How polls and campaign tactics are shaping up in critical states

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U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appears at a campaign event in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri - RTX2QW67

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JUDY WOODRUFF: While it’s too soon to tell what the impact of today’s revelation will be on the presidential race, there are plenty of other dynamics to drill down on.

Here to discuss how the campaign is playing out in some of the states where it matters most, we’re joined by Andra Gillespie. She’s a professor of political science at Emory University in Atlanta. Emily Ramshaw, she is editor in chief of The Texas Tribune in Austin. And Paul Steinhauser, he’s political director for NH1 in Manchester, New Hampshire.

And we welcome all of you to the program.

I’m going to start with you, Emily, by asking where the race stands in the state of Texas. And I’m doing that because I can’t believe that Texas is actually in play in this election year, because, what, Mitt Romney won four years ago by how many points?

EMILY RAMSHAW, The Texas Tribune: Close to 18 percentage points. It’s really a fascinating case right now.

We are, in theory, within the margin of error. Polling shows that Hillary Clinton is trailing Donald Trump here by 3 percentage points. Early voting turnout here has been through the roof in almost every major county. For the first time in my career covering Texas, Texas is actually, in theory, in play for Democrats.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Andra Gillespie, we have asked you to look at three states for us that are in play, where you are right now, Georgia, which is a place, again, you wouldn’t expect Democrats would have a shot. What does it look like right now in Georgia?

ANDRA GILLESPIE, Emory University: So, right now, the polls have Donald Trump ahead, but his lead is within the statistical margin of error. Again, this is something that nobody would have expected in a normal presidential election year, but, of course, this year has been every — anything but normal.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what about Florida, which you’re also looking at?

ANDRA GILLESPIE: So, in Florida, it’s also still statistically tied. It’s a little bit mixed.

Going into this week, a lot of prognosticator have started to put Florida in the lead-Clinton category, but there’s been a couple of polls that have put Donald Trump up. But, again, these leads are narrow leads and statistically they’re within the margin of error, so we can say nothing other than the fact that they’re tied right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we’re hearing today that Hillary Clinton is going to spending much of the weekend in Florida, in Daytona Beach and Miami.

And, Andra, let me ask you, what about North Carolina? That’s a state where both of these campaigns have practically been living for the last few weeks.

ANDRA GILLESPIE: So, this is also a hotly contested state. And it’s started to trend toward Clinton. But, again, we’re talking about these razor-thin margins that are within the statistical margin of error.

Right now, people have started to look at North Carolina as a must-win state for Donald Trump if he hopes to be able to amass 270 Electoral College votes. And so, for that reason, Hillary Clinton yesterday brought Michelle Obama in to try to shore up support there to make sure that she keeps that in the lean-Clinton category. But, again, it’s still statistically too close to call.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Paul Steinhauser, you are in New Hampshire, where Donald Trump was today. How’s it looking there?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, NH1: Well, I think you could say Donald Trump is one happy dude today. He broke the news about the email investigation by the FBI at this rally.

Overall, though, Judy, it’s getting tighter here in New Hampshire. A new poll out today shows a three-point edge for Clinton. If you average all the polls over the last week, it’s only five points for Clinton. That’s one reason you keep seeing Donald Trump back here, three times this month. He’s been seven times since the Republican Convention, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s talk about why these races are shaping up the way they are.

Emily Ramshaw, in Texas, what is driving voters? I’m sure you have talked to some. Your reporters have talked to them. What is motivating them this year?

EMILY RAMSHAW: Well, what is really motivating them is the polarization of this race.

You’re seeing huge turnout in communities with large Latino populations, with a lot of women turning out to the polls, saying they’re just outraged by Donald Trump’s comments about women.

At the same time, you’re seeing record turnout in really strong Republican parts of the state, where folks are just determined to ensure that Hillary Clinton doesn’t get elected. So, really, you’re seeing just incredible polarization and anger and outrage and excitement on both sides.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what about — Emily, staying with you, what about in the Latino community? How is that breaking down?

EMILY RAMSHAW: The Latinos in Texas are considered the sleeping giant. They are largely Democratic-leaning when they are inspired to the polls, but they’re very difficult to get to the polls.

And I think, so far, what we have seen from early voting turnout, normally, you vote early in Texas to avoid the lines. And there have been incredible lines in the first five days of early voting, particularly in a lot of these strongly Latino communities, even on the border and in El Paso. So that would suggest that a lot of these Latinos are being spurred to the polls.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Andra Gillespie, again, we have asked you to take on three states.

But let’s take them one by one. In Georgia, the fact that Hillary Clinton is even in contention there, how do you explain it?

ANDRA GILLESPIE: Well, I think it’s a number of factors.

