Remember long ago, when everyone was wondering if a video of Donald Trump bragging about sexual assault doomed his campaign?
That October surprise has been overtaken by another – FBI Director James Comey’s announcement of new emails that might be relevant to the Hillary Clinton investigation. The announcement enraged Clinton supporters and buoyed the Donald Trump campaign. There’s no firm evidence, however, that it has affected the presidential race. Will it?
With just one week remaining in the 2016 election, North Carolina remains one of the most critical states in the race. Both campaigns have ads filling the airwaves and N.C. rallies on the schedule this week. The reason is simple: If Clinton wins North Carolina, Trump’s path to the presidency is a longshot at best.
The state’s other big races – governor and U.S. Senate – also are too close to call at this point. So we’re happy to bring back two veteran N.C. political strategists, Democrat Gary Pearce and Republican Carter Wrenn. Pearce and Wrenn wrote popular columns for the Observer during the Democratic and Republican national conventions, and they’ve since been offering their insight – and yes, predictions – on the biggest races in North Carolina.
Q. How much do you think the FBI announcement will affect the race? History tells us that October surprises don’t often move the needle, but what about when that surprise reinforces a known negative in a candidate?
Pearce: It could have a big impact. It looks like Clinton has a pretty solid lead in the Electoral College, but this is the last thing she needed. Undecided voters are trying right now to decide who they dislike the most.
It’s like I said earlier in this campaign – if you’re in the news, you lose. If that’s in the news all this week, that’s not good for Clinton.
Wrenn: Yes, there’s an odd phenomenon in this election: The candidate in the news drops in the polls. It’s like “I don’t like either of them, and the one I see the most, I dislike the most.”
So I expect that she will drop. It’s not the emails; it’s that they’re seeing more of her.
Q. Does the same thing hold true if there’s one more bombshell about Donald Trump still to come this week?
Pearce: It’s true for both of them – if there’s another story about Trump mistreating women, it just reinforces his worst negatives, just like the emails do for Clinton.
Wrenn: People have watched these two candidates for six months. It would take a pretty terrific bombshell to change people’s opinions now.
In the N.C. governor’s race, what do you think Pat McCrory and Roy Cooper are trying to accomplish in the last seven days of the race?
Wrenn: I thought Pat’s latest ad and his message that “I’m a leader and not a backroom politician” – I think that’s a pretty good message for him. I think it addresses the concerns people have about Pat, which is his capability and effectiveness.
I think Cooper’s message is that the Carolina Comeback hasn’t helped the average guy. I think he talks about how we need to help the middle class and not the wealthy.
Pearce: If I’m Cooper, I want to keep the campaign on the same axis it’s been on the last several months – a referendum on McCrory and the Republican legislature. I want to argue that they’ve taken us in the wrong direction and it’s time for a change.
McCrory has a different challenge. From what I saw last week, his job approval might be up because of the hurricane, but it’s not translating into votes. I think what he has to do is make Cooper an unacceptable candidate. He has to drag him down.
I have not understood McCrory’s strategy. It seems to be seat-of-the-pants. For a while it was the SBI crime lab and Cooper. Then it was McCrory as a strong leader. Now they’re focusing on Obamacare, and I don’t think that’s going to do much.
In most every election, each side says that this is an historic moment and more is at stake than ever. Is that true this time?
Pearce: This time it’s true (laughs). There are all kinds of ways you can view that. For one, we’re either going to get the first woman president or the most anti-woman president.
In North Carolina, it’s historic because it’s a referendum on what McCrory and Republicans have done the last 6 1/2 years.
Wrenn: I think what’s historic is that you have two choices that a lot of people don’t like, and people believe the country loses either way.
OK, last round of predictions. What happens in North Carolina with the presidential race, governor’s race and U.S. Senate race?
Pearce: I’m going to give you spreads today, too. Clinton by 3. Cooper by 5. Deborah Ross by 1.
Wrenn: Hillary’s ahead today. I think Cooper’s ahead today, and Burr’s ahead today. I’d say Hillary by 4 or 5, Cooper by 5 or 6, and Burr by 2 or 3.