(Author’s note: If you want to hear about Trump’s rivalry with Miss Universe or the candidates’ infidelities, I again suggest you turn on cable news.)
Happy October, everyone! Tomorrow marks five weeks from the election. We’re getting to that point where a major late development might have irrevocable consequences. In the past, such developments have been dubbed the “October surprise.” This October, short of such a surprise, I think we’ll have a predictable phenomenon tilt the balance of this close election — October Obama. Democrats are hoping that, in addition to the Clinton/Kaine ticket stumping across the battleground states, it’s President Obama that can be the ultimate adjuvant against a Trump victory on election night.
The country’s disapproval of the 43rd president made him a drag on Republican Senator John McCain’s ultimately failed quest to succeed him. Eight years before that, Bill Clinton winded down his last days in office with a high approval rating, but thanks to the Lewinsky Scandal, his party’s hopeful successor, Vice-President Al Gore, also avoided being seen as too close to the incumbent. To find the last time we had an outgoing president embraced by his party’s nominee, we have to go back nearly three decades to President Reagan helping Vice-President George H.W. Bush get elected in 1988. Obama has a rare opportunity to help his party.
And help he can give. Even Obama’s ideological detractors must jealously watch the President’s talents in front of a crowd, especially against this particular opponent who spent years questioned the President’s very legitimacy. (No, Hillary Clinton did not start birtherism, though the idea was floated by some of her supporters — an incredibly important distinction and a far cry from perpetuating the delegitimization as a means to get a political foothold, as the Republican nominee did.) With no more campaigns left to win, the President wants to defend his legacy through the Democratic nominee. He may not be running for a third term, but he wants Democratic voters — among whom he holds an approval rating in the high 80s — to make their decisions as if he were.
That’s important. Part of the calculus for the Clinton Campaign is that if, on election day, they turn out the Obama coalition — women, minorities, young people — then a victory is practically assured. Four years ago, Mitt Romney did really well with the complements to those groups, and yet he still get thoroughly beaten in the Electoral College. Consider that:
- Romney won a majority of men, beating Obama by seven points with them.
- He dominated whites, winning about three of five. If you only counted the white vote, Romney would have won 46 states. Winning the white vote, however, means less and less. Reagan only won 56 percent of whites on his way to wining 44 states in 1980. Romney did better with whites (59 percent) on his way to winning just 24.
- As for age, the older a demographic was, the more likely they were to vote for Romney:
Though the Obama coalition gave the Democrats four more years in the executive branch, there’s a reason they call it the “Obama coalition” and not the “Democratic coalition.” It’s no sure thing that the voters who turned out for the President will do the same for Hillary Clinton. And I’m not just talking percentages; it’s raw numbers, too. In other words, Clinton might win these groups with similar demographical breakdowns, but if a tenth of them don’t show up at all, the advantage is nullified, especially if one considers the enthusiastic Trump supporters driving up the white, male vote.
It is therefore imperative for the Clinton Campaign that the President convince his coalition that a vote for Clinton is a vote for him. Millennials, in particular, have been very slow to warm to her. After being swept off their feet by a septuagenarian democratic-socialist who convinced them of Clinton’s corruption and centrism, the skeptical 20-somethings have taken to social media and third parties to deny her the victory. Can the President — and, for that matter, Bernie Sanders himself — convince them that the dangers of a Trump presidency outweigh the dangers of politics as usual?
Democrats better hope so. Trump is up in North Carolina, Iowa, Nevada, and, most importantly, Ohio. Florida and Pennsylvania have become toss-ups. In the race to 270, Trump’s path has never been clearer; it might take October Obama to carry Clinton across the finish line. (This website expects him to do just that, and the morning-after analysis will find him the most important factor in her victory.)
I’ll be back tomorrow with a vice-presidential debate preview worthy of the most powerless federal office in the land. See you then.