Debate #3 Rambling Review

I don’t have time for thematic organization and flowing paragraphs. Time for some rambling.

In the first debate, they shook hands before and after. In the second, it was only after. Last night, there were no handshakes. If there were a fourth debate, they might not even look at each other.

In the second debate, the first half hour was the most embarrassing 30 minutes of the election. In the third debate, however, the first half hour was surprisingly civil. It was as if, for a couple questions at least, they still retained all the advice they got about being positive and on message. Chris Wallace did a great job bring up issues where the two candidates disagreed, and then they each talked about their positions. The debate gradually circled the drain afterwards, but for a while we had a real debate,

It was remarkable that on those early issues, each candidate proudly and eagerly disagreed. Little spin was necessary; both candidates felt that clear differentiation from one’s opponent was all that was required. On abortion, Hillary Clinton boasted about her support of a women’s right to choose. Donald Trump proudly countered as pro-life, admitting he would appoint judges that would overturn Roe v. Wade. On guns, Trump brandished his pro-Second Amendment credentials with the NRA, while Clinton tried to use his closeness with the NRA against him. That was what debates between Democratic and Republican nominees are supposed to look like!

I’ll join the refrain that loved Chris Wallace’s performance as moderator. He surely earned another invitation in four years, assuming President Trump allows another election to be held. In the early stages mentioned above, he brought up each candidate’s more controversial positions — Trump’s support for unrestricted assault rifle and high magazine capacity access and Clinton’s allowance for late term abortion when the life of the mother is at risk — and did his best to force them to answer when the candidates bobbed and weaved. He also worked in immigration, the national debt, and entitlements three pressing issues to which moderators from the first two debates gave little time.

My favorite five seconds of this entire election: “No puppet. No puppet. You’re the puppet! No you’re the puppet!”

For voters claiming to prefer positivity and solutions over negative attacks and accusations, any viewer who made it to the unprepared closing statements found a clear contrast there. Clinton went first, and she reached out to both parties and independents, saying we need to pull together to help children and families against the powerful by raising income and improving education. Trump countered with accusations about Clinton’s motivations, an America that’s going to Hell, attacks against Clinton’s apathy toward minorities, and a condemnation of the Obama presidency. One can argue about the accuracy or sincerity of either candidate’s closing statement, but in regards to positivity and solutions, there is no comparison.

I thought Trump won on immigration and trade, and he was vastly improved on justifying his foreign policy, even if he was a rambling, pigeon-feeding old man on Syria and Iraq, including when he again had no idea what was going on in Aleppo, which Wallace called him out on and Trump responded with as much misdirection he could muster. I continue to think that if Trump just talked more about those issues and spent less time digging a deeper hole on all the personal stuff, he’d be doing a lot better. But his ego can’t let anything slide.

Really, it was, by far, his best debate yet, primary or general. (Low bar, but still.) I’m forced to wonder if this novice has, with experience, just started to learn the art of the debate. I wouldn’t be surprised if he challenged Clinton to another one, which she would of course refuse (you know, like the drug test) allowing him to turn that into a talking point on cowardice. That’s not to say she’s an inferior debater — she again proved much more knowledgeable, prepared, and even-tempered (which Trump is now baselessly attributing to advance knowledge of the questions) — but with a big national lead, she wants to limit as many remaining variables as possible.

Clinton was strong, too, particularly on taxes, the debt, and entitlements (three areas where, with a more competent, well-read candidate, Republicans traditionally have the advantage). Trump kept saying untrue things (“she’s going to double your taxes”??), while both Clinton and Wallace referenced nonpartisan sources that favored Clinton’s plans, which frustrated Trump. On entitlements, he was lost at sea without a compass, talking instead about cutting taxes and repealing Obamacare like he was a broken, angry robot until Wallace just gave up trying to get an answer. Clinton, by comparison, was calm, confident, and detailed. Debate prep again served her well.

Still, her pathetic attempt to move from “open borders” (a prime example of how misleading a quote out of context can be) to Trump’s supposed friendship to Putin was cringe-worthy. Trump had a great comeback to it that would have been the most memorable moment of the night (“That was a great pivot off the fact that she wants open borders. Okay? How did we get on to Putin?”) if it weren’t for…

…Trump’s stubborn refusal to admit that more people might vote for Hillary Clinton over him. Despite Trump’s improvement in last night’s debate, we’re all faced with the same headline this morning: Trump Does Not Promise to Respect Election Results. Perhaps the worst part was that he was so flippant about it (“I’ll keep you in suspense,” he said fighting off a smirk), as if it weren’t an incredibly and dangerous serious position he was taking.

