The presidential race is tightening, according to the polls that journalists swear by.
But much of the coverage still portrays Donald Trump as a long shot and Hillary Clinton as a virtual shoo-in.
What’s up with that?
A giant caveat: those of us in the news business are way too addicted to polls. We treat every 2-point, margin-of-error swing in a swing state as a tremor, if not an earthquake. It’s early September, we haven’t had the debates yet, and too many of us are impersonating Karnak the Magnificent.
When Clinton jumped out to as much as a 12-point lead after the Democratic convention, many pundits were convinced, privately if not publicly, that Trump was toast. But it was fairly obvious that the race would tighten, as races tend to do, and Hillary has been slipping, especially in the wake of new revelations about her email and family foundation.
And yet here was a major headline on Politico: “Clinton’s Advisers Tell Her to Prep for a Landslide.”
Yes, “advisers to Hillary Clinton’s campaign have identified so many paths to an Election Day victory they are now focusing not only on the one or two battlegrounds that would ensure a win but on opening up the possibility of an Electoral College landslide.” And these advisers’ leaked assessments reveal “a level of confidence Clinton’s inner circle has been eager to squash for weeks.”
The same day, there was another Politico headline. “Inside Trump Tower: Facing Grim Reality.”
That story flatly declared: “Donald Trump’s campaign is teetering, threatening to collapse under the weight of a candidate whose personality outweighs his political skill.”
Threatening to collapse. Wow.
No wonder we’re seeing more stories about Clinton’s White House agenda, Clinton’s potential Cabinet picks, and whether reaching out to moderate Republicans will push Madame President toward the center.
Now Clinton is the front-runner, no question about it. But a Fox News poll has her up by just 2 points in a four-way race (and 6 points in a head-to-head, down from 10 points in early August). Morning Consult shows Clinton by 2. IBD has them tied. Rasmussen has Trump by 1 point. The L.A. Times puts Trump up by 2. USA Today has Clinton by 7.
After the horrible stretch that Trump endured over the summer, that is a competitive race.
Now the battleground polls are what count, and there Clinton is ahead, by varying margins, in virtually all key states. She has succeeded in making such reliably red states as Arizona and Utah at least competitive, while Trump hasn’t been able to do that in such traditionally blue states as Pennsylvania and Michigan.
But he’s within striking distance in enough states that he could wind up at 270.
Bottom line: The geniuses who declared that Trump could never win the GOP nomination ought to be careful about saying, implying or insinuating that he can never win the White House.
At least until October.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.