Trump Remains Within Striking Distance in Three Key States

Polls suggest punditry wrong to call race, GOP nominee still in the hunt for Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio

A new slate of polls in three key swing states show that the controversy over Republican nominee Donald Trump’s “Access Hollywood” tape damaged him — but only marginally.

Trump trails Democrat Hillary Clinton by just 2 percent in Ohio, 3 points in Virginia, and 4 points in North Carolina, according to an Emerson College survey released Thursday. It confirms other recent polls. An NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll on Thursday had the Ohio race tied. An NBC poll saw Clinton’s lead as wider in North Carolina, 5 points, but a Suffolk poll showed Trump down by just 2.

“The hype is there that this race is over. I don’t think that’s at all the case.”

Trump’s unfavorable rating in the Emerson surveys rose in all three states, but his support was largely unchanged. Clinton’s improved standing appears to be largely comprised from defections of former supporters of Libertarian Gary Johnson.

“The hype is there that this race is over,” said Spencer Kimball, Emerson’s polling adviser. “I don’t think that’s at all the case.”

Significantly, all of the polling in the three states took place after Sunday’s second presidential debate, meaning it covered the full impact of that event and the fallout from the 11-year-old tape showing Trump making lewd comments about women.

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The polling indicates that Clinton has improved her position among Democratic primary voters who cast ballots for Sen. Bernie Sanders. In state polling, she consistently has scored around 60 percent among that group, Kimball said. In the most recent polls, that mark was closer to 70 percent, he added.

“That’s exactly where the movement is coming from,” he said.

[lz_table title=”Trump in Striking Distance” source=”Emerson”]Donald Trump is close in 3 swing states
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Johnson had been the landing place for many disaffected Sanders voters, Kimball said. Noting that third-party candidates typically fade as Election Day nears, he predicted that Johnson would lose more support over the next few weeks. But if that happens, he added that Trump may pick up a disproportionate share since disillusioned Republicans who drifted to Johnson have been more likely to stay — for now, at least.

Christopher Devine, a political science professor at the University of Dayton, said he would have thought in the past that the terrible press Trump has gotten over the last week would have had a much bigger impact in Ohio. But the polarization of the electorate has reached a high point, he said.

“There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of changing of minds,” he said.

With its rapidly increasing Latino population and the growth of the liberal-leaning Washington suburbs in Northern Virginia — and the fact that President Obama carried Virginia twice — many observers have thought the Old Dominion to be firmly in the Democrat column. But the Emerson poll suggests an even tighter contest than North Carolina.

Kimball predicted a heavy turnout in Trump country in southwest Virginia. He views the state as more competitive than other experts and questioned whether Clinton can duplicate the turnout among less-regular voters that Obama produced.

“Without him on the top, the Democrats have not been dominant,” he said.

The Emerson surveys also had good news for a pair of incumbent Republican senators. North Carolina’s Richard Burr held a 2-point advantage in his surprisingly close re-election battle, about where other polling has been. And Ohio’s Rob Portman led former Gov. Ted Strickland by 17 points.

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Emerson in late August was the first poll to give Portman a double-digit lead. Since then, he has led in 12 polls, 10 of them by double digits. The latest Emerson poll, plus an NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist survey released Thursday that gives him an 18-point lead, suggest that the “Access Hollywood” controversy has not impacted the Senate race in the slightest.

Devine said Portman has done a good job linking Strickland to job losses during his tenure as governor. Portman also has run a positive campaign on issues that do not break cleanly on partisan lines, such as addressing the state’s opioid addiction crisis.

Still, Devine added, no one would have expected the leads Portman currently enjoys.

“It’s one we all thought would be the tightest Senate race in the country, perhaps,” he said. “He [Strickland] had excellent credentials. He, obviously, won a statewide election in 2006 and he didn’t lose by that much in 2010, either.”

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