Democratic fears that the FBI’s new review of Hillary Clinton’s emails might sap party enthusiasm at exactly the wrong time may turn out to be unfounded. In the three days since the news surfaced, early voting data and public polling suggest the rank and file are responding with a collective shrug.
Even amid blanket cable news coverage over the weekend, Democrats continued to add to solid leads in early voting in several key swing states. In Colorado over the weekend, Democrats stretched their early vote lead over Republicans to 31,000 votes, including a 1,500-vote net gain in Denver, the state’s most heavily Democratic turf. In Nevada, Democrats netted about 6,300 votes on Saturday and Sunday — stretching their overall lead on Republicans to about 34,000.
“If we’re looking to see some negative effects of the Comey letter, it’s just not there on the enthusiasm level of Democrats,” said Michael McDonald, an early voting expert who runs the U.S. Elections Project, speaking of the early vote in states like Nevada and North Carolina in an interview on Sunday, as the day’s returns were still rolling in. “They’ve still voted at the same levels they have in previous days. It doesn’t appear to have had a large negative effect.”
There was no sign of a let-up among North Carolina Democrats, who continued to close the gap with their 2012 performance, despite facing more restrictions on early voting this time.
“It was a big day for the Democrats, without a doubt,” McDonald said of Sunday results in North Carolina. “48.7 percent of people who voted were Democrats, 31.9 percent were African-American … they did make up some ground. There were 1,136 Democratic [votes] over their 2012 numbers” for that day.
Jon Ralston, a veteran Nevada political analyst, wrote Monday that the turnout figures closely match those in 2012 when Barack Obama won the state — and that there’s no indication that Clinton’s support is eroding.
Polls conducted after the FBI revelations suggested that the news would not influence most Democrats — and that those who might be influenced are unlikely to back Clinton anyway.
A new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll — conducted entirely after FBI Director James Comey announced the discovery of new emails that might pertain to the former secretary of state’s private server found that 83 percent of self-identified Democrats — said the news made no difference or made them more likely to vote for Clinton. Just 13 percent said it made them less likely.
“The truth is, if you’re predisposed to believe something is wrong, you already thought something was wrong,” said a North Carolina Democratic operative closely watching the early vote. “If you’re predisposed to think it doesn’t matter, then it doesn’t matter. The truth is, we have over a million-and-a-half folks who already voted prior to this. I just don’t think it matters, at the end of the day. It’s just more noise.”
A GOP operative working in several battleground states agreed. “Not seeing any meaningful impact.”
Still, Donald Trump’s allies were hopeful that Comey’s October surprise might push undecided Republicans off the fence and into the GOP nominee’s fold.
“I think Trump’s going to win. I think this is the last nail in the coffin.,” said Will Estrada, chairman of northern Virginia’s Loudoun County, a Washington suburb filled with college-educated voters who have resisted Trump. Estrada predicted the FBI news would give Republicans wary of Trump the last nudge they’d need to come back to the party.
Other Republicans, however, were less sanguine about the prospects of the FBI review altering the fundamentals of the race — especially not in the key swing states, where voters have already been bombarded with ads.
“I think at this late date, it would take more than a smoking gun. It would have to take the proverbial bullet … that ends political life, something so incredibly dramatic it would, in fact, eclipse the ‘Access Hollywood’ tapes,” said Brandon Scholz, a Republican operative based in Wisconsin, referring to the 2005 recording leaked earlier this month on which Trump can be heard bragging about sexual assault.
Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said that from the numbers he has seen, at best the revelations moved the race perhaps “1 or 2 points” — mostly in red states.
“In red states, Trump was running far behind the typical Republican already,” he said. Now, “it’s spurred a few to go out and say, ‘Yeah, I will vote’ … but when you look at places like Pennsylvania, or other places like North Carolina, for example, it doesn’t seem to be having as much of an impact there, and the reason being, those voters were already more tuned in to what is going on. Any of the swing states where the campaign has spent a lot of resources, people are paying close attention and…it doesn’t change what perceptions are about Hillary Clinton.”
Clinton herself dismissed the FBI review at an Ohio campaign event Monday.
“They apparently want to look at emails of one of my staffers. And by all means, they should look at them,” Clinton said, referring to reports that the FBI had uncovered email messages of her longtime aide Huma Abedin and plans to assess whether they are significant to its investigation of her use of a private email server. “And I am sure they will reach the same conclusion they did when they looked at my emails for the last year. There is no case here.”
“They said it wasn’t even a close call, and I think most people have decided a long time ago what they think about all of this,” she added.
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