The Only 30 Minutes That Matter

Politico: “That’s when Al Gore first sighed, Mitt Romney knocked President Obama on his heels, and Marco Rubio, earlier this year, glitched in repeating the same talking point — over and over and over. It’s when Gore tried, unsuccessfully, to invade George W. Bush’s space, Richard Nixon was first caught wiping away sweat with a handkerchief (during the moderators’ introductions!) and Gerald Ford in 1976 made the ill-advised declaration that, ‘There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.'”

“Veteran presidential debate coaches and campaign strategists say the tone and trajectory of general election debates have long been set in their opening minutes, and that the explosion of real-time spin and Twitter groupthink has only accelerated the trend.”

Yes, It’s Time to Panic

Jonathan Chait: “So what do the polls say? FiveThirtyEight, Silver’s site, gives Clinton a 51.5 percent chance of winning. The Upshot, the New York Times calculator, gives her a 69 percent chance. (Both forecasts are based mostly on polling results.) Silver’s forecast makes Clinton the equivalent of a football team that is a 1-point favorite. The Upshot’s forecast makes her the equivalent of a 5.5-point favorite.”

“If your football team is either a 1-point favorite or a 5.5-point favorite, then you should be deeply concerned about the chance of losing. If the outcome is not a football game but the chance that the Executive branch falls under the control of a bigoted, uninformed, dictator-admiring man-child, you should be more than concerned. You should be freaked out.”

State Poll Roundup: Monday

Here are the latest state polls from the presidential race:

Colorado: Trump 42%, Clinton 41%, Johnson 13% (CNN/ORC)

Pennsylvania:  Clinton 45%, Trump 44%, Johnson 6% (CNN/ORC)

Virginia: Clinton 39%, Trump 33%, Johnson 15% (Christopher Newport University)

North Carolina: Clinton 43%, Trump 42%, Johnson 10% (High Point University)

Iowa: Trump 38%, Clinton 38%, Johnson 9% (Loras)

Florida: Clinton 43%, Trump 41%, Johnson 8% (Florida Chamber of Commerce)

A Humble Trump May Win the Debate

Rick Klein: “What if he apologizes? What if he behaves himself? What if he drops “Crooked Hillary” for “Madam Secretary”? What if – stay with us here – he doesn’t stretch the truth? Forget the no-holds-barred attacks Donald Trump has proven himself capable of. Hillary Clinton’s worst nightmare might be humble Trump, since that would flip storylines enough to potentially dominate the takeaways regardless of what else happens at Hofstra. Clinton’s camp is pressuring Lester Holt to do the fact-checking the candidate doesn’t want to do by herself. But she may be in the position of wanting and needing to draw Trump out – to bait him into a discussion of President Obama’s birth status, for instance, or a real policy discussion on Iraq or Afghanistan or ISIS. Clinton-as-aggressor would surely be unexpected.”

“It also may be helpful in a race where she continues to struggle to lock down her base. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Trump getting a larger share of Republicans and of Romney voters than Clinton is of Democrats and Obama voters. Clinton isn’t known for smackdowns. But it may not hurt for her to show some fight.”

Are Most Public Polls Garbage?

David Plouffe talks to Greg Sargent about the tightening polls:

“Some polls closely capture where the race stands. But they’re very incomplete. The Clinton campaign is doing large samples for modeling surveys of everybody on the voter file. So you have a very good understanding of how you believe 100 percent of the electorate will be allocated on election day.”

“When you look at how 100 percent of the vote is likely to be allocated in Florida, I get very optimistic… I can get Donald Trump to within two or three in Pennsylvania, but I can’t get him to a win number. The same is true in Virginia and Colorado. I know everybody goes crazy about the latest Cheetos poll, but I feel very confident about both New Hampshire and Florida. So that puts her over 300 [in the electoral college]. Trump has to pull off a miracle in the electoral college.”

