Matthew Vadum: THE FINAL COUNTDOWN

Republican Donald Trump has a good shot at defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton in today’s election but late polls still give Clinton an advantage.

Whatever happens in the presidential race, Republicans seemed poised to retain control of both houses of Congress – albeit with reduced majorities. Whether Republican lawmakers would suddenly develop a spine and resist a President Hillary Clinton after President Obama steamrolled them for years is a separate question.

Democrats seem unlikely to wrest control of the Senate from Republicans and extremely unlikely to take over the House of Representatives. Current standings in the Senate are 54 Republicans and 46 Democrats (including Independents who caucus with the Democrats). If the Senate is split 50-50 which is possible but unlikely, then the party that wins the White House will control the Senate because the new vice president becomes the presiding officer in that chamber and gets to break tie votes.

Current standings in the House are 246 Republicans to 186 Democrats. It would be next to impossible for Democrats to knock off enough Republicans to reach the 218-seat threshold that gives a party control of the 435-seat House.

In the Senate, the Wisconsin incumbent Ron Johnson (R) might get bumped off by former Sen. Russ Feingold (D). Ditto for incumbent Pat Toomey (R) in Pennsylvania who is slightly behind challenger Katie McGinty (D). In Illinois, incumbent Mark Kirk (R) seems a safe bet to get knocked off by Tammy Duckworth (D).

In Florida incumbent Marco Rubio (R) seems likely to beat back a challenge from Patrick Murphy (D). In Missouri, Democrat Jason Kander (D) whose campaign and rhetorical style is very much like Trump’s, has been nipping at incumbent Roy Blunt’s (R) heels. In North Carolina, incumbent Richard Burr (R) may barely hang on in a contest with Deborah Ross (D). It’s close in New Hampshire but incumbent Kelly Ayotte (R) seems likely to defeat challenger Maggie Hassan (D). In Nevada Joe Heck (R) is slightly behind Catherine Cortez Masto (D) but given the turnout machine put together by Big Labor and retiring Sen. Harry Reid (D), Cortez Masto seems likely to keep the seat in Democrat hands.

At press time last night, the Real Clear Politics four-way rolling average of national presidential polls places Clinton at 45.3 percent, 3.3 points ahead of Trump who weighs in at 42.0 percent. Libertarian Gary Johnson garners 4.8 percent and the Green Party’s Jill Stein gets 2.0 percent.

RCP’s electoral map projects Clinton as the victor by a razor-thin margin of 272 votes in the Electoral College compared to Trump’s 266. Only 270 of the 538 electoral votes available are needed to win the presidency.

But RCP doesn’t have the final say. Polls have been crazy in the current election cycle and anything could happen when voting ends later today.

Complicating matters further, there are four potential “faithless electors” who might break their pledge to vote for their party’s ticket. Two are Democrats and two are Republicans. Both Democrats are in Washington State. One Republican is from Georgia; the other is from Texas. If it’s close, these electoral votes might mean the difference between victory and defeat.

“In the 2000 election, for example, George W. Bush won the Electoral College by just five votes—271 to 266, with an elector from Washington, D.C., choosing to abstain,” Time observes. “If just three electors had flipped their vote in that case, Gore could possibly have become president.”

Virtually unknown Independent Evan McMullin, a spoiler running to prevent a Trump presidency, has a significant following in Utah that had been giving the Trump campaign heartburn. But it appears McMullin has virtually no chance of winning Utah. FiveThirtyEight’s polls-only forecast for the Beehive State last night gave Trump an 83.5 percent chance of winning, compared to McMullin’s 13.1 percent, Clinton’s 3.4 percent, and Johnson’s 0.1 percent.

As of 10:35 p.m. Eastern time last night, FiveThirtyEight’s polls-only forecast gave Clinton a 70.8 percent chance of winning versus Trump’s 29.2 percent chance.

The Trump campaign argues a handful of specific national polls are more reliable than the rest. For example, the IBD/TIPP poll, which boasts it has been “the most accurate poll in recent presidential elections,” put Trump at 43.1 percent at press time, Clinton at 40.7 percent, Johnson at 6.3 percent, and Stein at 2.2 percent. “Other” garnered 2.4 percent and “Not sure” got 5.3 percent.

The RCP battleground state poll averages based on Clinton versus Trump tell an interesting story.

Clinton is ahead in: Colorado (44.0 to 41.0); Maine (46.5 to 41.0); Michigan (47.0 to 43.4); New Hampshire (43.7 to 43.4); Pennsylvania (46.8 to 44.7); Virginia (48.3 to 43.0); and Wisconsin (46.8 to 40.3).

RCP doesn’t average the Minnesota polls but two of the last three polls heavily favor Clinton. KTSP/SurveyUSA (Oct. 22-25) puts Clinton at 53 percent and Trump at 42 percent. Star Tribune (Oct. 20-22) places Clinton at 47 percent compared to Trump’s 39 percent. Gravis (Sept. 23) has the two candidates tied at 43 percent.

