Driving across the country last week, it seemed hard to believe an American presidential election is happening a week from Tuesday. Few campaign signs sprout from urban lawns; partisan billboards along the highways are scarce. Away from the coasts, the talk on the radio is largely of football and Jesus, not politics. It takes a moment, hearing a spot in North Carolina for a US Senate candidate, to realize the voice belongs to President Obama, interrupting some country music.
Oh, there’s plenty of chatter about it in the raging echo chambers of talk radio and TV cable news, and in the cocksure journalists’ fun house known as Twitter, where in-the-tank reporters and dispossessed campaign consultants, smarting over their collective defeat in the primaries, smugly assure each other that Donald Trump will lose in a landslide.
But what if the widely swinging polls, turnout models and forecasting mechanisms are all wrong? What if the unique historical circumstances of this election — pitting the female half of a likely criminal family dynasty against a thin-skinned bull-in-a-china-shop businessman — have invalidated conventional wisdom? What if the ranks of shy voters storm the polls and, in the words of Michael Moore, deliver the biggest rebuke in history to the establishments of both parties?
What if, far from having a lock on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. come January, Hillary Clinton’s margin-of-error lead — currently between 4 and 5 points in the RealClearPolitics average of multiple national polls — turns out to be a Potemkin village, dependent on high turnout among blacks and other minorities and on getting late deciders to turn her way?
What if, in fact, the opposite happens — that Trump’s appeal to the disaffected white working class (many of them Democrats) in coal-mining and Rust Belt states outweighs the Democrats’ traditional advantages in the big cities, flipping a state like Pennsylvania from blue to red?
Welcome to the hidden election, where those who say they know what’s going to happen don’t, and those who do know will make their voices heard on Nov. 8.
Nationally, Clinton holds 3.8 points over Trump in a four-way race that also includes Libertarian Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein. But polls may not be everything this year.
Indeed, Hillary has suffered a major polling meltdown over the past week or so, hurtling from a 12-point lead to 4 points in the Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll.
The WikiLeaks revelations about her campaign’s dirty tricks, the pay-to-play nature of the Clinton Foundation, the astonishing personal enrichment of the Clintons via politics and the electrifying news Friday afternoon that the FBI is reopening its investigation into her use of a private e-mail server are finally taking a toll.