The liberal media pounced on it to deflect from Trump’s improved performance, while the narrative from the conservative media is that he would have won the debate going away except for this colossal error that cost him that victory. Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt said Trump won 14 of 15 rounds but knocked himself out in the other. Fox News’s Charles Krauthammer said Trump was winning “on points” before committing “political suicide” with the gaffe.

It’s a microcosm of the campaign, really. If Trump stuck to trade, immigration, and being an outsider that can clean up the mess in Washington, he’d be doing much better. And you know that to whatever extent he had debate prep, he was warned this question was coming and what the proper way to answer it was — that is, a quick promise to abide by the election results (which he already at the end of the first debate!) and then get back to the issues that made him popular. But when he gets conspiratorial and crazy-uncle-ish, he loses credibility. Enough people are clearly fine with his ignorance on the nuances of domestic policy or total guess-work when asked about specifics on the world stage, so if he can just be the candidate of change, he’d probably win, especially against this Democratic nominee.

But the man can’t get out of his own way, and that — not a biased media or crooked local poll volunteers — is why he’ll probably lose this election.

Sorry for any typos. Back to work.


Debate 3: The Return of the Red Eyes


We had “A New Hope.” We had “The Dempire Strikes Back.” Now it’s time to finish the trilogy with “Return of the Red Eyes,” a thinly veiled complaint about how it’s increasingly hard for an east coast high school teacher like me to stay up for these brutally late debates, which date back to August of last year. (Speaking of being a high school teacher, please forgive the near week of not posting; fatherhood, 50 essays, 50 writing-intensive tests, and a dozen or so recommendation letters take precedence over one’s hobby.) But with under three weeks until the election, onward I march for as long as I can stumble forward.

As implied by my third (and almost certainly final, you’ll be relieved to know) Star Wars crawl, I’m not as confident about Hillary Clinton’s assured victory as conventional wisdom is. She’s surely the favorite, but not to the tune of 87 to 92 percent, as some would have you believe. Dating back to last decade and reflected again this primary and general election, she’s at her most vulnerable when things are going well.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is extremely dangerous with his back against the wall. Being so far down in national polling means any bit of momentum can easily be converted into a comeback narrative, especially by a media that will A) look for ways to shed its biased label and B) benefit from a closer race down the stretch. That burst of momentum can come from a variety of places: undecided GOP voters finally coming home to their party’s nominee (only 80 percent currently support him, according to a Fox News poll); a return to a comparatively principled campaign like the kind that saw him close the gap in late September; a Wikileaks bomb of atomic proportions; or a successful Trump Hail Mary, a heave he’s clearly willing to attempt. Combined, these scenarios give him better than the one-in-ten chance at which some other sites fancy him. He’s a wounded animal. Approach with caution.

A Trump comeback can start with tonight’s debate. It’s hard to believe that this debate can be as anticipated as the first one, which was their first melee, and their second, which happened at the height of Tapegate. But it is.

In one sense, it’s a rubber match that can settle the score between Clinton’s dominant first debate and Trump’s successful rattling of Clinton’s cage in the second. Both sides will surely claim victory tonight in an effort to win the series, but undecided voters will be the true judges.

I’m also looking forward to the Chris Wallace factor. Tonight’s moderator is perhaps Fox News’s most respected anchor. As a stalwart ambassador of conservative media, it will be difficult for Republicans to spin a Clinton debate victory as the machinations of a liberal media conspiracy. At the height of Trump’s alarming charges of a rigged electoral process (as if he couldn’t possibly lose fairly with the campaign he’s run) (and as if elections run by local citizens are controlled by a federal mastermind, including in states with Republican governors) (and no, he doesn’t just mean the media is rigged, but actual polling places) (why? Because the party has nominated a conspiracy theorist who makes Oliver Stone look rational), a strong Clinton performance with a Fox News moderator could effectively push back against such rhetoric.