Jim Messina said pretty much the same thing on Political Wire Conversations last week.

Do the Debates Really Matter?

NBC News: “Looking at pre-debate NBC News/Wall Street Journal presidential polls and the final election results since 1992, there is only one campaign where the debate may have made a serious difference — 2000. In every other case, the candidate that led going into the debates wound up winning on Election Day. And, to be fair about 2000, Democrat Al Gore actually did get more votes than Republican George W. Bush (but lost the Electoral College), so technically — where the popular vote is concerned — the numbers above show a perfect 6 for 6. The candidate that led in the poll going into the debate period won the election.”

Trump Has Most to Gain In First Debate

Harry Enten: “Eight out of 10 times, the non-incumbent party’s candidate — that’s Trump this year — gained in the polls after the first debate. That includes each of the last five times. There are various theories to explain this. Some people think, for instance, incumbent presidents do poorly in first debates because they’ve had four years to grow unaccustomed to being challenged so directly, or that the challenger benefits simply by being on an equal playing field with the sitting president. Those theories don’t apply this year.”

“That said, there are other reasons to think Trump has more to gain. He is currently winning a lower percentage of self-identified Republicans than Clinton is getting Democrats, so perhaps he has more lower-hanging fruit than Clinton: More Republican voters may come home after seeing both Clinton and Trump in action.”

Caveat: “First debates haven’t moved the polls all that much. Only twice did the leader change: Ronald Reagan moved ahead of Jimmy Carter in 1980 and won the election easily, and George W. Bush overtook Al Gore in 2000 and won the Electoral College (but not the popular vote).”

Trump Can Win Debate By Not Losing It

Matt Mackowiak: “In a change year, Trump is the change candidate. Clinton is a lot of things, but she is not a change agent after eight years of Obama.The question for voters, particularly swing voters in battleground states, is whether Trump offers too much change. They need to know if he is an unacceptable risk.”

“Trump can win this debate by not losing it. This will require discipline, self-control, patience, and calm. These are not his natural strengths. Serious, thoughtful debate prep would have benefitted him, but he appears to have been wholly unwilling to commit to it. This may prove to be a politically fatal error.”

“Trump likes to call himself a counterpuncher. But not every jab needs to be countered. I expect Hillary to jab and uppercut constantly. Her team appears to believe the only way she can win the debate is by invalidating Trump as a legitimate choice.”

Greg Sargent: “I don’t buy it… Clinton does not necessarily have to bait Trump into acting angry, hateful, or crazy to prevail. Clinton can win if she displays more knowledge and competence than Trump, and if she shows that she takes the debates more seriously than Trump does — while simultaneously taking steps herself to remind the audience of Trump’s erratic judgment and temperament and track record of bigotry, hate speech and all-around abusiveness.”

Presidential Race Is a Dead Heat

A new Bloomberg poll finds Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are locked in a tied two-way race for the presidency, 46% to 46%, as they prepare for one of the most highly anticipated debates in modern politics.

Trump leads by two points, 43% to 41%, when third-party candidates are included.

Key finding: “There are signs that Clinton’s margins with women and young voters have eroded over the past three months, helping to explain Trump’s gains.”

A new Quinnipiac poll shows Clinton edging Trump, 44% to 43%, with Johnson at 8%.

Cruz Has Been Profiting from Trump for Months

Politico: “Just six weeks after he dropped out – and more than a month before Cruz would dramatically snub the nominee at the Republican National Convention – the senator quietly began renting his vast donor email file to his former rival, pocketing at least tens of thousands of dollars, and more likely hundreds of thousands, that can be used to bankroll the Texan’s own political future.”

“The exact details of Trump’s financial arrangement with Cruz are unclear, and loose federal record-keeping makes it impossible to verify. But an email rate sheet obtained by POLITICO shows that Cruz asks campaigns to pay more than $22,000 for the right to send a single email his list of 280,000 digital donors.”