If the polls are to be believed, Hillary Clinton has the race all but sewn up. The Real Clear Politics average of polls shows her with a seven percentage point advantage over Donald Trump nationally.
A relentless assault by the Clinton campaign and by the media on Trump’s sexual past has done serious damage. Where he once led or was close nationally, those numbers have collapsed.
For her part, Clinton has largely been given a pass by the media. Revelations regarding her never-ending email saga – revelations that could have been devastating – have had little apparent effect. Clinton’s speeches to big Wall Street banks, her call for hemispheric open borders, the dirty dealings of her campaign chairman John Podesta and more, have gotten little coverage outside of talk radio and FOX News.
And thus Trump finds himself down by seven very late in the fourth quarter. For some perspective, no candidate has ever come back from a seven-point deficit three weeks ahead of an election.
The closest to such a comeback was Harry Truman in 1948.Polling was in its infancy then. Shortly after Labor Day, the Elmo Roper poll had Thomas Dewey holding a 13-point lead. Every political expert predicted a Dewey victory.
Yet we’ve all seen the famous photo of a triumphant Truman holding up that erroneous Chicago Daily Tribune headline.
That’s what Trump is hoping for.
National polls are of only nominal interest, however. The real story lies at the state level, where Electoral College votes are apportioned. There the picture is somewhat better – but by no means bright – for Donald Trump.
The Real Clear Politics electoral map shows Clinton with 256 electoral votes, just 14 shy of the number needed to win, and Donald Trump with 170. Toss-up states account for another 112 electoral votes.
If accurate, it means that Hillary Clinton needs only a couple of states to win the election. And if any of those states happened to be North Carolina, Ohio or Florida, one state would do it.
So by every conventional measure of U.S. presidential elections, the race is effectively over.
But this race had been anything but conventional.
Thus the importance of tonight’s debate. If Hillary gets out with only minor wounds, she can probably safely assume that she will win the election.
However, Trump now has exactly nothing to lose and Trump is Trump. If the media won’t get into the trove of dirt in Clinton’s emails, Trump certainly will. If the media wants to look the other way on apparent attempts at bribery of the FBI by the Clinton State Department, Donald Trump will shine the brightest possible light on it.
Twenty minutes in to the second debate, Donald Trump finally found his footing. He will come in to tonight’s debate confident and committed.
All of the numbers look good for Hillary. But Hillary herself doesn’t look good. Most voters – many Democrats included – don’t like her. She’s still vulnerable and Trump knows it.
Bottom line: Trump still has a chance.