At the same time, Clinton can expect to face long overdue moderator scrutiny on her emails, the Clinton Foundation, and the bevy of controversial revelations from the daily Wikileaks dumps. She’ll need every last bit of Clintonian obfuscation to come out unscathed. If she wore a collar tonight, we would see her frequently tug at it.

Finally, the last debate is must-watch television because if either candidate had a card they were waiting to play until it could do the most damage, tonight is the night to play it. There is no fourth debate. There are no more chances to speak to 50 million viewers in the hopes of skewering one’s opponent, and there are no more opportunities to make up for the last debate performance. This is it. Our last impression.

Indeed, we will probably never again see these two people together. It’s our last chance to observe them side by side. So let’s do it. One last time before the 2016 election, let’s resist our heavy eyelids and the sore, red eyes they want to protect from seeing any more of the scariest reality show ever. May the force be with us all.

Photo of beautiful woman with magnificent hair. Fashion photo

Presidential Poetry for America

It’s been a dramatic week nationally, and I’m in the midst of a busy stretch personally. Let’s unwind with some poetry! You might remember my haikus from the Democratic Primary. (If so, my deepest apologies.) Let’s start with some more of those before entering into uncharted waters.

Presidential Haikus for America

After that debate,
Fresh hell has been ignited.
Watch out, RNC!

Trump’s now “unshackled.”
I guess he wasn’t before?
Who can even tell.

Ryan and McCain,
Who withdrew their support, are
Now weak and foul-mouthed.

Trump and the party’s
New relationship status:
“It’s complicated.”

Now more poems from
Presidential Politics
For America:

Presidential Acrostics for America

Wow, this looks bad.
I can’t say that I’m surprised, though.
Kellyanne Conway couldn’t even spin this,
If she were on the other side.
Looks like the DNC and media looked favorably on Hillary Clinton.
Even if you can understand why, it’s deceptive.
Although coordination is too strong a word,
Keen is not; the DNC wants to win, after all.
Still, their correct assumption that she’d win doesn’t absolve their favoritism.

I‘ll tell you,
Let’s agree that the former president
Lacks the slickness of his younger days.
Could he be more of a
Liability right now?
I don’t know what’s worse: his sex scandals,
Nicely criticizing Obamacare, or
Terming Trump supporters as rednecks.
Once he was an asset, but now?
Not so much.

Presidential Limerick for America

There once was a billionaire Donald
Who dabbled in marrying models.
On the edge of November,
He had a run to remember,
Until he bragged about women he fondled.

Presidential Sonnet for America (and Ken Bone)


My dear Ken Bone with your divine red sweater,
You’ve shown us all that this year can be better.
You earned our love, our memes and endless rants
When we learned that your butt had split your pants.
But no hateful or unfaithful online troll
Will come close to ever ripping your sweet soul.
May your mustache always grow in all its glory,
And your outfit soon be back in inventory.
For Halloween we all just wanted to be you.
Sweet rotund and crimson clad our precious boo.
You’re the greatest undecided we have known.
We’re forever grateful we know Kenneth Bone.

See you next time!
(When I promise I won’t rhyme.)


Trump Pivots, Paces, Lurks … Wins?

Below are ten PPFA thoughts from last night’s horrific debate (transcript here), which started with a moderator asking a candidate for the presidency of the United States if he was aware he had bragged about committing sexual assault. (If you understandably need a laugh instead of a debate review this morning, I recommend these 38 tweets. Ken Bone 2016!)

1. In the first half hour of this town hall debate, the town hall was nowhere to be found. Filling much of that time was Donald Trump throwing everything he could find at his opponent. (If you looked closely at the base of Hillary Clinton’s lectern, you could see remnants of a kitchen sink.) Trump charged that Hillary Clinton laughed at a rape victim.  He raised old names like Paula Jones and Sydney Blumenthal. He imitated that there is still a rivalry between her and the Obamas, and between her and Bernie Sanders, despite their vociferous support of her candidacy. He grilled her on the 33,000 emails. He called her the devil. He said if he was president she would be in jail. The veracity of these claims can be, depending on one’s preferred media outlet, debunked or affirmed, but what is undeniable is that very little of this opening half hour was spent talking about the undecided voters in the room.

