Do We Really Need an Extra Month of Campaigning?

  • Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a town hall campaign event, Monday, Aug. 1, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio . (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, accompanied by Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett, bottom left, speaks at a rally at Omaha North High Magnet School in Omaha, Neb., Monday, Aug. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

McClatchy Washington Bureau
Monday, August 01, 2016

Washington — Insults. Affronts. Charges. Countercharges. Welcome to a presidential campaign unlike any in the past five decades: a convention-free, free-for-all August.

August is uncharted presidential campaign territory in the modern era. Not since 1960 have both political conventions ended before August.

As a result, “This is not going to be a normal August,” said Jeffrey Horwitt, senior vice president at Hart Research Associates, a Washington-based pollster.

It’s an August where the Summer Olympic Games, which will hold opening ceremonies on Friday and run until Aug. 21, will compete for the public’s attention. But even that global spectacle is unlikely to nudge Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton out of the Twitterverse or the headlines, for at least three reasons:

One, the campaigns are in a social media smack-down that won’t end. Look at the blowup in recent days over Khizr Khan’s criticism of Trump. The grieving father of a fallen U.S. soldier spoke at the Democratic convention last Thursday. Trump fired back.

The relentless social media and 24/7 news coverage — and Trump’s knack for using it — keep the flames smoldering. Trump issued a statement Saturday night “setting the record straight.” He called the Khans’ late son, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, a “hero to our country,” and added, “Mr. Khan, who has never met me, has no right to stand in front of millions of people and claim I have never read the Constitution, (which is false) and say many other inaccurate things.”

Khan told CNN on Sunday that Trump had a “black soul,” and Khan appeared in more televised interviews on Monday, calling the candidate “ignorant.”

Trump tweeted a response, saying Khan “viciously attacked me from the stage of the DNC and is now all over TV doing the same — Nice!”

Get ready for more of this nanosecond-by-nanosecond coverage of all things political.

“You have 15,000 reporters with no convention to cover. How many times can you write about the Clinton bus tour in Johnstown?” asked Terry Madonna, the director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll in Pennsylvania.

Two, the race is too close to call. No one quite knows what will move the 15 percent to 20 percent of the electorate that’s still undecided.

Trump and Clinton have each consistently held on to about 40 percent of the electorate. A CBS News poll taken Friday through Sunday found 91 percent of Trump supporters and 92 percent of Clinton backers say their minds are made up.

Both Trump and Clinton are unusually disliked for major presidential candidates.

A McClatchy-Marist poll last month found Clinton viewed unfavorably by 60 percent and Trump seen that way by 64 percent. Fifty-six percent of Trump supporters said their votes were largely votes against Clinton. Forty-eight percent of Clinton backers said they were largely voting against Trump.

Three, while the campaigns tend to agree that only a handful of states are in play, Trump keeps aiming for a broader audience.

So campaigns are “going to be hard to avoid when you have one nominee who is running largely a national media campaign rather than state by state,” said Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in New Jersey.

Adding a note of unpredictability is that the election so far is a race between two widely disliked people.

“It’s actually not unusual for a large number of voters to seem fairly locked in at this point,” Murray said. “What is unusual is the amount of that support which is being driven by a ‘lesser of two evils’ vote rather than straight partisanship.”

The first clue as to level of interest is due today in Michigan. The state will hold primaries for its legislative and congressional seats, and three of those seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are considered competitive.

Usually, a good turnout in such primaries is around 20 percent. This time, “there’s a possibility” that could go higher, said Susan Demas, the editor and publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, a nonpartisan newsletter.

Turnout could be stoked by interest in the Flint water crisis, in which some officials are accused of hiding health risks.

But there’s another big factor, said Demas: “People are engaged in the presidential race, thanks to Donald Trump’s showmanship.”