Clinton is planting blue flags on red turf

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a rally at Abraham Lincoln High School

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a rally at Abraham Lincoln High School

    Hillary Clinton pitched herself yesterday to the voters of Utah. I repeat, Utah. A state that hasn’t gone blue in a presidential election since the Beatles debuted in America.

    Clinton is also pumping serious seed money this week into Georgia, which hasn’t gone blue since ’92, and Arizona, which hasn’t gone blue since ’96. She’s virtually tied with Donald Trump in Arizona, and earlier this week she posted a stunning seven-point lead in a new Georgia poll.

    There’s no guarantee, of course, that she’ll win any of those states in November. But the thing is, she probably doesn’t need to. The fact that she’s trying to expand her electoral map is testament to the current strength and confidence of her campaign. Larry Sabato, the veteran nonpartisan handicapper, says that if the election were held today, Clinton would flunk Trump in the Electoral College, 347-191. And that’s without her winning Utah, Georgia, or Arizona.

    That’s where we are, two weeks after the national conventions. Trump is well-positioned to be a Loser. Clinton has the luxury of planting blue flags on red turf.

    There’s no downside for Clinton. At minimum, she forces Trump to expend his scarce resources to defend states that normal Republican nominees would have bagged long ago. It’s unprecedented in modern politics, for instance, that Trump is pulling only 37 percent of the vote in the latest Utah poll. In August of any other election year, post-1964, the Republican typically sits at 60 percent or higher in Utah. Indeed, it’s been awhile since we’ve heard Trump brag about his general standing in the polls.

    Clinton is working opposition turf mostly because Trump’s despicable behavior and manifest unfitness have gifted her the opportunity. In the rueful words of conservative commentator Jennifer Rubin (no fan of Clinton), the Democratic nominee is smartly “creating a vast center-left to center-right coalition.”

    Arizona and Georgia are potentially winnable not just because minority citizens in those states are incensed by Trump’s racism (minorities currently comprise at least 35 percent of the voters in those states, and their share of the turnout is likely to rise, thanks to Trump). But what truly puts those states in play is the anti-Trump sentiment among Republican women and college-educated suburbanites. That’s the “center-right” in Clinton’s potential coalition.

    Rubin blames her fellow Republicans for this debacle. During the long primary season, they “lacked the nerve” to consistently denounce Trump for what he truly is, “an unraveled, unhinged narcissist.” And thanks to their failure, Clinton has all kinds of running room, “attacking Trump from the right and making his character, temperament, and, yes, sanity, an issue.”

    A growing number of Republicans and conservatives are purposely (and inadvertently) helping Clinton make her case to red state voters. In a new Clinton ad on cable TV, right-wing commentator Charles Krauthammer is captured on camera: “You have to ask yourself, do I want a person of that temperament in control of the nuclear codes? And as of now, I’d have to say no.”

    None of the ad’s talking heads have endorsed Clinton, but lots of Republicans are. Check out the Republicans for Clinton website. One new member is Frank Lavin, a former Reagan political director. Lavin, who has served three Republican presidents, said this week: “Trump falls short in terms of the character and behavior….This defect is crippling and ensures he would fail in office. Trump is a bigot, a bully, and devoid of grace or magnanimity. His thin-skinned belligerence toward every challenge, rebuke or criticism would promise the nation a series of a high-voltage quarrels. His casual dishonesty, his policy laziness, and his lack of self-awareness would mean four years of a careening pin-ball journey that would ricochet from missteps to crisis to misunderstandings to clarifications to retractions.”

    And Lavin wrote that before Trump’s call of the wild to “Second Amendment people.”

    But perhaps the best rationale for Clinton’s red-state foray comes from another Republican, veteran pollster Ed Goeas. During the recent GOP convention in Cleveland, he lamented at length about how Trump is alienating “married Republicans with kids.” For weeks I’ve been saving his quote in my notes. Time to use it:

    “There are lots of dads who don’t want to admit they’re voting for Hillary. These are people who have to turn off the TV whenever Trump is on because they don’t want to explain that kind of behavior, that kind of language, to their kids. I can’t tell you how many times this comes up in the focus groups.”

    That same day in Cleveland, I asked southern Republican pollster Whit Ayers: “Does Trump still have time to shave down his rough edges and win those people over?” Ayers’ reply: “He can’t.”

    No wonder Clinton is working to expand the map. Because, why not?


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.


    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal