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U.S. Presidential Election : Campaigns Reach Critical Mass

By Shashi P.B.B. Malla
Both the Republican and Democratic election campaigns have now reached a frenzied pitch of electioneering in all the states of the union. After a series of self-inflicted wounds by the Republican candidate Donald J. Trump, his campaign is attempting to calm the troubled waters and vociferously attacking the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton personally and her policies. Clinton has a double-digit lead in most polls, in most states and also nationally, and according to common wisdom will now maintain this lead after more than two weeks subsequent to the national party conventions. If nothing crucial or dramatic happens in the coming 80 odd days before the nation-wide elections on Tuesday, November 8, she will most likely clinch the presidential elections. The next pivotal milestone on the critical path to the presidency will be the first presidential debate in early September.
It is of great import to note that in the end what counts is not the majority of the popular votes as such, but the decisive ‘electoral’ votes of the ‘Electoral College’ to get elected. The Electoral College is a process, not a place or institution. This was established in the Constitution of the United States as a compromise between an indirect election of the President by a vote in Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate) and direct election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens. Thus, when these vote for a presidential candidate in a particular state, they actually vote for the candidate’s electors. Each state’s entitled allotment of electors equals the number of members in its Congressional delegation, i.e. one for each member of the House of Representatives plus two for the Senators. Under the 23rd Amendment of the Constitution, the District of Columbia (the Washington, D.C. capital area) is allocated 3 electors and treated like a state for purposes of the Electoral College. The Electoral College consists of 538 electors. A majority of 270 electoral votes is required to elect the President. The key states with large number of electors are: Washington State (12), Virginia (13), New Jersey (14), North Carolina (15), Georgia (16), Michigan (16), Ohio (18), Illinois (20), Pennsylvania (20), Florida (29), New York (29), Texas (38), California (55).
Donald Trump sought to reboot his flagging presidential campaign last week, dismissing his tainted campaign chairman and seeking to broaden his shrinking support base by appealing to African-American voters and visiting flood-ravaged Louisiana. The resignation of the seasoned Republican strategist Paul Manafort, under fire for his pro-Kremlin ties and former role in a Ukrainian corruption scandal, was another fresh attempt by the maverick candidate to get back on track after weeks of internal crises. He has initiated staff changes in an attempt to usher in a greater focus on policy and a more serious tone. He has now appointed Steve Bannon, a right-wing news executive as CEO and promoted  pollster Kellyanne Conway to campaign manager, in what has signaled a marked new tone following colossal miscalculations. He has swapped his free-wheeling rally speeches for prepared remarks that stick to a single theme – with the use of a teleprompter, to avoid the usual gaffes, when he speaks ex tempore. Trump surprised many last Thursday by expressing “regret” for past mistakes, and started airing his first TV ads in a now desperate attempt to bridge the huge gap in the polls. The controversial New York billionaire followed up by touring a flood-ravaged region of Louisiana (which President Barack Obama was to visit on Tuesday), where officials say more than 86,000 people so far have registered for federal aid and 13 people have died. Clinton explained her own absence by saying that while her “heart breaks” for Louisiana, “right now the relief effort can’t afford any distractions.”
Unfortunately for Trump, the window-dressing of his campaign structure may have been too little, too late. A trend has materialized which is an unusual and unexpected development – Trump is gradually losing support among the bastion of his ‘white’ supporters, without whom his path to victory in November would lie in tatters. Trump has staked much of his legitimacy as a candidate on his strength in the polls, but the cold numbers speak a different story. He has claimed that millions of ‘angry’ white voters will catapult him into the White House, but many strategists doubt whether there are enough of them that will turn out to vote him to victory. Even in this key constituency, it now appears that “after a ceaseless stream of provocations, insults and reckless remarks,” Trump has now “damaged himself significantly with the one demographic (component) that stands as a bulwark to a Clinton presidency” (INYT). An adviser to Republican presidential and Senate candidates for more than 25 years made the dire prediction: “This is an electoral disaster waiting to happen.” The moot point among political pundits is whether the havoc Trump has caused himself is irreparable. Another vital fact is that his ratings among well-educated whites, women and non-whites are pathetic and are unlikely to improve. Can his public image of an infant terrible be revised?
In addition, Republican leaders, especially those seeking re-election to the House and the Senate, have become wary of Trump’s campaign which they feel is going nowhere. There is real fear that in addition to being trounced for the presidency, the Republicans will lose control of the Senate and also suffer substantially as regards their House majority. This dismal scenario encompasses the prospect that demoralized Republican voters will stay away on election day, independents will renounce the entire Republican ticket (i.e. candidates for the presidency and the House and Senate), and the Democrats will completely mobilize their own supporters. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina summed up succinctly: “People are getting pretty nervous about our candidates because he’s (Trump’s) in a death spiral here and nobody knows where the bottom is at.” Hillary Clinton already has a clear advantage in three states – Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and North Carolina – and together with Wisconsin and Illinois (which are most likely to change hands), could determine control of the Senate. In addition, Democrats enjoy an advantage in Indiana also. They need to win Senate seats in only four states to gain control. But with 80 days still to go, the dynamics of the campaigns could still swing around.

The writer can be reached at: shashipbmalla@hotmail.com  

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