing states, every one of them favoring Clinton.
Where prior to the first debate their analysis showed Clinton with a projected 272 electoral votes -- two more than she needs to win the Oval Office, but far from a comfortable margin, their latest map allocates 316 votes to Clinton, 215 to Trump, and leaves seven in the “toss-up” column. That means that, if their analysis holds, Clinton is now strong enough to survive the unexpected loss of one or even two swing states that currently appear to be leaning in her direction.
“As we await the second debate, it’s obvious that Hillary Clinton got a bounce from the first debate and has re-established a clear lead in the presidential race,” the Crystal Ball team writes.
“She has arrested her September decline and has grabbed a lead that suggests she could match or even exceed Barack Obama’s 2012 victory (four points nationally and 332 electoral votes).”
If, as expected, the race comes down to a handful of states that could go either way, like Florida and North Carolina, one of the key factors that will influence the final outcome of the race is one that can’t be fully accounted for until Election Day itself -- the campaigns’ respective state-level voter registration and get-out-the-vote operations. However, all indications are that Clinton has the advantage in that area.
“Here’s where Clinton’s better-funded turnout operation might come into play in diverse states where running a strong ground game requires months of preparation and millions upon millions of dollars,” they write. “It may also be that Trump has less room to grow in states like these because the white voters without a college degree in those states are already so Republican. These voters seem to be moving toward Trump in this election, but whites in the South already were more Republican than the national average and thus Trump may benefit less from his appeal among that demographic along the Atlantic Coast.”
At this point in the contest, it’s beginning to look as though Trump’s only real hope is a major shock to the electorate, strong enough to reshuffle the deck in multiple states. And that’s not the sort of thing an experienced campaigner like Clinton is going to hand her opponent in the final month of the election. If anything is going to rearrange the current map between now and November 8, it will almost certainly have to come from outside the two candidates’ campaigns.