Opinion Columns & Blogs

More questions in campaign’s final stretch

With the presidential debates Monday evening, the 2016 campaign has entered its final stage. For some, November 8 can’t get here fast enough, while others are still in a quandary as to how they are supposed to vote.

We enter fall with a much closer race than we saw after the conventions. Donald Trump picked up a major endorsement from Sen. Ted Cruz last week, indicating that the Republican nominee may finally be beginning to consolidate his base at a time when Hillary Clinton is facing renewed scrutiny over her health as well as questions about emails that won’t seem to go away.

There has been great movement in the polls over the summer. A race that started out as Hillary Clinton’s to lose almost looks like one she is trying to lose, after a year of some Republicans openly wondering if Donald Trump was deliberately trying to throw the election.

With less than 45 days to go the Real Clear Politics electoral map has 175 electoral votes in the “toss up” category. How undecided voters break over the next 45 days will determine the next president.

It often frustrates hyper-partisans that there can be undecided voters when the major candidates are as well known and well covered as they are — especially with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump having been established public figures for decades. It’s not that the undecided voters don’t know who the candidates are, but rather that they perhaps know them too well. Neither of these candidates is well liked.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released last week tells the story in stark detail. Hillary Clinton is viewed favorably by only 13% of undecided voters. For Donald Trump it is even worse. He is viewed favorably by only 5% of undecided voters. Meanwhile, 81% of undecided voters have an unfavorable view of Trump, compared to 64% for Clinton.

It’s almost fitting that the first presidential campaign of the reality show era enters the debate phase with so many states still up for grabs. Voters are going to have to get comfortable with one of these two candidates — or not. Third-party voting is likely to spike a bit this year, but there aren’t any polls that suggest an alternative candidate is close to winning a single electoral vote at this time.

The unease with the candidates at the top of the ticket does not appear to be manifesting itself in down ballot races at this time. As of now, Republicans look like they will hang on to control of the U.S. House, and remain competitive for control of the Senate.

In Georgia Donald Trump has started to show signs that his support is firming up to traditional Republican support. A Quinnipiac poll late last week showed Trump over Clinton by a seven-point margin in three-way race, and a six-point margin in a head-to-head matchup. Unlike other races, a 50% requirement is not required to win Georgia’s 16 electoral votes.

Senator Johnny Isakson shows significantly more strength than Trump in the same poll, boasting a 55 to 34 lead over Democratic challenger Jim Barksdale. Isakson needs to clear a 50% threshold to avoid a runoff which would occur in January, and is aided by the fact that he is generally popular with independent voters.

Barksdale meanwhile appears to be having difficulty connecting with his own party’s base. Polling at 34% of voters means that Barksdale is performing below the traditional “floor” of support for a Georgia Democrat in recent elections. Donations from former Gov. Roy Barnes and former Sen. Sam Nunn to Isakson — along with an open endorsement of Isakson from Senator David Scott — underscore Barksdale’s problems.

For those looking ahead to Georgia’s next round over religious liberty and LGBT legislation in the upcoming session of the General Assembly, a quick glance at North Carolina’s polls are in order. In the latest Real Clear Politics averages, Donald Trump and incumbent Senator Richard Burr lead by 1.8% and 1.9% margins, respectively. Incumbent Republican Governor McCrory is down 2.4% however, showing a bit of Republican defection in the wake of the controversial “bathroom bill” signed into law last year.

These polls were taken prior to the protests and riots in Charlotte. It is unknown as of yet if these will shake up the election which was set to be a litmus test for more or less religious freedom legislation.

In the interim, pop some popcorn, sit back, and prepare to be entertained; 2016 has been quite the unusual campaign thus far. The real show and the closing arguments are now about to begin.

Charlie Harper, executive director of PolicyBEST, a public policy think tank, is also the publisher of GeorgiaPol.com.