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Robert McCarthy: Debating the Comey effect on Clinton's loss to Trump

Hillary Clinton must have felt writer’s cramp Thursday afternoon from signing all those copies of “What Happened” – her new history of the 2016 presidential campaign – inside the Filling Station restaurant at Larkinville.

It’s not unusual for the former secretary of state and New York senator to draw a crowd in Buffalo. She always has and always will.

And the Larkinville event didn’t hurt book sales, either. “What Happened” has climbed to the top of the New York Times Best Seller List as the nation continues its fascination with the weirdest of all weird elections.

You’ll see Jim Comey’s name often in “What Happened.” Along with Russian meddling in the electoral process, Clinton at least partially blames her defeat on the former FBI director’s handling of her controversial private emails.

“Comey made a choice to excoriate me in public in July and then dramatically reopen the investigation on October 28, all while refusing to say a word about Trump and Russia,” she writes. “If not for those decisions, everything would have been different.

“Comey himself later said that he was ‘mildly nauseous’ at the idea that he influenced the outcome of the election,” she adds. “Hearing that made me sick.”
Others support the former secretary’s conclusion. She cites similar theses offered by Princeton professor Sam Wang, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, election guru Nate Silver and other public opinion researchers.

On eve of Buffalo visit, Clinton talks Trump, Lazio and 'What Happened'

But University at Buffalo political scientist Jim Campbell, who has gained widespread recognition in recent years for his spot-on analysis of presidential elections, offers another view. In the paperback edition of his new book: “Polarized: Making Sense of a Divided America,” Campbell dismisses the Comey effect.

“The data shows that the decline in Clinton’s poll lead over Trump in the last weeks of the campaign was not the result of voters becoming more negative about Clinton [as would be the case if they were moved by the Comey letter],” Campbell writes. “It was the result of voters becoming less negative about Trump [a development with no plausible link to the Comey letter].

“Comey didn’t drive voters away from Clinton,” he adds. “Rather, ‘Never Trump’ Republicans were grudgingly becoming ‘Reluctant Trump’ voters.”
You know who they are – the ones who said they voted for Trump “holding my nose.” Campbell also cites political polarization serving as the main topic of his book.

“On one side of the spectrum, polarization compelled liberals to overlook Clinton’s scandals and deficiencies as a candidate as well as a sputtering economy and unstable international conditions,” Campbell writes. “On the other side, dissatisfaction with national conditions and polarization compelled conservatives to vote for a candidate many thought lacked the rudimentary leadership qualities needed in a president. Non-ideological centrists again were caught in the middle.”

Clinton visits familiar turf during book signing tour

• Amherst Republicans were thrilled on Thursday to welcome former White House chief of staff Andrew Card to their annual dinner organized by veteran GOPer Brian Rusk. Card will forever be remembered for the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the photos of him whispering into the ear of former President George W. Bush.
Card had just informed the president that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center.

• On the Dem side, Rep. Brian Higgins notched a recent successful evening, too. About 200 supporters contributed close to $300,000 at a fundraising event. The Higgins campaign, according to sources, is closing in on the $1 million mark.

• And friends of Jess Fitzpatrick, the late chairman of the Cattaraugus County Legislature as well as its county GOP, gathered Thursday to dedicate the new bridge on Route 219 as the Gerard “Jess” Fitzpatrick Memorial Bridge following legislation sponsored by Sen. Cathy Young of Olean.

“The realization of this project is a tribute to the vision and perseverance he invested during his lifetime,” Young said.

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