2. Still, it’s important to note that this was the Donald Trump his supporters were hoping would show up ever since they started voting for him in the primaries. The first debate was a let down for them because he didn’t get personal.  Last night, he corrected that disappointment. He gave voice to internet chat rooms across the country; their avatar of anger showed up. Moreover, someone clearly taught Trump the art of the pivot, though instead of a paintbrush he’s more of a cudgel man. Compared to the first debate, he was much more prepared to go on the offensive this time around. He criticized Obama-Clinton with nearly every diatribe, succeeding more as a prosecutor of them than as a defendant of his own past.

3. That’s not to say Trump had what we can call a “good” debate. Such a description is only apt if we at the same time recognize just how lowered his bar has become. After all, in 90 minutes, he admitted he didn’t pay federal income taxes; threatened to jail his political opponent; described said political opponent as having “tremendous hate in her heart”; was clearly clueless about Aleppo (an astonishing ignorance considering the ridicule Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson received over it); openly disagreed with his own vice president on the minor issue of foreign policy; and tried to normalize boys’ club jocularity on sexual assault and rape culture.

4. Oh, can I talk about that last one, please? Thanks! Trump’s plan to survive his vulgar caught-on-tape moment is two-fold:

  • 1) The “Boys Will Be Boys” Doctrine, which this weekend was amended to include the just as infuriating “Locker Room Talk” Corollary. While we’ve all probably said things we’re grateful weren’t taped, I, and surely most of you, have never joked about forcing ourselves — and bragging about such force — onto women by grabbing their genitals. To lump the rest of us men into his defense was presumptive and, despite his apology, a rejection of personal responsibility.
  • 2) The “Why Are We Talking About My Past When ISIS Is Chopping Off Heads?” Defense. This strategy and its many variants are used whenever a candidate knows he or she is on the wrong side of an issue and needs to downplay its importance. The problem with that is that it implies a ranking of all potential issues and concerns an American voter can have and determines the one about which they should most care. If true, it’d be as if we put all issues on a spectrum from least to most important, like so:


If some candidates think, “we shouldn’t waste time talking about ‘low priority issue x’ while ‘high priority issue y’ is what Americans really care about,” then they A) Will interpret what Americans really care about, a subjective process that will lead to only one’s own priorities being discussed, and/or B) Have to admit nothing — not the economy, not the debt, not NAFTA, and least of all the temperament of our leaders — is as important as their singular most important issue, and we therefore shouldn’t “waste time” talking about them.

Thankfully, Americans have a funny way of deciding for themselves what’s important in their country and in their leaders.

5. I’m sure there will be charges of media bias against moderators Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz, who pressed and interrupted Trump considerably more often than they did Clinton. While that’s objectively true, and Raddatz may have crossed the line when she arguably injected too much of her own analysis into the debate, Trump also wandered off topic more frequently, a problem that is precisely the role of the moderator to correct. In fact, for all his complaining about not getting equal time, Trump actually spoke for 65 five seconds longer than Clinton did.

6. Moreover, for the second straight debate, the Trump Campaign lives in a glass house when it comes to throwing accusations of interruptions. Much like the first debate, he interrupted Clinton 18 times or more, with Clinton only doing it one to three times back. If the conservative right praised Mike Pence for his superior behavior whilst also criticizing Tim Kaine for his incessant interruptions, than nothing short of hypocrisy can explain why that doesn’t go both ways. (For the record, Presidential Politics for America chides rudeness universally.)

7. Instead, the closest thing to anti-Trump media bias was that, for the second straight debate, there were no questions on illegal immigration, Trump’s top issue. Chris Wallace, the third debate moderator, must place that topic into the first half hour. After all, it’s the third most important issue on “Presidential Politics for America’s Priorities Spectrum for America.”

8. Much has been made about the “visuals” of the candidates. I don’t think we should exaggerate its importance, but we can also acknowledge it as some of the most bizarre optics in debate history. Trump’s pacing — almost stalking — during Clinton’s responses was mesmerizing. He was like a bull before the charge; look closely and you could see smoke ejected from his nostrils. (Perhaps all the sniffing tries to keep it in?) Most notably, when Clinton moved to Trump’s side of the room to speak with a voter, Trump hovered a few feet behind, towering over her by a foot and a comb over. If you remember that Vice President Al Gore lost points on getting too close to Governor George W. Bush in 2000, the visuals can make a difference.

