Believe it or not, election day 2016 is now less than eight weeks away, which means that finally—after a seeming eternity of arguments, attack ads, innuendo and outrageous antics—Virginians will get a chance to vote and, in so doing, put this interminable election season out of its misery. And so, as we gear up for the campaigns’ crucial final push, it seems a good time to pause and take a look at the current lay of the land.
1) The race is tightening… After gaining and maintaining a large post-convention polling bump, Hillary Clinton’s lead over Donald Trump in national polls has shrunk considerably. While she was once up by as much as eight percentage points, her national polling average now shows a lead of around 3 percent. There are myriad reasons for this, but the largest factor is the disparate treatment the candidates are getting for their various misdeeds. Clinton’s minor transgressions (such as using a personal e-mail server while secretary of state or not disclosing she’d been diagnosed with pneumonia) have been receiving saturation coverage, while Trump’s far more numerous and severe ethical lapses (more on these later) are mentioned sporadically, and have yet to become part of the larger press narrative, which is basically, “Trump is crazy, Clinton is untrustworthy and voters hate them both.”
2) …but not enough for Trump to win Virginia. Based on current trends, it looks like the Old Dominion’s reputation as a right-leaning swing state is now fully defunct, at least in national elections. Clinton is leading Trump by more than 5 percent on average and, more tellingly, both her campaign and affiliated super-PAC have largely ceased advertising in the state. Yes, Trump recently announced a $2 million Virginia ad buy, and sat for a national security talk in front of a friendly audience in Hampton Roads, but at this juncture it seems that Virginia is far out of Republican reach.
3) The shadow campaign for Tim Kaine’s senate seat heats up. Once Tim Kaine assumes the vice presidency, Governor Terry McAuliffe will get the rare chance to appoint one of only 100 U.S. senators—but the story won’t end there. Due to quirks in both the Virginia and U.S. constitutions, whomever McAuliffe appoints will have to defend the seat in a special election next November, and then win yet another election in 2018, when Kaine’s seat is up in the constitutionally mandated, biannually rotating sexennial senate electoral cycle (say that three times fast). Although U.S. Representative Bobby Scott is considered the odds-on favorite, a recent Washington Post article revealed that McAuliffe has heard from around 20 people “indicating an interest in the seat,” while also pointing out that Scott, who has never run a statewide campaign, would be under intense pressure to hold the seat through two high-stakes elections. But if you ask us, Scott’s basically a lock for the appointment, electoral concerns notwithstanding.
4) Bob McDonnell is not going to jail, which is good news for Donald Trump. Finally, we would be remiss not to mention the news that our favorite helmet-haired grifter, ex-governor Bob McDonnell, is not going to be re-prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice (his initial conviction on corruption charges was overturned by the Supreme Court earlier this year). This, oddly enough, has yuuuuge implications for Donald Trump, who could conceivably face similar “pay-to-play” charges for donating $25,000 to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi just days before she declined to pursue a criminal case against the now-defunct fraud factory known as Trump University. But given the feds’ decision not to retry McDonnell, the chances of them prosecuting The Donald for his overt, obvious and odious bribery seem slim indeed. Sad!
Odd Dominion is an unabashedly liberal, twice-monthly op-ed column covering Virginia politics.