- - Tuesday, May 3, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Could the 2016 presidential election be decided by a single state, as it was in 2008 when George Bush edged out Al Gore in Florida’s disputed vote tally?

That’s one of the electoral count scenarios that are popping up in the news media, with some solid numbers to back it up.

Politico, the all-politics website, reports that a Florida poll for a business group showed Hillary Clinton easily beating Donald Trump by 13 points in the pivotal Sunshine state in the general election. It also shows her beating Ted Cruz by nine points.

“Why is that important?” asks Chris Cilizza, who covers politics for The Washington Post. “Because if Clinton wins Florida and carries the 19 states that have voted for the Democratic presidential nominee in each of the last six elections, she will be the 45th president,” he writes. “It’s that simple.”

These 19 states, including the District of Columbia, that have been won by every Democratic nominee from 1992 to 2012, total 242 electoral votes.

They are California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

Throw in Florida’s 29 electoral votes and Mrs. Clinton would get 271. “Game over,” Mr. Cilizza says.

Compare this to the Republican electoral map, which he says “is decidedly less friendly.” There are 13 states that Republicans have carried in the past six presidential election, and they total only 102 electoral votes, meaning the Republican nominee must go hunting for at least 168 more votes to reach 270.

But it’s still early in the presidential contest and there are many factors that could change the political dynamics of the race in favor or against the two front-runners.

Both draw high unfavorable polling numbers. A Gallup poll last month found that 43 percent of the voters had a favorable opinion of Mr. Trump, while 47 percent were very unfavorable.

Mrs. Clinton’s unfavorable numbers are also high, especially in Florida where a statewide poll found that “a whopping 42 percent of Florida voters have a “very unfavorable” view” of her, the Tampa Bay Times reported Monday.

Nevertheless, the poll by the GOP-leaning Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) showed Mrs. Clinton “easily beats either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz” in the general election, the Tampa Bay Times said.

For example, just among Florida’s Hispanic voters, who make up 14 percent of its electorate, “Trump is viewed negatively by 87 percent” of them, the newspaper said.

“Voters in Florida appear poised to reject Donald Trump and Ted Cruz as viable options for the presidency,” said a memo put out by AIF’s polling group.

“In this critical swing state, it is clear to us that Republicans continue to suffer substantial brand damage among all segments of the ascending electorate (younger voters, Hispanics and nonmajor party voters) and this presidential campaign has clearly exacerbated these attitudes,” the polling report said.

“The bottom line is this electorate is volatile, and in some segments, downright hostile. Voters don’t like the direction this country is headed in, nor do they like their current options for who should fix it,” the memo concluded.

Not only is the nation’s electorate volatile, but, for the Republicans at least, the battle for the nomination remains volatile.

Heading into Indiana’s primary Tuesday, Mr. Trump had 996 delegates, still short of the 1,237 needed to lock up the nomination.

And 41 of his delegates remained “unbound,” meaning they were not pledged to vote for Mr. Trump and could vote for Mr. Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich or even Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who suspended his campaign but is still holding on to his delegates.

In all, these Republican candidates have a total of 889 delegates among them in their collective efforts to stop Mr. Trump from becoming the GOP’s nominee.

Another 200 or more delegates “are either unbound or allocated to a candidate who has dropped out. Some of these delegates will be free to vote for any candidate on the first ballot at the convention,” writes The Washington Post’s Kevin Schaul.

“With fewer than 600 delegates left unallocated, and some wiggle room in those already allocated, this is the race to watch: Will Trump reach 1,237 delegates, or will everyone else?” he adds.

Meantime, questions are being raised about whether Mr. Trump meant what he said about lowering the bombastic and explosive tone of his campaign as he draws closer to clinching the nomination.

Up to this point, his candidacy has been marked by a stream of insults, name-calling, playing fast and loose with facts, and egging on his supporters at raucous rallies with pleas to rough up protesters.

Then, as his unfavorable ratings climbed into dangerous territory, Mr. Trump said he was going to become much “more presidential,” and tone down his rhetoric. Well, not quite.

That isn’t going to happen, says his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. “What has been a certainty in this race is that Mr. Trump is going to be Mr. Trump. That is to say, his appeal has been as a person who tells it like it is.”

Mr. Trump is a candidate who has the ability to change the narrative at any moment,” he said.

Does this mean the Donald Trump we’ve seen so far was an act? That’s what his convention manager Paul Manafort admitted recently when he said Mr. Trump has been playing “a part” in his march to the nomination, and would be a very different person in the fall campaign.

It has all been a calculating, uncompromising, tough-guy act, they say, but he’ll be a very different person when he’s in the White House. Sure.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.

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