9. As for the substance of the debate, Clinton was considerably off her game. For most of the night, it seemed she didn’t know how to handle Trump’s tirades. My guess is that she was instructed to calmly say “That was false” before annoyingly redirecting us to instead of more strongly standing up for herself and husband. Unfortunately, such passivity allowed Trump to control the debate. His Aleppo ignorance, for example, was the perfect moment for Clinton to contrast herself as the informed candidate. That means holding him to task for his obtuseness, not just reciting her sixth straight practiced response. After a strong start to her debate — before the car went off the rails — she never looked comfortable again, which was a marked difference from the first debate. Trump should be given credit for that; his asymmetrical warfare kept her off balance.

10. So was that a Trump win? And what now? PPFA’s pathetic prescience faces a considerable challenge. I do think his loose cannon prosecution of the Democratic nominee was catnip to any Republican voters who were on the verge of abandoning him. Plus, unlike the first debate, CNN’s poll suggest Trump did better this time around (even with the survey’s Democratic oversampling), while Frank Luntz’s focus group — which awarded Clinton the first debate — suggest that Trump won the debate and undecided voters.

At the same time, Trump was already going nova, and there’s a decent chance that not even Spock’s red matter could have reversed it. (Too obscure a reference? Okay, full refund.) While Trump may have galvanized any supporters on the edge of desertion, to more than reverse the momentum of the previous 48 hours was probably impossible. Remember, his deficit was already growing before the tape. The tape then surely made it worse, which was essentially double the momentum working against him.  The goal of the night, I think, was to punt on a full comeback to later in the month and instead put his Republican electorate back together again. If he broke even on the weekend, then the debate was a huge success, and I guess that makes him the winner. I guess.

Moving forward, assuming Trump feels good about last night’s performance, I’m genuinely worried that he is now in scorched-earth mode. He might lose the election, but he’ll torch the countryside in a last ditch effort to win. Clinton lacks the hose with which to combat such pyromania, so she’ll continually remind us of the gross tape and other crude Trump remarks. PPFA can’t promise it has the stomach for much more of it. If you thought the debate was ugly, just wait for these last four weeks.


Debate #2: Are You Not Entertained?

My favorite movie, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, is mostly known for two scenes. In one, our protagonist, Maximus, unmasks himself to an astonished emperor who had ordered him dead. In the other, he thrills the crowd with his gladiatorial talents before frustratingly interrogating the audience, “Are you not entertained?! Is this not why you are here?!” With tonight’s town hall-style debate, when our presidential combatants will put on a show for an audience that surrounds them in the room and across the country, I can’t help but see similarities in the ancient blood sport and our current political clash. We are both disgusted and enthralled by this age-old struggle for power.

On the heels of the first presidential debate and Friday’s lewd leak, Donald Trump’s low bar for success has been lowered nearly to the ground. We pundits are trying to determine if the town hall format helps or hurts him. On the one hand, Trump is a successful schmoozer — some might call him a con-man — who excels at the seductive conversation. A town hall debate will allow him to work the audience in one-on-one situations, charming the country through the proxies in the room. On the other hand, Trump will be admonished if he loses his temper with, or blames his inadequacies on, audience members. He’s proven that slamming the liberal media is a foolproof rallying cry for Republican candidates; doing the same to innocent, undecided voters is not.

Let the record show that he once again swears he is not preparing for the debate. We know this because he told us so while doing a town hall in New Hampshire that, again, was definitely not preparation. In his words “Forget debate prep — give me a break.” True to form, the event, in which a pro-Trump moderator asked questions from a pro-Trump crowd, bears little resemblance to what he and Hillary Clinton will face tonight.

Helping Trump in advance of the debate is town hall extraordinaire and potential Stockholm Syndrome-candidate Chris Christie. Governor Christie was praised time and time again by this website for his town hall and debate skills during the Republican Primary. No candidate better pivoted responses to make them about the voters rather than the candidate. Trump, while he often says he’s running for the common man, hasn’t convinced anyone of this but his most ardent supporters. If anything could soften Trump’s image, it would be borrowing from Christie’s playbook in how to give those answers.

