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Monday, October 31, 2016

October Surprise: Clinton has more emails

FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to Congress on Friday.  The letter said that the FBI had found another source of emails that might be relevant to the investigation into whether Hillary Clinton violated laws handling classified materials.

The letter did not indicate whether the new source might actually find any emails that proved a violation of the law, only that another pile of emails exists that the FBI needs to examine.  The emails exist on a computer owned by Anthony Weiner, being investigated for sending pornographic messages to a minor.  His wife, Huma Abedin is a top staffer for Clinton, both in the State Department, and now in the campaign.

Comey's letter itself is really nothing.  He gave no indication that he has any reason to believe this new source will show anything new.  He is obligated to inform the House Committee investigating Clinton's emails if he finds any new potential evidence.  This is what he did.  Of course, the timing, less than two weeks before the election has everyone up in arms.

The Republicans immediately pounced on the letter as somehow being proof that Clinton is guilty of a crime.  They are using the issue to pummel Clinton over the continuing email scandal.  There is, of course, no evidence that there will be anything new in these emails.  The FBI has not even examined the contents of the emails yet, as they only received a warrant to review them late Sunday night.  But the final days of a campaign are no time for calm and reasoned analysis.  Republicans are focused on the FBI's continued investigation as evidence of Clinton's guilt.  Trump immediately seized on the letter as proof of Clinton's criminal corruption.

Some Republicans think if they can revive this scandal right before election day, it might have some impact on the election.  Certainly, it takes coverage off of Trump's many scandals and puts them back on Clinton's scandals.  That cannot be good for the Clinton campaign, but with Clinton so far ahead and with no smoking gun, it is unlikely to have a significant impact on voters.

The Democrat reaction to letter is also overblown.  Democratic Leader Sen. Harry Reid and others are accusing Comey of a crime for sending his letter to the House.  Reid argues this violates the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from using their government positions to interfere with an election.  To be a crime, Comey would have to have done this for no reason other than with the goal of throwing the election to Trump.  Reid argues that the timing of this announcement somehow proves that was the goal.

This is an absurd accusation.  There is no evidence that Comey, a Democratic appointee, is attempting to subvert the election.  The timing is based on the fact that the FBI only came into this information a few weeks ago and needed time to decide how to react.  If Comey had waited until after the election, especially if some damning evidence does show up in the emails, the Republicans would be accusing Comey of a criminal cover up.

Still, the Democratic accusation against Comey is a way to deflect attention away from Clinton and put it on the FBI.   The media and voters start talking more about whether or not Comey committed a crime and less about whether Clinton created a crime.  It is the same "blame the messenger" deflection that they have been using against Wikileaks.

The whole blow up has created a little more uncertainty.  Sadly this seems to bring out the worst on both sides.  Few want to get to the truth.  Both sides are looking to spin any story they can if it works to their advantage.  The resulting public disenchantment and distrust only makes governing harder for whoever wins.

How this may impact the election is still a question.  It may work slightly to Trump's advantage, but probably not enough to change things.

Early voting is already underway in many States.  Early voters, though, tend to be solid Republicans or Democrats,  Undecideds tend to wait.  Those are the same people likely to be swayed by last minute issues.

Even a small shift in Trump's favor may swing a few important States.  Trump has had tenuous leads in Arizona and Ohio.  This last minute issue may help Trump nail down those States in his favor. Similarly, Florida which has been a virtual tie for months may swing in Trump's favor.  If Trump wins all of those, we would still have to win all of the other Clinton leaning toss up States: Colorado, Nevada, and North Carolina, to win the election.

I just don't see that happening.  I think Colorado, has remained in the Clinton camp by at least several points in every poll since the Conventions.  North Carolina may be a little more likely than Colorado to flip, but even North Carolina has shown a consistent 2-3 point advantage for Clinton for months now.

Even if Trump wins all of these states, Independent candidate Evan McMullin appears to be ahead in the polls in Utah.  If Trump wins all of the swing States mentioned above, but loses Utah, he would be one vote short of a majority, thus throwing the election to the House of Representatives.  If that happened though, it is quite likely that the Republican majority there would give the Presidency to Trump.

In short, there is a path to victory for Trump, but it seems like long odds.  Nate Silver puts the odds of a Trump victory at 21%.  I would argue less than that, maybe 5%.  But again, Trump has defied conventional wisdom before.

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