Campaign: what to watch for in historic, bitter battle

A Washington Post column headlined last week, “Now, Election Day is the only thing that matters.” Nice thought, but not true.

The campaign runs until November 8, and much will matter in the next five months. Here are some things to watch for.

This is an “historic” election. Since Lincoln, all U.S. presidents either previously held high political office or served as a top Army commander. Donald Trump did neither. Until Hillary Clinton, the U.S. has never had a woman heading the ticket of a major party or as president.

It may also be historic if an effort is mounted to dump or bump Trump. Could the Republicans find a way to deny him their presidential nomination? If they could not dump him, might he be bumped aside by a separate presidential campaign, providing a political home to Republicans who cannot support him?

With the unfavorable ratings of both major party candidates, alternatives may be pushed. One possibility is the Libertarian Party, but the positions of many of its activists against the Civil Rights Act and state-issued driver’s licenses may rule it out as more than a protest.

Expect torrents of opinion polls, and they will probably be wrong. The election is really 51 separate elections, so the national polls mean little. And some people lie to pollsters and many people refuse to participate, throwing off the statistical value of surveys.

Better than polls, look at analyses like “538” and the Princeton Election Consortium, which have been excellent in picking presidential winners.

Beware of the pundits, who will comment vigorously every day between now and Election Day, often relying on weak polls. They have their audience, but they know little more than the conventional wisdom of the moment.

Breathlessly awaited are the vice presidential picks. They should tell voters much about how Clinton and Trump view the race.

The speculation is that Clinton may have to pick a liberal running mate with appeal for Bernie Sanders’ supporters. But she might reason those voters have nowhere else to go and pick a somewhat more moderate veep candidate, hoping to attract some unhappy GOP voters.

Trump supposedly needs a solid Republican to appeal to skeptical party voters. His problem is finding a viable candidate who will support his controversial positions.

Then, there are the two national conventions. Such gatherings, filled with thousands of docile delegates and armies of bloggers, have ceased having any real function. The primary-caucus system has neutered them.

Conventions are like reality programs, but the event is pointless, often boring, and the viewer already knows the winner. The media will hype them, but television coverage will be far less than years ago. If you don’t watch, you won’t miss much, except possibly somebody’s good speech.

Money matters. A major element of the campaign is the dominant role of money. A close look at the campaign commercials will reveal that many are not coming from the candidates but from free-spending super-PACs.

Trump, who used a lot of his money and his own staff in the primaries, is now looking for financial support. The Republican National Committee may be a major source of help, but will Trump have a super-PAC? Clinton has the backing of a major super-PAC.

Mostly negative campaigns are likely. Both candidates offer targets, though Trump’s are coming almost daily. Voters will be urged, possibly more than ever, to vote against, rather than for, candidates. That makes issues of relatively little importance.

The two most positive selling points are not issues. Clinton should get massive support as the first potential woman president. And Trump supporters may overlook his daily controversies, because they like his anti-establishment tone.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the upcoming campaign will not be the presidential race itself but its impact on congressional elections. Often, voters who turn out for a presidential candidate also vote for congressional candidates of the same party.

The GOP has many apparently vulnerable U.S. Senate seats up for election this year. The Republicans cannot achieve a filibuster-proof Senate majority; in fact, they may lose even a simple majority.

In the House of Representatives, where gerrymandering by state legislatures has led to more safe GOP seats, the likely result is continued Republican control. Will fading GOP moderates regain some strength, forcing their party to compromise with the Senate and president?

In Maine, the Second District race between Democrat Emily Cain and Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin, who has had difficulty resisting the GOP conservative pull, could be a key election influenced by the presidential race.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil is a former local, state, national and international organization official. He is an author and newspaper columnist.