The bottom line for the Republican nominee is that he must stay focused on the task, which is to A) Repeatedly stick to the issues that make him popular: trade, illegal immigration, and a withdrawal from foreign intervention; B) Pivot to Clinton’s heavy baggage rather than count on the questions to do it for him; and C) Emphasize that he’s the candidate of change. This is, after all, a change election, but he needs to be a sane alternative to the known quantity. Therefore, he must avoid his trademark tangents and wandering responses, and he certainly needs to shout down his baser urges that implore him to bring up affairs and other personal attacks. (He warned us this week that he can be nasty. Yeah. We know.) That plays great to the supporters he already has, but swing voters want solutions, not tabloid headlines.

Clinton, meanwhile, has the same priorities from the first debate. She must remain calm when Trump cranks up the decibel levels. She also needs to channel her husband’s famed 1992 town hall performance, when he successfully contrasted himself with President George H.W. Bush by speaking directly to voters in language they could understand and with all the empathy he could muster. Among Hillary Clinton’s many weaknesses is her seeming lack of humanity; she’s seen as robotic and rehearsed, almost like she’s trying way too hard to pass the Turing test. (Another Ridley Scott film comes to mind.) She can escape a podium debate with such flaws, but a town hall debate is a different animal. We know she’s prepared with information and defenses of her dubious record, but can she replicate just the right amount of compassion in just the right moments?

Clinton also needs to be ready for a more aggressive Donald Trump. PPFA and others noted that Trump didn’t create his own chances at the first debate, eschewing the mention of controversial Clintonian topics like the Clinton Foundation and Benghazi in favor of having no plan whatsoever then blaming Lester Holt for it the next day. Trump has vowed to hit harder in the second debate, including getting personal. Such asymmetrical warfare provides magnificent popcorn television for us, but it surely gives fits to the Clinton debate team.

It’s worth noting that there’s a chance it’s already too late for Trump. Yesterday’s comments have caused a firestorm that the media would like us to believe is a breaking point. Moreover, swing voters might have made up their minds at the first debate and not need to see anymore. It’s almost assured that the second debate will not earn the record numbers of the first. The novelty is gone, first of all, but the middle day of a three-day weekend is not ideal. Plus, Giants-Packers doesn’t help. (It gains more national interest than Saints-Falcons did during the first debate.) We have to wonder if the first debate already cast the die onto the electoral playing board.

The most famous casting of the die, of course, was Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon. With that decision, a civilization of coliseums and republican politics descended into civil war. You know, like today. It may be gross, and it may be shameless, but boy — am I entertained. Enjoy the debate!


Electoral Math: ONE MONTH OUT

At six months to go before the election, Presidential Politics for America projected a 276 to 262 Electoral College result in favor of Hillary Clinton. Three months later, Clinton extended her projected win to 320 to 218. Since then, however, Donald Trump significantly closed the gap. With only one month left, just how close is it?

I’m not taking any stones away from the Blue and Red walls, though I considered doing so. Trump has expanded the map, challenging in the Democratic-leaning states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Maine. Heck, two of the last three New Jersey polls had Clinton up only four and six points. The Democrats are also threatening in a few reliably red states, Georgia and Arizona chief among them. Still, it’s the Democrats that have, according to Real Clear Politics, lost more “leaners” to the “toss-up” column.

That being said, I fully expect all the states listed in the previous paragraph to stick with recent history. The polls might be closer than we expect in each of them, but for the most part they show consistent leads that are unlikely to evaporate in the last month, barring a game-changer. Since winning a state by one vote gives the candidate all its electoral votes, we shouldn’t get caught up in smaller-than-normal margins. In the immortal words of Vin Diesel, “It don’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile. Winning’s winning.”

In an election where both sides despise their opponent, we should expect no surprising flip-flop from states that have voted for one of the parties in every election this century. I’ll need to see those polls tighten deep into October in order to believe those numbers are anything more than mirages in underpolled states largely ignored by the campaigns. The only exception to everything I just said is that I’m giving Trump one of the electoral votes from Maine, which is one of two states (with Nebraska) that allows Congressional districts to cast an electoral vote. Maine’s second Congressional district loves Trump.

As a result, in today’s race to 270, we start at Clinton 234, Trump 192, with nine battleground states in play. I call those states the Presidential Politics for America Purple Playing Field (or PPFAPPF), and it has 112 electoral votes up for grabs. Here are those states and their electoral value:

The Purple Playing Field: Florida (29), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), North Carolina (15), Colorado (9), Nevada (6), Iowa (6), New Mexico (5), New Hampshire (4).

