With the GOP campaign floundering and every Democratic surrogate from President Obama to Will Farrell blanketing North Carolina to shore up the Hillary’s bona fides, it seemed that the course was set until FBI Director James Comey’s Oct. 28 bombshell disclosure that the agency was reviewing additional emails that might be relevant to its theretofore concluded investigation of Clinton’s emails.
Let’s be clear: Based on anonymous sources cited by Newsweek, the New Yorker, the New York Times and other outlets, the emails currently under review by the FBI appear to have neither been sent nor received by Hillary Clinton, and came to light from a separate investigation of former US Rep. Anthony Weiner. The disgraced congressman is the estranged husband of Huma Abedin, a top aide to Hillary Clinton. According to Newsweek, the FBI seized an electronic device in its investigation of Weiner and discovered a personal account shared between the husband and wife. Working under Clinton at the State Department, Abedin was responsible for printing out emails for her boss to read, and she apparently had trouble with the official system and often forwarded emails to her personal account to print out. Voila — candidate Clinton is suddenly linked to the Anthony Weiner sex scandal. But the FBI’s only interest as it pertains to Clinton is likely whether or not any of these emails show that she forwarded classified documents.
All this apparently because Anthony Weiner got caught sending sexually explicit texts to a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina.
There’s a lot to digest here, and the odds are that none of it has to do with criminal offenses by Hillary Clinton. There isn’t enough space here to get into the unprecedented and troubling nature of Comey’s action and the fact that it threatens to subvert the election for the nation’s top office, but it’s also worth noting that his hand was somewhat forced by Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s folly in meeting with Bill Clinton while the original investigation was underway.
Of course the FBI director’s disclosure casts a shadow over Clinton, who is already one of the most distrusted presidential candidates in modern history. The game plan for both campaigns — from Mike Pence urging Republicans to “come home” in Greensboro on Oct. 24 to Michelle Obama warning that the other side is trying “to make this election so dirty and ugly that we don’t want any part of it” three days later in Winston-Salem — was already all about bringing reluctant supporters back into the fold. Even the whiff of corruption could make the difference for voters who were tempted to stay home or cast a protest vote for Gary Johnson.
This is an October surprise, to be sure, but they don’t work like they used to, back when Americans got most of their information from three broadcasters, and a handful of publications that set the national news agenda. There are multiple October surprises, and it’s doubtful that this one makes as strong an impression as the Republican nominee bragging about how his celebrity gives him license to grab women by the genitals. The impact of Comey’s bombshell is also somewhat defused by the fact that millions of Americans had already voted by the time it landed. But Democrats have to be worried about their chances of flipping North Carolina, with a CNN analysis showing that Republican turnout has cut into the traditional advantage Democrats historically enjoy in early voting.
The biggest winner here is likely to be Republican Sen. Richard Burr, who is fighting to defend his US Senate seat. Burr, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, was quick to capitalize on the news on Oct. 28, urging that “the American people deserve to have a full accounting of Secretary Clinton’s practices and a complete picture of her actions as Secretary of State.” He added, “We should allow this to go through the complete processes, this time including all the emails on Clinton’s server.”
It’s a good bet that a lot of undecided voters in North Carolina, when forced to reckon with the fact that the next president will either be a flawed but thoroughly capable leader or an erratic celebrity businessman totally lacking in self-control, will blink hard and vote for Clinton. If they can overlook the fact that the Republican-controlled Senate has held the Supreme Court hostage for months on end, they may feel a twinge of remorse and reason that a President Clinton will need a Republican majority in the Senate to keep her in check.
To retain control of the Senate, Republicans need to hold North Carolina — which remains the tightest race, with Burr holding a slight advantage over Democrat Deborah Ross — and one other state, most likely Pennsylvania, Missouri or New Hampshire.
For a conflicted voter, the most logical action might be to cancel out their presidential preference by splitting the ticket.