I think it’s, one, just the polarizing candidacy of Donald Trump, which has divided the Republican Party and perhaps dampened enthusiasm among some segments of the Republican population, particularly suburban white college-educated women.

We also have a growth in voter registration amongst Latino and Asian-American voters. And we expect that, given Donald Trump’s immigration rhetoric, that that — those groups are going to trend Democratic. We have also seen efforts in the Democratic Party to do party building to make sure that they identify likely Democratic voters in the state in an attempt to try to get them to register to vote as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s jump down to Florida, where we know it’s a very different demographic dynamic. The Latino vote there has been significant. What role is it playing this year?

ANDRA GILLESPIE: So, I think, this year, all eyes are going to be on the Orlando area in particular.

So, we know that, in South Florida, Cuban Americans have historically trended Republican in presidential elections, and so the Latino population in the state of Florida is diversifying. So, you’re looking at Puerto Ricans in particular who might be leaving the economic woes of the island to come straight to the mainland. And they can register to vote. They’re U.S. citizens.

So, we could be seeing a different type of Latino electorate, one that would be disinclined to support Donald Trump for president, and again the same national pressures, with Donald Trump having alienated many women, having alienated African-Americans. And this might drive up turnout for Hillary Clinton amongst these segments of the electorate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Andra, in both Florida and North Carolina, what kind of an organization do these two campaigns, Clinton and Trump, have?

ANDRA GILLESPIE: So, Donald Trump has relied on the RNC to do a lot of the GOTV work and hasn’t really laid the same type of campaign infrastructure that Hillary Clinton has.

And this could be the difference between winning and losing this time around. So, we know that Clinton has more campaign offices. We know that she has more paid staff. And these people are in place to help direct the GOTV operations that are in place now to get people to the polls for early voting and in particular to get them out on Election Day.

So, this is not to say that the Trump campaign isn’t organizing, but some of this is being in a more decentralized fashion. It becomes a question of whether not that decentralization can actually yield the same type of high-impact voter turnout that we know a classic shoe-leather campaign can.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Paul Steinhauser, coming back to you, you alluded to this a minute ago, but what is driving voters this year in New Hampshire? Is it the same sort of polarization we’re seeing in these other states?

PAUL STEINHAUSER: Yes, we’re not that different than the rest of the country. And I think you’re seeing the same trends up here that you’re seeing elsewhere.

We get a lot more campaign traffic. Obviously, we get two bites at the apple. We saw all the candidates in the primary as well. And, Judy, we’re a little old-school up here. We don’t have early voting, so it’s November 8 for us.

And it’s all about the grassroots outreach, the get-out-the-vote efforts here. It’s about the door-knocks and it’s about the phone calls. And as in the other states, the Trump campaign is a little stronger here, I think. They have had a little longer to put their organization together.

But, still, the Clinton campaign has the bigger get-out-the-vote effort than the Trump campaign here in New Hampshire, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me just quickly touch base with all three of you with this question.

Emily, to you first. How much is undecided, would you say, or still — people who may still change their minds in Texas?

EMILY RAMSHAW: You know, I think, at this point, most folks’ minds are already made up.

You saw Clinton playing late here in the game. She started advertising just a little bit in Texas, which was unheard of for a Democrat in the presidential race. She’s opened some offices here. But I think, by this point in the game, most people really know where they’re voting. And, again, early voting turnout has been so high that records may not be broken on Election Day itself.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Andra Gillespie, again, three states, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, what would you say about minds not quite made up?

ANDRA GILLESPIE: So, I think that at, this point, it’s not so much about persuasion as it is about mobilization.

And so, given the turn in news events, whether it’s tapes or whether it’s emails, that’s fodder for campaigns to go out and try to reach their targeted groups of people. So, if they have done the hard work of identifying voters and banking those votes, now it’s just a question of getting those voters out to the polls.

So, changes in the news cycle probably aren’t going to change folks’ minds at this point. A lot of that’s already baked in. And I think a lot of that is being reflected in the numbers of people who have turned out for early voting.

We will wait to see whether this is a harbinger of record turnout or it’s a harbinger of people having made up their minds already. But I think this race really does come down to who is best equipped to be able to get their people out to the polls between now and November 8.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And in just a couple of seconds, Paul, minds not made up, big percentage or not? Small percentage?

PAUL STEINHAUSER: Very small percentage here, same story. Minds are pretty much made up. And it’s all about getting out the base, not only in the presidential race, but in our blockbuster U.S. Senate race as well, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Which we didn’t have a chance to talk to, but we will be in one of these coming days before election.

Paul Steinhauser, Emily Ramshaw, Andra Gillespie, thank you very much.

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