And below is a prediction of how they’ll vote on November 8:

Florida (29 electoral votes)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Republican
2000: Republican
Six Months Out polling average: Clinton 46.5, Trump 42.2 (Clinton +4.3)
Three Months Out polling average: Clinton 44.7, Trump 42 (Clinton +2.7).
One Month Out polling average: Clinton 46.6, Trump 43.4 (Clinton +3.2). (Like last time, for each of today’s polling averages I’ll only use two-way polling unless a three- or four-way with Gary Johnson and Jill Stein provides a sizable discrepancy. The reason is because I think most Johnson/Steiners willing to offer a preference in a two-way race will end up going with one of the two major parties. Otherwise, they’d be listed as undecided in the two-way.)
Miscellaneous: Trump continued to shave Clinton’s lead up until the end of September. In fact, a couple September polls had Trump up four points. Then we had the first debate, and now Clinton is back in front. However, for a couple of reasons, Democrats shouldn’t celebrate quite yet. First, it’s hard to imagine the next two debates going much better for Clinton. If anything, Trump’s bar has been lowered even further. It’s not unreasonable to think that Trump regains Floridian momentum as the first debate fades from memory. Second, with more than 2.5 million early voting ballots mailed in, Republicans outpace Democrats.
Current edge: Trump
Running tally (which started at 234 – 192, Clinton): 234-221, Clinton

Pennsylvania (20)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Democratic
2000: Democratic
Six Months Out polling average: Clinton 45.8, Trump 38.8 (Clinton +7.0)
Three months out polling average: Clinton 49.3, Trump 41.3 (Clinton +8.0)
One month out polling average: Clinton 49.0, Trump 41.5 (Clinton +7.5)
Miscellaneous: At the beginning of this week, I started gathering the polling for today’s column. Pennsylvania’s said Clinton 45.4, Trump 43.0 (Clinton +2.4). What a different a debate and a week of polling makes! Clinton has regained control of a state that has voted Democratic in the last six elections. It’s always tight, but the Democrats find a way to turn out more of their voters. They will again in November.
Current edge: Clinton
Running tally: 254-221, Clinton.

Ohio (18)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Republican
2000: Republican
Six Months Out polling average: Clinton 45.5, Trump 42.5 (Clinton +3)
Three Months Out polling average: Clinton 42.6, Trump 41.8 (Clinton +0.8)
One Month Out polling average: Trump 45.2, Clinton 44.0 (Trump +1.2)
Miscellaneous: We have a new leader in Ohio. Trump won six of the last eight Ohio polls, and Clinton’s two leads were by just 1 and 2 points. Even with a good couple weeks for the Democratic nominee, Ohio still wants to MAGA.
Current edge: Trump
Running tally: 254-239, Clinton.

North Carolina (15)
2012: Republican
2008: Democratic
2004: Republican
2000: Republican
Six Months Out polling average: Clinton 45.8, Trump 42.5 (Clinton +3.3)
Three Months Out polling average: Clinton 44.0, Trump 43.5 (Clinton +0.5)
One Month Out polling average: Clinton 45.0, Trump 43.7 (Clinton +1.3)
Miscellaneous: Trump was leading this state up until a trio of early October polling came out showing Clinton with leads, though they were all within the margin of error. This state looks to be the closest of the election. As such, we have to trust in recent history. With the exception of 2008’s Obamamania, North Carolina has been a solid Republican state.
Current edge: Trump.
Running tally:  Good God, it’s tied: 254-254.

