Clinton 'in good shape' with three weeks left until election day
Published 17/10/2016 | 06:48
With roughly three weeks to US election day, Republican strategists have conceded that Hillary Clinton has a firm grip on the 270 electoral college votes needed to win the White House - and that she may be on her way to a crushing victory over Donald Trump.
Republican pollster Whit Ayres, who is advising Florida senator Marco Rubio's re-election campaign, said of Mr Trump: "He is on track to totally and completely melting down."
Like many Republican strategists, Mr Ayres was willing to speak publicly about the party nominee's rough road ahead at the end of an unprecedented campaign.
Things can still change before polling day, with one more presidential debate to go. Mr Trump has also rallied before, while his core support remains strongly committed.
However, along with indicators such as polling, campaign travel, staffing and advertising, the interviews with Republican political professionals unaffiliated with the Trump campaign suggest only an epic collapse from Democratic nominee Mrs Clinton would keep her from winning enough states to become president.
In the past week, Mr Trump's campaign has been hit by allegations the New York billionaire sexually accosted several women over the past three decades.
Early voting in pivotal North Carolina and Florida shows positive signs for Mrs Clinton, and donations to the Republican National Committee are down about a quarter over the past three months on the same period in 2012, when Mitt Romney was the nominee.
Preference polling in the past week, meanwhile, has generally moved in Mrs Clinton's direction, with the Democrat improving in national surveys and in a number of contested states.
If the election were held today, Mrs Clinton would likely carry the entire west coast and north-east, as well as most of the Great Lakes region - a place Mr Trump once identified as ripe territory for his populist message against free trade.
Only Ohio is on a knife-edge in that part of the country, but that perennial battleground may not play a decisive role come election day this year due to Mrs Clinton's strength - and Mr Trump's weaknesses - elsewhere.
Mr Trump and running mate Mike Pence have made a hard play for Pennsylvania, a state carried by the Democratic nominee in the past six elections. But their strategy to hold down Mrs Clinton in Philadelphia and its suburbs while running up Mr Trump's vote total in more conservative parts of the state has failed to materialise.
"He's getting his brains beat in by women in the Philly suburbs," said Ed Goeas, a Republican pollster who is surveying presidential battlegrounds and several states with races for US senate.
Mr Trump was already struggling to attract support from women before his first debate with Mrs Clinton in late September. It was at that event in New York where Mrs Clinton stung her rival by reviving his past shaming of a former Miss Universe for gaining weight.
Mr Trump's response, calling the contestant's weight gain "a real problem" in a TV interview the next day, was quickly eclipsed by the publication of a video from 2005 on which the Republican bragged about using his fame to prey on women.
An apology followed, but Mr Trump also insisted his comments were nothing more than "locker room talk".
He denied at the candidates' second debate that he ever acted in the ways he discussed in the 2005 video.
Within days, several women had come forward to accuse Mr Trump of unwanted sexual advances and sexual assault. He responded by calling his accusers liars and, on Friday, suggested they were in some instances not physically attractive enough to merit his attention.
"His entire tack could not be better designed to drive away college-educated women," said Mr Ayres.
The events have also foiled Mr Trump's late-in-the-campaign plan to re-ignite his hope of carrying Wisconsin. Trump and Pence were to campaign with House Speaker Paul Ryan in his home state a day after the 2005 video was made public - but Mr Ryan withdrew his invitation to Mr Trump, and Mr Pence later cancelled.
The New York billionaire can still count on carrying states across the West, the Great Plains and in the South, but Mr Ayers and other Republicans predict he may ultimately end up with fewer than 200 electoral college votes.