Whatever Donald Trump has done in recent days, or not done — he basically kept out of trouble—is working: the race for the White House, which entered what is generally called the final stretch on Monday, has tightened.
The Republican nominee has not only slashed Hillary Clinton’s lead substantially from 7.7 in early August to 4 points in the RealClearPolitics average of polls, but also overtaken her in some. He leads her by 2 points in a daily tracker run by LA Times and by 1 point in a poll by Reuters/Ipsos released last Friday.
“Clinton’s lead gone, Trump ahead in another national #poll. Happy #LaborDay weekend!” Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway tweeted, citing the Reuters poll.
Americans celebrate Labor Day on the first Monday of September, the 5th this time, unlike the rest of the world that goes with May 1, the International Workers’ Day.
In an election year, Labor Day, a holiday, means more than just a long weekend. It marks the beginning of the final stretch of the race, with poll numbers losing their “post-convention bump” and settling down into a more stable pattern. This is not to say Clinton’s four-point lead in the average of polls will hold till Election Day, November 8, but pundits don’t expect to see it dip by much unless she tanks in the debates, the first of which takes place on September 26. Or, she is hit by something called the “October surprise”, a race-changing setback suffered so close to polls candidates have no or little time to recover.
But for now, the Trump campaign is clearly both relieved and thrilled to see their candidate cut Clinton’s lead that had begun to look insurmountable, and even overtake her. “The ground has truly shifted,” Trump’s communications director Jason Miller told The Wall Street Journal, referring to him getting more support among Republicans, which has pushed up his numbers. “This is a jump ball.”
Coming out of his convention, the Republican nominee saw his two-point lead disappear in a week after Clinton’s convention, through self-inflicted wounds.
He criticised Khizr and Ghazala Khan, parents of a fallen Muslim soldier; refused to endorse senior party leaders’ election bids; and dog-whistled violence against Clinton over gun control.
Trump has turned since then. He revamped his campaign team, second time in as many months, and, most significantly for his aides and allies, gave up his freewheeling style of campaigning.
He read from notes, used a teleprompter, stopped ad-libbing and began reaching out, in recent days, to minorities he had antagonised earlier in the campaign, such as Hispanics — by visiting Mexico to meet the president — and African Americans.
Trump may have also benefited from Clinton’s own troubles about her use of a private email server as secretary of state and a persisting perception that the family-run Clinton Foundation may have profited from her term at state.
She goes into the final stretch with a four-point lead, but can she hold on to it?