Not over till it’s over

Cincinnati, Ohio: It was all over, they said; there’s no way back from here; the odds are stacked against you.

No, not Donald Trump this time, but the Chicago Cubs – who were on the verge of being counted out in this year’s World Series before a remarkable comeback to win a dramatic final game in Cleveland on Wednesday night, ending 108 years of heartbreak for their fans.

And the outcome gave a hint of what might be to come next week.

Ken Rudin, who hosts the Political Junkie podcast, observed that when the World Series goes to seven games in an election year, if the AL team wins then the Republican candidate takes the White House. When the NL team is victorious, so is the Democrat.

The fact that Hillary may – or may not – be a Cubs fan is neither here nor there.

And similar to the Cubs after Game Four, Trump seemed to be beyond salvation last week, according to the polls.

And then suddenly, if you believed some of the more breathless horse-race pundits, Trump again had a path – however unlikely – to 270 electoral votes. According to Nate Silver at 538.com, his latest forecast gives Trump a significantly higher chance of winning than other projections which, understandably, has unnerved some Democrats.

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Polls have appeared to be tightening in some of the key battleground states, but Clinton continues to hold on to an advantage in the electoral college projections.

If there was an uptick towards Trump, it could be the inevitable late squeezing of the third-party vote, but another possible catalyst was an announcement from FBI director James Comey.

You thought you’d heard the last of Anthony Weiner, didn’t you? But as this story has unfolded, it has intensified, to the extent where the Guardian is reporting that the FBI is “Trumpland.”

So as the candidates make their closing arguments, there may be more to come – even if it’s too late.

While initial polls seemed to indicate that an uncertain number of voters might be swayed one way or the other by the FBI story, literally anything could happen in the last week – just as it could have at any point during the campaign – but the story has had a direct effect on the candidates’ campaign strategy.

The Clinton camp would certainly have wanted a more positive final week – focused on policy and giving people something to vote for rather than vote against, but they’ve been forced on to the back foot, relying again on Trump’s unfitness for the top job.

One aspect of that attack has centred on foreign relations and his potential control of the US nuclear arsenal, a consistent theme of pro-Clinton ad spots. The latest one not only evokes the iconic 1964 LBJ “Daisy Girl” commercial, it features the actual Daisy Girl, 50 years on.

Philip Bump in the Washington Post talks about the “shy Trump voter” and the effect it might be having on opinion polls.

Also, with just a week to go, the media start to suffer from “short runway syndrome”. Stories that have been in the works for a while, but maybe haven’t been fully fleshed out, start to appear for fear of missing their take-off slot. The end result is simply that the audience ends up being even more overwhelmed.

And don’t forget, some 30m people have already cast their ballot in early voting.

What seems like forever ago, in a Democratic primary debate, Bernie Sanders (remember him?) famously said that “the whole country is sick of hearing about your damn emails.”

Now, presciently, his words again ring true.

Can a one-word description of a candidate stick? Pollster Kathy Frankovic explains the use of labels and how voters perceive both their own candidate and their opponent.

She writes: “The power of words like ‘dishonest’, ‘untrustworthy’, ‘corrupt’ and ‘crooked’ to describe Clinton underscore her major weaknesses: in the latest Economist/YouGov poll, just 30 per cent of likely voters say she is honest and trustworthy. Only 3 per cent of Trump supporters think that. And 57 per cent of likely voters (95 per cent of those now favouring Trump) say they would use the term ‘corrupt’ to describe Clinton.”


Under the radar?

What else has been happening that you may have missed, given how many other things are going on…

Trump made an ad where he speaks in Hindi to try to reach out to Indian-Americans. It was interesting.

Melania Trump, meanwhile, made a speech on behalf of her husband, choosing as her topic cyber-bullying, calling the current online culture “too mean and too rough”.

The irony seemed to be lost.

Voters in Utah are waiting to see if former GOP candidate Mitt Romney might endorse independent Evan McMullin, which could push him over the top in that state – he currently trails Trump by two points. In a tight national race, those six electoral votes could be important.

Former Congressman Joe Walsh tweeted that if Hillary wins the election he would be “grabbing my musket”. You can just imagine the sort of responses.

So many things about this campaign have straddled the line between parody and reality; it has been a harder job than usual for satire to find targets that weren’t already hilarious.

Saturday Night Live has been consistently on the mark, particularly recently with Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of Trump in the presidential debates. SNL’s Election Special airs on Monday night.

The late-night network shows have also ploughed the comedic field, while John Oliver has brought his usual brilliantly acerbic Brit’s twist to the coverage. But one of the outstanding surprises has been former Daily Show staffer Samantha Bee with her smart and funny show, Full Frontal.

Let’s hope we’re still all laughing on November 9th.

FirstWord’s Steve McGookin first covered a US presidential election in 1988 and says that this one is easily the most fascinating yet. He has been writing here regularly about political ads and the candidates’ media-messaging strategies.

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