GOP strate­gists: Clin­ton is in good shape with 3 weeks left

The Standard Journal - - NATIONAL -

DES MOINES, Iowa ( AP) — With roughly three weeks to Elec­tion Day, Repub­li­can strate­gists na­tion­wide pub­licly con­cede Hil­lary Clin­ton has a firm grip on the 270 Elec­toral Col­lege votes needed to win the White House — and may be on her way to an even more de­ci­sive vic­tory over Don­ald Trump.

"He is on track to to­tally and com­pletely melt­ing down," said Repub­li­can poll­ster Whit Ayres, who is ad­vis­ing Florida Sen. Marco Ru­bio's re-elec­tion cam­paign. Like many Repub­li­can strate­gists, he was will­ing to speak pub­licly about the GOP nom­i­nee's rough road ahead at the end of an un­prece­dented cam­paign.

Things can change be­fore Elec­tion Day. There is one more pres­i­den­tial de­bate, and Trump has ral­lied be­fore. His core sup­port­ers re­main strongly com­mit­ted.

But along with in­di­ca­tors such as polling, cam­paign travel, staffing and ad­ver­tis­ing, the in­ter­views with Repub­li­can po­lit­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als un­af­fil­i­ated with the Trump cam­paign sug­gest only an epic col­lapse by Clin­ton would keep her from win­ning enough states to be­come pres­i­dent.

In the past week, Trump's cam­paign has been hit by al­le­ga­tions the New York bil­lion­aire sex­u­ally ac­costed sev­eral women over the past three decades. Early vot­ing in piv­otal North Carolina and Florida shows pos­i­tive signs for Clin­ton, and do­na­tions to the Repub­li­can National Com­mit­tee are down about a quar­ter over the past three months from the same pe­riod in 2012, when Mitt Rom­ney was the nom­i­nee.

Pref­er­ence polling in the past week, mean­while, has gen­er­ally moved in Clin­ton's direction, with the Demo­crat im­prov­ing in national sur­veys and in a num­ber of con­tested states.

If the elec­tion were held to­day, Clin­ton would likely carry the en­tire West Coast and North­east, as well as most of the Great Lakes region — a place Trump once iden­ti­fied as ripe ter­ri­tory for his pop­ulist mes­sage against free trade.

Only Ohio is a toss-up in that part of the coun­try, but the peren­nial bat­tle­ground may not play a de­ci­sive role come Elec­tion Day this year due to Clin­ton's strength — and Trump's weak­nesses — else­where.

Trump and run­ning mate Mike Pence have made a hard play for Pennsylvania, a state car­ried by the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee in the past six elec­tions. But their strat­egy to hold down Clin­ton in Philadel­phia and its sub­urbs while run­ning up Trump's vote to­tal in more con­ser­va­tive parts of the state has failed to ma­te­ri­al­ize.

"He's get­ting his brains beat in by women in the Philly sub­urbs," said Ed Goeas, a Repub­li­can poll­ster who is sur­vey­ing pres­i­den­tial bat­tle­grounds and sev­eral states with races for U.S. Se­nate.

Trump was al­ready strug­gling to at­tract sup­port from women be­fore his first de­bate with Clin­ton in late Septem­ber. It was at that event in New York where Clin­ton stung Trump by re­viv­ing his past sham­ing of a for­mer Miss Uni­verse for gain­ing weight.

Trump's re­sponse, call­ing the con­tes­tant's weight gain "a real prob­lem" in a TV in­ter­view the next day, was quickly eclipsed by the pub­li­ca­tion of a video from 2005 on which the Repub­li­can bragged about us­ing his fame to prey on women.

An apol­ogy fol­lowed, but Trump also in­sisted his com­ments were noth­ing more than "locker room talk." He de­nied at the can­di­dates' sec­ond de­bate that he ever acted in the ways he dis­cussed in the 2005 video.

Within days, sev­eral women had come for­ward to ac­cuse Trump of un­wanted sex­ual ad­vances and sex­ual assault. He re­sponded by call­ing his ac­cusers liars and, on Fri­day, sug­gested they were in some in­stances not phys­i­cally at­trac­tive enough to merit his at­ten­tion.

"His en­tire tack could not be bet­ter de­signed to drive away col­lege-ed­u­cated women," said Ayres, the GOP poll­ster.

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