Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton campaigns in Indianapolis on May 1. (HPI Photo by Brian A. Howey)
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton campaigns in Indianapolis on May 1. (HPI Photo by Brian A. Howey)
WASHINGTON – With the conventions over and three months to go, the dynamics of the 2016 campaign appear set. The presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is now Clinton’s to lose.   
Granted, there are potential land mines and unforeseen circumstances that could shake things up, such as more embarrassing e-mails, even more incidents of terror, or a serious misstep on the campaign trail. But for now, certain facts are clear that point to a likely Clinton victory:
1. Democrats have been able to reframe the election as a referendum on Donald Trump’s values rather than a referendum on Hillary Clinton.  At their convention, Democrats turned Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” on its head, arguing that America already is great and that to suggest otherwise is a smear on the country and its citizens. Trump’s dark themes of fear and resentment gave Democrats the opportunity to embrace positive themes of family values, American exceptionalism, and patriotism. Michelle Obama’s brilliant speech, in particular, focused on family values, emphasizing that they are about setting a good example and providing opportunity for your kids. President Obama’s speech was replete with praises of American democracy.  Vice President Joe Biden used the message of American greatness to pitch the Democratic Party’s progressive agenda to working-class families.  The relentless attacks on Trump have seemingly stripped Trump of his Teflon. Unless Trump can turn the election into a referendum on Clinton, Democrats will be fighting on their turf.
2. The successful Democratic Convention erased Trump’s lead as post-convention polls show Clinton now with a clear advantage. According to a CBS poll released Monday, the Democratic nominee leads the Republican 47%-41% including leaning voters. The new CBS survey showed Clinton with a 46-39 lead without leaners. When third-party candidates are added to the horse race question, Clinton polls at 43%, Trump at 38%, and Libertarian Gary Johnson at 10%. Trump led 44% to 43% in the CBS poll released immediately after the Republican convention in Cleveland. Clinton’s convention bump is reflected in several other polls released since the convention. A Morning Consult poll released Sunday also showed Clinton ahead of Trump post-Democratic convention by a margin of 43% to 40%. The poll reversed Trump’s four-point lead following the Republican convention. A CNN/ORC poll released late Monday shows Clinton with a 7-point post-convention bounce. These polls, though obviously subject to changes, bode well for Clinton, who has mostly led the race, except immediately following the Republican convention when Trump briefly jumped ahead.
3.  The Electoral College map gives Clinton a clear advantage. Hillary Clinton begins the general election with a clear Electoral College advantage over Donald Trump based on how states have voted in recent presidential elections. The 18 states that have voted Democratic the past six elections yield 242 electoral votes out of 272 needed. Clinton only needs to win those 18 states plus 30 more votes to win. Even if Trump were to win every state Romney won, he would still have to carry Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida to prevail in the Electoral College. Polls show Ohio is currently a toss-up. But Florida’s heavily Latino population makes the state a difficult catch for Trump. Pennsylvania has long been fools gold for Republicans and polling shows Clinton currently with a lead. Meanwhile, Trump is losing in North Carolina (won by Mitt Romney in 2012) and even in the normally reliable Republican states Georgia and Utah. Despite the  unforgiving reality of the Electoral College, Trump supporters point to a “rust belt” strategy that has Trump winning Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa.  Only Ohio among those currently offers realistic hope for Trump. Trump, of course, leads comfortably in the South and Plains states. Overall, however, the Republican nominee currently faces a seemingly insurmountable Electoral College deficit.
4. Trump’s personal feuds feed the narrative that he is too unstable to be President. Donald Trump’s penchant for picking personal fights is not only preventing his message from getting through to voters. Trump’s personal feuds also underscore the Democratic argument that he lacks the temperament to be president. The most lasting line of Hillary Clinton’s convention speech was the devastating “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.” Trump’s public denigration of Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq who have criticized Trump for “smears of Muslims,” has been so damaging that it has generated sharp rebukes by prominent Republicans, including John McCain who issued a blistering statement Monday.  The Veterans of Foreign Wars, which warmly welcomed Trump to its convention last year, also scolded Trump Monday. The intense backlash raises questions about whether this controversy — unlike others — has become a turning point in the election and will have lasting impact on the outcome of the election.
5. Clinton’s voter turnout advantage could be critical. With so few truly undecided voters, turning out committed supporters will again be as critical as persuading those still wavering. It is indisputable that Clinton has a vastly superior get-out-the-vote operation to Trump’s when it comes to field operations in key battleground states. Trump has devoted very little attention or resources to building a ground game. Even GOP insiders concede that Clinton is far better positioned on the ground. In a close election, Clinton’s ability to turn out her supporters could make the difference.
6. Debates favor Clinton and Trump knows it. During the Republican primaries, Trump proved to be an unsteady debater, at times appearing unprepared or uninterested. His statement Sunday that the Russians were not going into the Ukraine raises questions about how much of a grasp he has on critical issues the nation faces. No one has similar questions about Hillary Clinton’s command of issues. Trump’s recent attacks on the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has run debates in every presidential year beginning 1988, suggest he might be trying to avoid them all together. Trump took heat for skipping a Republican debate. Before long, he may conclude he needs these debates to have a chance to win.
7. The mood of the country still favors Trump and his message.  In spite of the above, Trump retains a real shot to win the election. Trump has the winds of change at his back while Clinton epitomizes the status quo. Americans worry about the future amid fears of terror and an economy that ignores the middle class.  Resentment against the political establishment fuels intense voter anger. Trump hopes a Brexit-esque surge will propel him to victory. And it could if Trump would focus purely on security and economic issues.

Sautter is a Democratic consultant based in Washington.