International

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Dems find early scapegoat in FBI Director Comey

Democratic strategists will spend years seeking answers to how they could have charged into Tuesday's elections with such high hopes only to suffer such a catastrophic, across-the-board defeat.
 
In the meantime, they have James Comey.
 
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The FBI director stunned the political world late last month when, just 11 days before the election, he announced an extension of his investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while she headed the State Department.
 
Democrats howled that Comey's "October surprise" was a politically motivated stunt designed to kill Clinton's late-contest momentum. And on Tuesday, they wasted no time extending that charge further, suggesting Comey was the reason for Republican Donald Trump's staggering triumph over the former first lady.
 
As Clinton was sinking fast Tuesday night, The Hill asked a Democratic lawmaker how he felt about the presidential race. The texted reply was one word: "Comey."
 
The genesis of that message is coming straight from the top of the Democratic ranks.
 
Meeting with reporters Tuesday afternoon at the Democrats' campaign headquarters, Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) said there were tangible signs that Clinton's 11th-hour decline was damaging Democratic candidates down the ballot. He was not shy about assigning the reason. 
 
"We're clearly seeing the impact of Director Comey's letter in ... more than a handful of races across the country," said Luján, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
 
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) echoed that message, saying Comey's letter was "like a Molotov cocktail" tossed into the middle of an already turbulent campaign. 
 
"When ... Mr. Comey released that letter two Fridays ago, he became the leading Republican political operative in the country, wittingly or unwittingly," Pelosi said.
 
Democrats had always hoped to ride the coattails of a Clinton victory to maximize their gains in both the House and Senate. As recently as last month, Pelosi predicted the party would pick up no fewer than 25 seats in the lower chamber. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, had a strong shot at taking control of the upper chamber. They fell short of both.
 
"That was the path we were on until Director Comey's unfortunate actions," Pelosi said.
 
At that time, the polls were still open and Democrats were still highly optimistic that Clinton would win the White House. But they also seemed to be taking early steps to manage expectations for House pickups. 
 
That caution proved prescient: Democratic gains are expected to be in the mid-single digits — the low end of their projected range and a huge disappointment for party strategists hoping to put a much bigger dent in the Republicans' historic 59-seat majority. 
 
The outcome marks a sharp turnaround from the mood and expectations of just two weeks ago, when Democrats were riding a wave of momentum that followed the release of a tape in which Trump boasted about groping women. Polls showed Clinton with a dominating lead, particularly in vital battleground states, and election handicappers shifted a number of House races in favor of the Democrats.
 
Comey's Oct. 28 letter to lawmakers announcing a new review of Clinton's emails put a halt to those trends. Clinton conceded the election after 2 a.m. 
 
A shell-shocked Democratic strategist said it'll take some time before party leaders sort through Tuesday's wreckage to learn where their plan fell apart. But Comey's letter, the strategist said, "probably hurt a great deal."
 
"I did not expect it to have this much impact," the strategist said.