It’s All About the Downballot Now

The race for president seems to be all but over. Trump threw away his last best chance for a comeback by threatening his many accusers of sexual assault and unwanted advances with lawsuits, and by refusing to walk back his assertion that he would “keep America in suspense” over whether he would accept the results of the election.

Unsurprisingly, his poll numbers have tanked. Just today an ABC News poll showed him a whopping 12 points behind Clinton, even as Texas (yes, Texas!) has become a battleground state. And even if the race were tied, Clinton’s dramatic field advantage would probably put her over the top anyway. There’s the faint possibility that Clinton’s lead could cause her base to become complacent about voting, but history suggests the opposite is true: the base of losing candidates tends to become despondent, while the winning candidate’s supporters tend to remain excited to vote. Anything can still happen, of course, but pending some dramatic revelation, gaffe or shift the presidential race appears to be all but over.

Which means it’s all about downballot from here. And that’s where signs of a Democratic wave are becoming more prominent. Democrats have taken a lot of damage in statehouse and governor’s races over the past decade, but this year is starting to look much better:

A new round of surveys in states electing governors this November show Democrats poised to pick up seats and gain some ground on Republicans in governors’ mansions.

Democrats were initially uncertain about their chances to make strides at the gubernatorial level, given the number of conservative states — Missouri, West Virginia and Montana among them — the party had to defend. But the recent polls have given them a reason to be more optimistic.

“We’re in a map right now where we’re pleased, on a race-by-race basis, at how this looks,” said Jared Leopold, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association. “Everyone expected that 2016 would be a difficult cycle for Democrats because we were defending more.

Nate Silver is currently giving Democrats a 73% chance of retaking the Senate as well–even there still appears to be quite a bit of ticket splitting:

The news is very good for Democrats. The Democrat has a better chance than they did a week ago in all six states, although just barely in Indiana. Indiana, though, isn’t the big story. In Missouri, New Hampshire and Nevada, Democratic chances of winning are up dramatically.

Sensing the possibility of a wave, both Clinton and Obama are turning their attention to downballot campaigns as well, in order to give Clinton the broadest possible governing majority. In a remarkable move with weeks still left in her own race, Clinton is spending ad money in states she doesn’t need to–like Indiana, Missouri and Michigan–in order to help House and Senate races:

Hillary Clinton is pouring $1 million into Indiana and Missouri in the campaign’s final weeks — not because the Democratic presidential nominee thinks she can carry those reliably Republican states, but because she believes that, with an extra push, Democrats can win the Senate and governors’ races there.

In Michigan, the Clinton campaign is propelling a late surge by Democratic state legislative candidates to regain their House majority. In parts of Maine, Nebraska, Virginia and other states, Clinton volunteers are touting Democratic congressional candidates in their phone calls and fliers to voters. And as Clinton rallied supporters across Pennsylvania on Saturday with running mate Tim Kaine, she touted Senate hopeful Katie McGinty and attacked her GOP opponent, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, as beholden to presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, President Obama is cutting lots of ads for Democratic candidates downballot–and even taking the unprecedented step of getting involved in state legislative races:

President Barack Obama is taking an unprecedented step into down-ballot races in the final two weeks before the 2016 election.

President Barack Obama is taking an unprecedented step into down-ballot races in the final two weeks before the 2016 election.

The outgoing Democratic president is set to endorse 150 state legislative candidates–part of an effort to flip Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country ahead of the 2020 redistricting battle.

2020 may be a very different dynamic for a lot of reasons. Democrats need to run up the score this cycle while Trump is weighing down the entire GOP field.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.