Trump is ahead in: Arizona (47.0 to 43.0); Florida (47.0 to 46.6); Georgia (49.6 to 44.8); Iowa (44.3 to 41.3); Missouri (49.5 to 40.0); Nevada (47.0 to 45.5); North Carolina (46.5 to 45.7); and Ohio (46.2 to 44.0).

Somewhere between 46 million and 50 million Americans or more may have already voted in person or by mail, according to the Chicago Tribune. The newspaper reports:

The latest numbers show declines in voting from blacks in North Carolina — a drop-off after historic levels for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. But higher turnout by Latinos, who often lean Democratic, may be buoying Clinton in Florida. Both are must-win states for Donald Trump.

The Hispanic vote is also surging in Nevada and Colorado, where Democrats are running near or above their successful 2012 pace. Trump could be holding an edge in Ohio and Iowa, but that won't be enough if Latinos drive Clinton to victories in other battleground states.

Some polling suggests Trump is making inroads into the black vote, which is normally overwhelmingly Democrat.

“We’re showing Donald Trump doing far better among African-Americans than any other Republican in modern memory,” John Yob, CEO of Michigan-based polling firm Strategic National told Breitbart News. Trump “has done an excellent job in campaigning for the votes of African-Americans,” he said, partly by campaigning in Detroit, which conservatives regard as a symbol of the failure of left-wing policies.

The Breitbart article continues:

Trump is gaining in Michigan partly because many African-American voters — especially younger voters who backed Sen. Bernie Saunders [sic] — distrust Clinton, said Wayne Bradley, state director of African-American engagement for the Michigan Republican Party. “There is a tremendous trust deficit with Hillary Clinton” because tough anti-crime laws established when her husband was president in the 1990s, he said.

That distrust has helped cause a sharp drop in the number of absentee ballots mailed in from Detroit, even as other part of the state send in more ballots that before, Bradley said. Faced with a low turnout, the Clinton campaign is trying to frighten African-Americans to vote, but “that’s not a convincing enough argument,” he said.

At midnight voters in three tiny communities in New Hampshire participate in a quadrennial civic pageant, casting their first-in-the-nation ballots and tallying them up immediately.

When the inhabitants of Dixville Notch voted this morning, there were four votes for Clinton, two votes for Trump, one vote for Johnson, and one write-in for 2012 GOP candidate Mitt Romney. Trump received 16 votes in Millsfield, compared to Clinton’s four, and one write-in for Bernie Sanders. Hart’s Location reported 17 votes for Clinton and 14 for Trump.

Those results are just as inconclusive as the polling has been in the current presidential race.

Many believe polling understates Trump’s true support. Some pundits have been talking about “hidden” or “shy” Trump voters and how they might put the GOP candidate over the top.

“Donald Trump performs consistently better in online polling where a human being is not talking to another human being about what he or she may do in the election,” said Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway. “It’s become socially desirable, especially if you’re a college-educated person in the United States of America, to say that you’re against Donald Trump.” Former Speaker of the House and Trump supporter Newt Gingrich says shy Trump voters could be worth a few percentage points.

There is, of course, no way for pollsters to detect shy voters.

"The very simple answer about hidden votes is that we have no way of proving them one way or the other," said pollster John Zogby, who believes the theory might be correct. "Our way of getting information is to talk to people about what they are going to do, not not talking to people," the Sydney Morning Herald quoted him saying.

Supporters of the theory point to the “Brexit” vote in the United Kingdom on June 23. Polls suggested the No/Remain side would win in the referendum on whether that nation should remain in the European Union but in the end the Yes/Leave side won by four percentage points.

Then there was the referendum a month ago in the South American nation of Colombia on a peace deal with the Marxist narco-terrorists of FARC. The Yes side, supported by the political establishment, was expected to win but the No forces prevailed with 50.2 percent of the vote.

FiveThirtyEight founder statistician Nate Silver has been hedging in recent days, which ought to encourage Trump supporters. On Sunday he said on ABC’s “This Week” that even though "Clinton has about 270, so she's one state away from potentially losing the Electoral College," he said.

Silver continued:

Clinton is a lot weaker in the Midwest where four years ago President Obama was leading in Ohio by four points. Clinton's probably a couple of points behind there. Iowa, maybe the best poll in the country, the Des Moines Register Poll showed her down seven points in Iowa, a state she'll probably lose. So the demographics for Clinton don't actually work as well when you underperform among white non-college voters.

Clinton’s Electoral College “polling in the swing states is a little bit weaker than Obama's,” Silver said. “So in some sense, it's a deceptively large or small lead for Clinton in some ways whereas Obama had a bigger lead electorally than you'd think.”

So this election could very well be a repeat of 2000 in which the Electoral College victor loses the popular vote. Only the electoral votes count in the end but not securing at least a plurality of the popular vote opens the door to questions about the winner’s political legitimacy.

No matter which candidate wins, after an unusually acrimonious campaign season, questions about that person’s legitimacy are still likely to be raised.