4 days before the election, a look at campaign closing strategies

It’s the final countdown to Election Day: about 100 hours remain until the polls close. Where does the race stand now, and what is each campaign prioritizing during the home stretch? Judy Woodruff is joined by Jim Messina, CEO of The Messina Group, and Matthew Dowd, former chief strategist for Bush-Cheney 2004, to discuss the latest polls, who is still undecided and the turnout variable.

Read the Full Transcript


    With 72 hours to go, the presidential candidates are making their final pitch to voters this weekend.

    To size up the race, I'm joined by two campaign veterans.

    Jim Messina is the CEO of The Messina Group. He served as campaign manager for President Obama in 2012. And Matthew Dowd, former chief strategist for George W. Bush in 2004, he's now a political analyst for ABC News.

    And we welcome both of you to the program.

    So, I'm going to ask you both to put yourself in the shoes of the folks who are running the Clinton and the Trump campaigns this year.

    Jim Messina, what are you thinking right now? What are you looking at?

  • JIM MESSINA, CEO, The Messina Group:

    Well, you have about 102 hours before the polls close, Judy. And so you're thinking about two things, first of all, getting out your vote, making sure that what we call the sporadic voters, the people who may not vote in this election, absolutely have to vote.

    And that's where you have spent the last two years building field and data and resources to target those people and make sure you can turn out your vote.

    And the second, equally crucial thing is, we're still sitting here with about 5 percent of America, maybe 7 percent, who is undecided. And our research shows clearly that those people are influenced by what their friends and family members are saying. So, you're targeting those voters with a variety of different techniques to try to move your message in these last 102 hours.


    Matthew Dowd, so, you're running one of these campaigns. What are you thinking?

    MATTHEW DOWD, Former Chief Strategist, Bush-Cheney 2004: Well, I think, when you look at it, just objectively, right now, the race leans in Hillary's direction.

    And so I think there's two different strategies in play. Right now, if the election were held today, he would win the presidency. So, I think, first, she — it's the sort of the political Hippocratic oath. She wants to do no harm. She wants to make sure there's no mistakes are made.

    And I agree with Jim. They want to employ and engage their strategy that is going to be the last 72 or 90 hours of this race and turn out the vote, because, if she does that, she wins this race.

    For Donald Trump, he's probably going to have to take a few chances if he's going to be able to overcome that small hurdle that exists in this race, though a sturdy hurdle that exists in this race, and he has to hope something breaks in the course of this race, then he can immediately take advantage of it in the next 28 or 48 hours. It's a much more difficult situation for Donald Trump today than it is for Hillary Clinton.


    So, Jim Messina, for something to break in the last — we have already seen breaks over the course of the last few weeks, but what would it take to change the course of this election at this point?


    Well, I think a couple things.

    One, as we talked earlier, turnout matters. And if we have historic turnout in white precincts, like Matthew helped President Bush do in 2004, that could change the race.

    There could be — people make mistakes. Things happen. World events happen. Right before the Brexit vote, there was an internal terrorism incident in the U.K. that fundamentally changed the race. So, you're not sure what's going to happen.

    But you have got to be ready for whatever is going to happen, but, more importantly, stick to your message. Matthew's right. She's got to turn her vote out and she's got stay very, very disciplined. And I think she's running the right kind of campaign to do that.

    Donald Trump is running a much different campaign. I don't think the word discipline has ever come to mind when you think of him. But he's at his best when he kind of goes straight at it. And so I think he's going to try to cause a little stir and push hard here.

    And you saw him yesterday go right after it. And I think it's going to be a wild and woolly final four days here.


    Matthew Dowd, is that what you expect, that something — that there is going to be — something is going to be said by Donald Trump or that's going to come out of someplace we don't expect that could change the trajectory at this point?


    Well, we definitely know Donald Trump will say things in this that, as Jim says, that are undisciplined that would normally rock any other campaign which he has done probably a hundred times in the last 200 days.

    I don't think it's going to be that. I think it's something we have no idea about. That's usually what happens, the Comey letter or the Comey report that happened a week or so ago, which adjusted this race to Hillary Clinton's disadvantage by about two points, though she still has a solid, but small lead in this.

    But, I think, in the end, it is going to come down to employing the strategy you need. I don't think anything is going to fundamentally adjust this race.

    One of the interesting things, Judy, in this, if Hillary Clinton wins this race, she will win it with the most diverse coalition that anybody's ever been elected by in presidential history. She will have the most diverse coalition that anybody's ever — even more diverse actually than Barack Obama in 2012 and 2008.


    Jim Messina, you wrote a column for The New York Times yesterday in which you said you really dislike national polls, and you referred to something you call the golden report that you trusted when Barack Obama last won an election. What exactly was that?


    Well, Judy, just to correct you, I said I hate public polls.



    And I think they're the worst things in the world, because most of them are absolutely wrong.

    But, in the Obama 2012 campaign and to this day, we do 62,000 computer simulations of the election, to simulate every possible variance, turnout numbers, economy, incidents that Matthew was talking about, all of those things. And we really follow that much more than public polls.

    I had a rule in the Obama campaign: If you looked at public polls, I would fire you, because it was a silly waste of time. People have got to stay focused. And what the golden report allows you to do is look at the voters who really mattered and which of these states really are up for grabs, because, Judy, this is not a national race right now.

    As Matt knows, we're in eight to 10 states that are really going to decide this election. And you have 102 hours to affect the outcome. And so the one thing you can't go get more of is time. And so each campaign has got to be very structured and disciplined in what they do.

    Donald Trump, again using his non-disciplined campaign, doesn't believe in data, hasn't done any of those things. He's just kind of making an argument to the country, whereas you see the Clinton campaign be very strategic in how they're spending their time.


    Very quickly, Jim Messina, does Hillary Clinton have something like that right now?


    I think she's got a better version.

    I think her campaign manager, Robby Mook, has done a good job building it.


    And, Matthew Dowd, does Donald Trump have anything close?


    No, I don't — the huge advantage in the Election Day is Hillary Clinton's in this.

    Just one thing I will slightly disagree with Jim on. I'm agnostic about public polls. In the campaign that I did in 2004, George Bush called me up on election morning and asked me what was going to happen, and I said he would win by two to three points. He won by 2.5 points in that race. That was based on all the things Jim just said.

    But for viewers out there who have not — who don't have access to the stuff that we have access in a campaign, here is what I would counsel. I would counsel, look at a broad average of the national polls, and that really tells you what's going on yesterday.

    Don't worry about the state polls. The state polls are lagging indicators of where this race is.


    All right, we're hearing it from both of you. And we are going to go back and talk to you again after the election.

    Matthew Dowd, Jim Messina, great to see both of you.


    Sounds great.




    Thanks, Judy.

Listen to this Segment