Politics & Government

Clinton’s lead over Trump now poised to surge

Three things Hillary Clinton should do now that she's clinched the nomination

Hillary Clinton has garnered enough votes to clinch the Democratic nomination for president. But that was only the first half of the game - now, Hillary Clinton has to turn her gameplan toward the general election, and here are the first three thi
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Hillary Clinton has garnered enough votes to clinch the Democratic nomination for president. But that was only the first half of the game - now, Hillary Clinton has to turn her gameplan toward the general election, and here are the first three thi

The Hillary Clinton surge is coming.

The likely Democratic nominee’s virtual tie with Donald Trump is poised to become a solid lead, with potential to grow even more.

The former secretary of state is up 3 percentage points in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, but without rival Bernie Sanders in the race, she could be up 8.

Clinton won big in Tuesday’s New Jersey primary and declared “History Made” on her Twitter account. Six states held primaries or caucuses Tuesday, and in early returns, Sanders had won only the North Dakota caucus.

Clinton appeared likely to win a majority of all delegates, including the superdelegates, or party officials unbound by their state’s results. She was also poised to win a majority of pledged delegates, boosting her case for Sanders to end his bid. She aimed squarely for the votes of women. “Tonight, we can say with pride that, in America, there is no barrier too great and no ceiling too high to break,” she said.

She also reached out to Sanders, praising him for a tough race and pledging to fight for his causes.

Once Sanders leaves the race, history says her popularity should start climbing.

Jeff Horwitt, senior vice president at Hart Research Associates, tells why with these numbers from recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal polls:

–Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, was viewed negatively by 80 percent of Sanders voters in this year’s primaries. Nine percent saw Trump positively.

–Clinton has a 66-17 lead over Trump among Sanders voters.

–Two-thirds of Sanders voters say they’ll vote for Clinton more as an anti-Trump vote than a pro-Clinton vote. But it still counts as one for Clinton.

Sanders has a 54 to 39 percent lead over Trump in the May 15-19 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

That means, in the May 15-19 survey, Clinton’s 46 to 43 percent lead could jump to 51 to 43 percent, said Horwitt, whose firm conducts the survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff.

Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, and his supporters are hardly conceding their effort is over. Sanders has vowed to fight through the July convention, hoping to woo the superdelegates, or party officials who are not bound by their state’s results.

“We believe Bernie will still win,” said Chuck Idelson, spokesman for National Nurses United, a strong Sanders supporter. Activist groups, including the nurses, plan to meet in Chicago June 17-19 to discuss strategy. Sanders backers also plan a “people’s convention” in Philadelphia July 23.

Love or hate Clinton, the Sanders voters are likely to be motivated eventually to vote for her. The only uncertainty is when Sanders and his backers will move, however grudgingly, to the former secretary of state.

“They ultimately dislike the opponent more than their own candidate,” explained Steve Mitchell, chairman of a Michigan-based research and communications firm that conducts polls.

Republicans have already benefited, at least on paper, from a similar reluctant movement to their presumptive nominee. A month ago, the “Never Trump” movement was pinning its hopes on an aggressive, well-funded effort by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, or perhaps a more mainstream third-party bid.

Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination May 26, as the Associated Press reported he had the 1,237 delegates needed.

Today, GOP party stalwarts are largely falling in line. They might not be overly enthusiastic, but Republicans in mid-May, after Trump became the presumptive nominee, backed him 86-6, a jump from the month-earlier 72-13.

Some obstacles to a quick Clinton boost do loom. The longer Sanders waits to endorse, the more it could cost Clinton. In 1980, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., won five of the season’s final eight primaries, including California, on the first Tuesday in June.

Kennedy waited until the party convention in August to concede, and President Jimmy Carter’s awkward effort to shake his hand became a symbol of a divided party.

In 1968, a Democratic Party bitterly divided over the Vietnam War was ripped apart even further by the August convention, this time because of violent protests and a violent official reaction. Sen. Eugene McCarthy, D-Minn., the anti-war movement’s hero, waited until a few days before the election to support nominee Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey, trailing Richard Nixon throughout the fall, surged in the closing days but fell slightly short.

There are some similarities in 2016 to those years. Sanders, similar to McCarthy and Kennedy, has strong backing from the party’s liberal wing and younger voters.

That raises another question. “Will they vote? That’s the bigger challenge,” said Horwitt. Turnout among 18- to 29-year-olds dropped significantly between 2008 and 2012.

Liberals, too, could be so fed up with Obama administration trade policy they’ll turn to Trump, who advocates getting tougher with other countries on trade.

Turnout among 18-to-29-year-olds dropped to 45 percent in 2012, from 51 percent in 2008, according to CIRCLE at Tufts University, which studies young voter trends.

In swing states, such as Michigan, where Sanders won the Democratic primary, that could make a difference. “There’s an intense dislike of Trump among Democrats,” said Mitchell.

But, he said, if 10 percent of those Democrats are so fed up with trade policy that they vote for Trump, “that could make a difference.”

It’s not likely to make a difference, though, in heavily Democratic states. Trump boasted last week he thinks could win California, where Republican presidential candidates have suffered double-digit losses in every election since 1992.

“You’re starting at 23 points down,” reminded Mark DiCamillo, director of the state’s Field Poll, citing Obama’s 2012 margin of victory. His firm’s May 26-31 California survey had Clinton up 19.

The more common history among intraparty rivals is a quick reconciliation and a convention that presents a unified, upbeat front to the American people. Clinton and Barack Obama waged a bitter nomination battle in 2008, and Clinton won five of the last month’s eight primaries.

Obama was viewed favorably at the time by 63 percent of Democrats, according to a May 2008 Quinnipiac poll. He and Clinton held a unity event in Unity, New Hampshire, in late June, and by the convention, any schisms were long forgotten. Obama won 93 percent of the Democratic vote that November.

David Lightman: 202-383-6101, @lightmandavid

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