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Frank Luntz has the election blues

Frank Luntz isn’t happy these days.

The Republican pollster, wordsmith and election guru has been criss-crossing the country, meeting with focus groups and seeing firsthand how little America likes its choices for president of the United States.

“This campaign is rough for me,” Luntz said today, before addressing an “Eggs & Issues” breakfast sponsored by the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce at The Orleans hotel-casino. “It’s not what I expected. It’s not what I want.”

“If you came with me and listened to what people say [at focus groups], it would give you a headache,” Luntz added.

The candidates have never been more disliked by the electorate, Luntz told the chamber gathering — 59 percent have an unfavorable view of Hillary Clinton and 63 percent have an unfavorable view of Donald Trump. One out of every four voters strongly dislikes both candidates. The No. 1 word that focus group participants use to describe Clinton is “liar” and the No. 1 word they use to describe Trump is “hateful.”

“The good news is that one of these candidates has to lose on Election Day,” Luntz said. “The bad news is one of them has to win.”

So where does the animus between the parties come from? Luntz traces modern political hatred to the bitterly disputed Florida recount of 2000, when supporters of Al Gore never endorsed the legitimacy of George W. Bush’s election, and denied him the traditional “honeymoon” period enjoyed by all new presidents. (Then again, as the late Vincent Bugliosi demonstrated in his classic monograph “The Betrayal of America,” there were legitimate legal and political grounds to doubt the Florida results and the Supreme Court’s resolution of the matter.)

Ever since the 2000 election, Luntz said, the parties have grown more mistrustful of each other, and less likely to come together after an election and rally behind a winner. “That was the beginning of the poison,” he said. “And I don’t think this election is the end; I think it’s the beginning.”

Can anything change things? Luntz says that House Speaker Paul Ryan is trying hard to bring both sides together, including when Ryan took over the House and asked Republicans and Democrats to pray for each other, an echo of the Gospel admonition to pray for one’s enemies.

But Ryan — the 2012 candidate for vice president — specifically rejected an opportunity to run for president this year, leaving us with bitter primaries on both sides of the aisle, and campaign tensions that continued all the way into the convention halls in Cleveland and Philadelphia.

“I think we have to break the barriers between us, and we have to do it very quickly,” Luntz said.

As to who’s going to win the election two months from now, Luntz gave the advantage to Clinton. Her campaign is far more organized and more disciplined, sending her to states where candidate visits can sway undecided voters. Trump, by contrast, campaigns in states where he should have a comfortable lead. Even the so-called enthusiasm gap (Trump’s voters are more excited about voting for him than Clinton’s supporters are about voting for her) is only good for a tiny boost, Luntz said.

The question is, will Clinton reach out to Republicans after her election, offering to consider their ideas, compromise on legislation and tell the country she wants to be the president for all the people, not just for those who voted for her?

Luntz also said Nevada has the key Senate race in America, as Rep. Joe Heck battles with former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto to replace the retiring Harry Reid. Heck has the advantage in that contest, Luntz said.

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