Colorado (9)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Republican
2000: Republican
Six Months Out polling average: We had no relevant polling (only a November one).
Three Months Out polling average: Clinton 45.0, Trump 35.5 (Clinton +9.5).
One Month Out polling average: Clinton 44.3, Trump 40.8 (Clinton +3.5)
Miscellaneous: Clinton has stumbled badly in what was supposed to be a blue leaner all the way. (I could make a joke about her stumbling into her van, but I’m not going to do that. You know what I’m talking about. I didn’t bring it up, though. I didn’t say it. I’m too nice. But I can be nasty, believe me.) Trump even led a couple recent polls out of the state. This polling swing, however, is misleading, since not many polls were done of Colorado until recently. It’s more likely the state was always close and that she never truly enjoyed a 10-point lead in the first place. Still, she bounced in post-debate polling.
Current edge: Clinton
Running tally: 263-254, Clinton

Nevada (6)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Republican
2000: Republican
Six Months Out polling average: None.
Three Months Out polling average: Clinton 43.0, Trump 40.7 (Clinton +2.3)
One Month Out polling average: Clinton 44.2, Trump 43.0 (Clinton +1.2)
Miscellaneous: Amazingly close race at this point. In the last seven polls, each candidate leads three, and the most recent one is a tie. If Clinton couldn’t show well in Nevada by now, she might never.
Current edge: Trump
Running tally: 263-260, Clinton

Iowa (6)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Republican
2000: Democratic
Six Months Out polling average: Clinton 45, Trump 41 (Clinton +4)
Three Months Out polling average: Clinton 41.3, Trump 40.8 (Clinton +0.5)
One Month Out polling average: Trump 45.3, Clinton 40.5 (Trump +4.8)
Miscellaneous: Dare I say this state is becoming safe for Trump? I sensed his momentum two months ago when giving the state to him, and now that prediction looks even better. Hillary Clinton does not play well in middle America. We actually have no post-debate polling from the Hawkeye State, though, so we might see Clinton show a bit better in the next Iowa survey.
Current edge: Trump, for now
Running tally: 266-263, Trump takes the lead with two states to go. If he wins either one, he wins the election.

New Mexico (5)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Republican
2000: Democratic
Six Months Out polling average: None
Three Months Out polling average: Just one May poll, which has Clinton ahead, 41 to 33.
One Month Out polling average: With the third party candidates, including former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, it’s Clinton 40.5, Trump 32, Johnson 19, and Stein 2. Without the third parties, it’s Clinton 45, Trump 33.5.
Other factors: Johnson offers an interesting quirk here, which I’ll mention in my general thoughts at the end of the post, but New Mexico remains safely Clinton. It’s a leading candidate for the Blue Wall next time around.
Current edge: Clinton
Running tally: 268-266, Clinton back into the lead. The winner of our final state — tiny New Hampshire, which already has way too much power over the primary process and now might decide the general election, too — is the next president.

New Hampshire (4)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Democratic
2000: Republican
Six Months Out polling average: Clinton 44.8, Trump 35 (Clinton +9.8)
Three Months Out polling average: Clinton 45.0, Trump 38.0 (Clinton +7)
One Month Out polling average: Clinton 45.0, Trump 39.8 (Clinton +5.2)
Other factors: It’s not just that Clinton has a 5.2-point lead, but also that Trump has never led a general election New Hampshire poll over her. There was a tie back in May, but in the other 26 polls dating back to July 2015, Clinton is ahead. With Bernie Sanders as an ally, he can secure the state for her in the final week before the election.
Current edge: Clinton.
Running tally: 272-266, Clinton wins. Barely.

General Thoughts

1) Such a close projection gives me a great excuse to link to my “What If It’s a Tie?” piece. While we’re there, FiveThirtyEight recently ran a column exploring the improbable but not impossible prospect of Gary Johnson winning his home state of New Mexico and keeping both candidates under 270. The tiebreaker scenarios would still go into effect, though Johnson, having earned electoral votes, would then also be eligible to be elected president by the House as a compromise candidate.

2) Trump has momentum almost across the board if one looks at the big picture, though the last two weeks clearly helped Clinton. Still, if Trump holds his own in the next two debates, he can continue to erode her overall lead.

2a) Trump’s path to 270 is quite obvious. Today’s electoral projections can be seen as the best realistic case scenario for him. After all, he won Florida and Ohio, a combination which usually sews up victory. I also gave him North Carolina, Iowa, and Nevada. Odds are he doesn’t sweep all five of those states, but even if he did, he needs to find another state from Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Mexico, and New Hampshire. Each of those states has voted Democratic in at least the last two elections, and polls suggest Clinton with a clear lead in all of them. For Trump to hold onto his swing states and take one of those is a tall order.

3) My next electoral projections will come with a couple weeks to go. We’ll then see if we need to expand or contract the PPFAPPF.