PHILADELPHIA — Forget the polls. Forget the big-data odds. The pivotal news on the eve of America’s presidential election is that transit workers in this sprawling old city, where relatively few residents own cars, voted to end a crippling strike.
If you’re Hillary Clinton, you’re truly, deeply relieved.
Clinton’s team has been worried about turnout in Philadelphia, the usually reliably Democratic City of Brotherly Love, especially among young African-Americans and college students, who have never been that keen about her. So anything that might have made it harder for them to vote was a nightmare.
Now, the nightmare has ended, and Clinton’s chances have improved in the critical swing state of Pennsylvania ― which means Donald Trump’s prospects just dimmed a bit more.
As Election Day approaches, the country and the world view the contest from the proverbial 30,000 feet, via predictions by our own HuffPost Pollster, for example, or in state-by-state maps trying to parse the Electoral College.
But elections are won and lost by the decisions of individuals. Those people can be divided up by region, faith, age, ethnicity or hundreds of other slices of the incredibly diverse American pie.
Here are some of the decisive slices to watch on Election Day:
Haitians in Florida. Forget Latinos for a moment. In Florida, there are 600,000 immigrants from the beleaguered island nation of Haiti. They lean Clinton’s way on social issues. But the Clinton Foundation’s work in Haiti is controversial. And they aren’t necessarily at one with native-born black voters. So keep an eye on returns from the Haitian-dominated precincts in Miami.
Students at Swing-State Public Universities. They felt the Bern in the Democratic primaries and some remain reluctant to back Clinton. Sen. Bernie Sanders seemed like the rabble-rousing political science professor at student demonstrations; she seems like the bureaucratic dean. He also promised them free tuition at public colleges and massive debt forgiveness. Now she offers essentially the same proposal.
Clinton needs students to turn out big time in swing states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina and Florida ― or more specifically, in Pittsburgh, State College and Philadelphia; in Ann Arbor and Lansing; in Chapel Hill; and in Tallahassee and Gainesville.
Mormons in Nevada. Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee, is no fan of Donald Trump, and many of his fellow members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints don’t like Trump either. True, the man doesn’t drink or smoke, but he’s entirely un-Mormon-like in his licentious and bombastic ways. Nevertheless, it looks like Trump is going to hold onto the overwhelmingly Mormon Utah.
But Nevada is up for grabs, and it has a small but very politically influential Mormon population. Trump has to win them to win the state.
Military Families in North Carolina. Fort Bragg is a huge U.S. Army post that dominates the life and politics of central North Carolina. The Clinton campaign has focused on Trump’s derisive comments about military leaders and his war of words with Khizr Khan, the father of a Muslim American war hero. But Trump’s “no more stupid war” mantra, combined with his sudden discovery of a need for massive defense spending, means he has a chance with this crucial constituency in a key state.
Puerto Ricans in Florida. Traditionally, attention to Florida’s numerous Latino voters has focused on the Cuban community or the rising role of immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America. But this year Clinton is counting on an influx from Puerto Rico.
As U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans already qualify to vote. They have historically tilted toward the Democratic side as much as Cubans lean toward the Republican Party. And driven by Puerto Rico’s struggling economy, perhaps 50,000 more of them live in Florida this year than did two years ago. On Nov. 8, Republicans may deeply regret having opposed a generous bailout for the island.
The Hillbilly Highway. “Hillbilly” is both a term of scorn and a source of pride for many Americans of mountain heritage. Largely of English, Scottish and Scots-Irish ethnicity, these folks settled the first U.S. frontier. As small farmers on harsh land, they learned to distrust wealthy leaders in distant cities. Although they remain concentrated in Kentucky, West Virginia and central Pennsylvania, waves of outmigration have made them the key to understanding ― and winning votes in ― places such as exurban Detroit and southern Ohio. Still estranged from politics — and indeed much of coastal and cosmopolitan America ― they need to turn out en masse if Trump is going to win Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Ivankas Everywhere. Smart, well-educated and successful, Ivanka Trump symbolizes the kind of moderate Republican female voter who is wary, if not outright scared, of this year’s GOP nominee. While she has appeared for her father on the campaign trail before, she is now reluctant to do so too visibly, lest it hurt the family brand — which she, along with her brothers, is about to inherit.
The Clinton campaign has relentlessly targeted the Ivankas of major suburban areas in swing states such as Pennsylvania, Florida, New Hampshire, Michigan and Ohio. The now-famous videotape of Trump’s crude comments damaged him enormously with these voters. Will it be enough to put Clinton over the top? Looks at the returns from the suburbs of Philadelphia, where many a professional woman graduated from the prestigious University of Pennsylvania ― the school Ivanka (and her dad) attended.
Black Voters in Non-Early-Voting States. Pennsylvania and Michigan do not allow early voting, which is one reason why Trump and Clinton are still criss-crossing those two states and why she is ending her campaign in Philadelphia on Monday night. Democratic leaders in the black communities of cities like Philly are past masters of the art of “vote hauling,” in which the local parties offer rides, meals and other aid to get voters to the polls on Election Day. The ballots from those urban centers are key to Clinton’s chances.
Veteran Democratic consultant James Carville famously observed that “Pennsylvania is Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with Alabama in between.” Trump has a lot of support in Alabama, both real and metaphorical. So if Clinton is to overcome all those Republicans in between, she’s going to need some expert vote hauling.
Bus Riders. Which is where we began! If the buses (and subways) are running — and now they will be — there won’t be any Democrat who misses her ride to the polls.
On such details does democracy depend.