As Labor Day neared, the decisions the two major party presidential candidates made on how to spend their time said everything about how they’ve approached the race. August found Hillary Clinton in the Hamptons, where she attended at least a dozen high-dollar fundraisers, according to people who spent time with her there.
Donald Trump, meanwhile, jetted down to Mexico and softened his tone on immigration, hardened it right back up again at a rally in Arizona and launched an international Twitter war with the Mexican president he had just met.
Clinton can afford to spend her time fundraising rather than holding rallies. With just over two months until Election Day, she holds a solid lead over Trump in the polls, although the spread has been tightening as Clinton’s post-convention bounce wears off and Trump gains a little strength.
An utter landslide for Clinton looked more likely immediately after the conventions, when she regularly saw double-digit leads in national polls. HuffPost Pollster’s model, which aggregates publicly available polling, currently gives her a lead of about 5 points in a head-to-head race nationally, down from more than 8 points at the height of her post-DNC bounce. Clinton also has a 5-point lead on average when third party candidates are included in the poll questions.
A 5-point lead leaves room for Trump to catch up, but it’s still considerably wider than the edge President Barack Obama enjoyed over Mitt Romney at this point during the 2012 cycle. And Clinton’s lead has been remarkably consistent: Not a single poll included in HuffPost’s average has had Trump ahead since late July. Historical precedent suggests that bodes well for her. In each of the past 16 elections, the candidate leading after the conventions has gone on to win.
State polling tells a similar story. Clinton is leading Trump by a significant margin in many battleground states, with leads of between 6 and 9 points in Colorado, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. In another set of swing states, including Florida, Iowa, North Carolina and Ohio, she holds smaller edges of between 2 and 3 points. The only swing state Trump has on his side is Nevada, but only by a very narrow margin. And he only musters 1- to 3-point leads in traditionally red Arizona, Georgia and South Carolina.
Current presidential forecasts from five different modelers put Clinton’s chances of winning between 71 percent and 94 percent.
Given the perceived improbability of a Trump victory, many Republicans are turning their attention to other races. They’re hoping to convince voters to split their tickets and choose GOP candidates for gubernatorial, Senate and House races, even if they don’t intend to vote for the Republican presidential nominee.
Democrats, meanwhile, hope to leverage Trump’s electoral weaknesses to make gains in Congress. A source who spent time with her in the Hamptons said that Clinton’s main objective at this point in the campaign is to win by a wide enough margin that Democrats take the Senate.
Republican Senate candidates are outperforming Trump in most of the states where HuffPost Pollster has sufficient polling data for a model. But even if they’re doing better than Trump, many are still trailing their Democratic competitors. According to HuffPost’s predictive Senate model, the Democrats currently have a 62 percent chance of winning 50 or more seats in the Senate.
The probability of a Democratic Senate takeover is lower than previously reported by the model. In mid-August, it predicted a 78 percent chance that the Senate would comprise 50 or more Democrats, including a 55 percent chance that there would be at least 51 Democrats and a 23 percent chance of a tie. Now that has shifted to a 32 percent chance of 51 or more Democrats and a 30 percent chance of a 50-50 tie ― which would still be a Democratic majority if Clinton wins and vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine becomes the tie-breaking vote.
Most of that shift is due to incumbent Republicans strengthening their positions. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) has benefitted from improved polling numbers, raising his probability of holding his seat from 73 percent to 94 percent. And Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) has come up from a 50 percent chance of winning ― because the last model run was before the Florida primaries had determined the candidates ― to a 96 percent chance.
Despite the lower overall probability of a Democratic takeover in the election simulations, the outcome predicted by the model based on the most up-to-date data is 51 Democrats, including the two independents who caucus with the Democrats, and 49 Republicans. The five seats that the model indicates could flip to make that happen are in New Hampshire, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Indiana ― the most likely Democratic pickups being Wisconsin and Indiana.
Ryan Grim contributed reporting.