- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

To some political operatives, it’s starting to feel like the 1980 presidential election all over again.

A week before the contest between President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan the polls were in a dead heat, but Mr. Reagan had the momentum going after a strong debate performance.

And then there was a week of bad news for the presidential incumbent.

His congressional liaison had to resign after repeating an unsubstantiated story of the Ayatollah’s cancer. On the Friday before the election, a final economic indicator showed inflation was still on the rise. And on Sunday, the Iranian parliament announced their conditions for freeing American hostages — a brutal reminder to voters that nothing had changed during the Carter administration.

Fast-forward 36 years.

A week before the presidential contest, an ABC/Washington Post poll had Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton tied at 46 percent — with the momentum on Mr. Trump’s side.

Mrs. Clinton — who is running as the third term of President Barack Obama — received an “October surprise” that the FBI was not only reopening her email server case, but they were pursuing an investigation into her family’s Clinton Foundation and its pay-to-play schemes while she served as secretary of State.

Obamacare premiums skyrocketed, at a baseline of 25 percent, and WikiLeaks emails showed high-level coordination between her campaign, and officials at the State Department and Department of Justice tipping her off on potential news of the investigations and email drips.

It all served as a reminder of why the American public overwhelmingly doesn’t trust her, and that another Clinton presidency would be as scandal-driven as the first.

Without a strong record to run on, Mr. Carter and his campaign team’s strategy was to attack Mr. Reagan. They painted Mr. Reagan as a freewheeling conservative zealot who couldn’t be trusted to maintain the peace, who was “not prepared to be president,” and questioned his judgment and insight to lead the nation.

Sound familiar?

Mrs. Clinton has spent the final week of her campaign not touting her record — because it lacks accomplishments — but rather calling Mr. Trump a racist and a sexist, unfit for the presidency. If Mr. Trump can “be provoked by a tweet” he shouldn’t have his “finger anywhere near the nuclear codes,” she says.

Undeterred, Mr. Trump has remained on-message, talking about Obamacare, the need for change, to bring back American jobs, and to “drain the Washington swamp.”

As Mr. Carter’s speechwriter and journalist Hendrik Hertzberg said in a PBS documentary, “When people realized that they could get rid of Carter and still not destroy the world, they went ahead and did it.”

It looks as though this may be happening with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Reagan’s key to the electoral map was through the Rust Belt, flipping Democrats to vote for his outsider message, with Michigan considered its birthplace. Mr. Trump’s path will be much the same, if he’s to win.

Mr. Trump’s votes will come the “Reagan Democrats” sons and daughters, whose trust in government institutions has been eroded, and their demand for change higher. They’ve personally felt the loss of manufacturing jobs and have real anxieties when it comes to race relations and law-enforcement. Not to mention they can’t seem to get enthusiastic for — or even like — Mrs. Clinton.

Although Michigan hasn’t voted for a Republican nominee since 1988, Michigan and Pennsylvania are tightening for Mr. Trump, despite dense African-American communities in Detroit and Philadelphia, which helped lead Mr. Obama to victories. African-American turnout, so far this election, has been lower than in previous cycles.

“Our numbers show this race being a dead heat with Hillary really hitting a ceiling in the state,” a senior Trump campaign adviser told the Detroit News, Oct. 29, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Ron Fournier, a political strategist who recently moved back to his hometown of Detroit, seemed to agree. On Twitter this week he wrote: “Trump could win Michigan … Democratic operatives here are very worried. She is favorite; it ain’t over.”

If Michigan goes, so surely will Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Iowa.

This week, Mrs. Clinton added a stop in Michigan, and her team has bought — for the first time all election cycle — TV ads in the state.

Mr. Trump’s pathway will be in through Macomb County and other rural areas, famous for their Reagan Democrats.

“I grew up down-river Detroit. My Dad was a union worker, my whole family were union people, and when I was a kid in the ‘70s, a lot of these union guys are die-hard Democrats. And now, these same people … they’re die-hard for Donald Trump,” Scott Hagerstom, Mr. Trump’s Michigan state director told Michigan Live.

“It’s amazing the support he’s getting, being in Macomb County,” Mr. Hagerstrom continued. “If you remember, Reagan Democrats in 1980, 1984 — the whole story was Reagan Democrats, the national story was Reagan Democrats and Macomb County, Michigan, was the center. He’s getting those people.”

Only time will tell.

But for pollsters who were working the Carter/Reagan match-up, this story-line sounds all too familiar.

“This dam is about to break [on Hillary],” Pat Caddell a former pollster for Mr. Carter told Fox News, adding Mrs. Clinton’s ship has been going down like the Titanic ever since the FBI opened its criminal investigation into her.

Mr. Caddell said Mrs. Clinton’s catastrophic slide in poll numbers mirrored 1980 when Mr. Carter had the edge until “the dam broke” in the final week.

Mr. Reagan went on to sweep the Electoral College 489 to 89. The race wasn’t even close.

Kelly Riddell is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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