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Friday, November 16 , 2018, 7:37 pm | Fog/Mist Smoke 57º


Mark Shields: The Last Lap

We now know that the October surprise of the 2016 presidential campaign has turned out to be first lady Michelle Obama.

When voters in the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll were given a list of individuals and organizations and asked to rate their feelings toward each (on a four-point scale from "very positive" to "very negative"), Republican nominee Donald Trump earned the lowest marks, with voter feelings of just 29 percent positive and 62 percent negative — including 52 percent "very negative."

Reactions to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, at 40 percent positive and 50 percent negative, were most decidedly not terrific.

But in positive contrast, 59 percent of voters expressed positive feelings for Mrs. Obama (including 45 percent "very positive"), with only 25 percent negative.

Michelle Obama has emerged in this melancholy and synthetic campaign as a singularly authentic voice, a happy warrior, better able than any other surrogate (including her husband, President Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton) to reach younger voters and to make a convincing case for candidate Clinton.

At this last stage of the campaign, you really don't need polls to tell you who is winning. The candidates' public schedules — where they are spending precious time and resources — tell us that.

I recall when — just 48 hours before the Nov. 6, 1984, election — President Ronald Reagan made a hastily scheduled stop at a small airport in Rochester, Minn.

The message was clear: The supremely confident "Gipper" was looking to run up the score and seek a 50-state sweep by campaigning just an hour and a half away from North Oaks, the hometown of former Vice President Walter Mondale, Reagan's outgunned challenger.

Utah has been the nation's most Republican state in seven of the past 10 presidential elections, giving President George W. Bush 72 percent of its vote in 2004 and Mitt Romney 78 percent in 2012.

This year, a conservative critic of Trump's, independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin, a Mormon, has shown strength in a few statewide polls and sparked chatter about a possible three-way race.

When Republican managers deemed it necessary to send vice presidential nominee Mike Pence all the way to deep-red Utah in the campaign's last weeks, it became clear that politically, the GOP in 2016 is playing defense.

Directly south in Arizona, which in 15 of the past 16 presidential elections has voted Republican, Carolyn Goldwater Ross, the granddaughter of Barry Goldwater, the patron saint of modern conservatism, introduced and endorsed — to a cheering Phoenix crowd of 7,000 — Michelle Obama, who had traveled there to campaign for Clinton.

Two days earlier, Clinton's chief rival in the Democratic primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, had been championing her cause in Tucson and Flagstaff. In Arizona, as you can see by their campaign schedules, 2016 Democrats, politically, are very much playing offense.

But there has also been unwelcome news for the Democrats.

Bringing to mind the old line about the Congregationalists in Hawaii — "they came to do good and did very well indeed" — hacked emails published by WikiLeaks, especially those from Doug Band, former and unarguably close adviser to Bill Clinton, offered an unflattering picture on how the Clintons systematically went about tapping deep-pocketed individuals and interests to collect millions for themselves and for the Clinton Foundation.

Unhappily, what comes to mind is an anecdote author Kurt Vonnegut told about fellow author Joseph Heller, a close friend of his.

At a lavish party hosted by a billionaire on New York's Shelter Island, Vonnegut asked Heller: "Joe, how does it make you feel to know that our host only yesterday may have made more money than your novel 'Catch-22' has earned in its entire history?"

Heller responded: "I've got something he can never have."

Vonnegut asked: "What on earth could that be, Joe?"

And Heller answered: "The knowledge that I've got enough."

Wading through WikiLeaks makes you doubt whether Bill Clinton ever knew Joseph Heller.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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