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An Ugly General Election Takes Shape

March 31, 2016
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Political junkies got a glimpse of the fall general-election campaign this week: Hillary Clinton’s super PAC, Priorities USA, announced it had reserved $70 million of television advertising in seven battleground states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia. This ad blitz could begin before the mid-July GOP convention, if the Republican race is settled.

The group’s director, Guy Cecil, says that the PAC has $45 million in cash and $49 million in pledges, money it will spend to define the GOP nominee early, well before Labor Day.

Priorities USA hasn’t needed to spend much money on the Democratic primary contest. Sen. Bernie Sanders has attacked Mrs. Clinton as insufficiently left wing and shied away from her character and scandals. She has successfully parried his assaults by mimicking his left-wing rhetoric on Wall Street, student loans and giving voters “free” stuff.

She has also received invaluable help from the Democratic Party’s aristocrats, its 712 unelected superdelegates. About 15.4 million Democratic primary voters have cast ballots so far, 58% for Mrs. Clinton to 42% for Sen. Sanders. Yet the superdelegates who have endorsed to date break 469 for Hillary to 29 for Bernie, or 94% to 6%.

If Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, Priorities USA promises to go after his bankruptcies and business failures, his misogynistic remarks, his character flaws and divisive comments. Mr. Cecil warns that the attacks on Mr. Trump so far are “a drop in the bucket” compared with what his super PAC will spend. The Donald has provided lots of material to work with.

Conventional wisdom is that these attacks on Mr. Trump in the Republican contest have so far failed. But they have likely limited the former reality television host’s upward movement and could cost him Tuesday’s primary in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walkerhas endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz and the anti-Trump Our Principles PAC has run a barrage of ads.

These attacks are also contributing to a decline in Mr. Trump’s image among general-election voters. His approval ratings in the Real Clear Politics average have deteriorated significantly since late-February to a staggeringly bad 30% favorable, 63% unfavorable.

Mr. Trump will face challenges in responding to Priorities USA’s blitz. He rejects the help of Republican super PACs, leaving him two alternatives: He can rely on his dominance of free media coverage and forego responding with his own TV ads. Or he can dip deep into his own pocket and pay for a counterattack. Mr. Trump would presumably prefer the first option. Yet when the contest slims down to two candidates, will the media continue giving him this huge advantage?

Team Clinton faces bigger challenges if the GOP nominee is Sen. Cruz or Ohio Gov. John Kasich—or if the GOP convention turns to someone else entirely. Another candidate would run better against Mrs. Clinton than The Donald and would welcome Republican super PACs to go after her many vulnerabilities.

To read more visit WSJ.com 

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