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Why it's time to start paying attention to 2016 election for real

It's not early out there anymore. Does this mean Donald Trump has a real chance?

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    U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Columbus, Ohio, November 23, 2015.
    Jay LaPrete/Reuters
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Wake up everybody! It’s time to push back from the leftover turkey and trimmings and pay attention to politics for real.

That’s because Thanksgiving is over. And Thanksgiving of the year prior to a presidential election, or a point shortly thereafter, is when Americans stop
fooling around and begin to make serious choices about which candidate they back.

This isn’t just an old pundits’ story, the sort of “truism” they relate on Fox/MSNBC when the shouting narrative lags. There is math that backs this up, particularly in regards to the key early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

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Run the numbers from past elections, and you’ll see that the predictive power of polls of Iowa and New Hampshire voters turns upward about a week and a half after Turkey Day, according to David Byler, an election analyst for RealClearPolitics. It steadily increases after that.

That means it’s about the day to stop dismissing those polls with a hand wave and the phrase, “It’s early yet.” It no longer is.

Does this mean Donald Trump has a real chance? He’s had a steady lead in New Hampshire since late July. He’d led in Iowa most of the way through that same period.

Not necessarily. Campaign time is not linear, as Nate Silver, prediction guru of the data site FiveThirtyEight, says. You don’t get a medal for each month you lead when it is a year-and-a-half out.

Ask Hillary Clinton about that. In 2007, she had a steady lead in Iowa through late summer and fall. Then she fell behind Barack Obama in December, about a month prior to the Iowa caucuses. He ended up winning the state, and eventually the White House.

Rudy Giuliani had an even worse reversal. He led national polls of Republican hopefuls for pretty much all of 2007. Then actual voting began. He lost both Iowa and New Hampshire (two states where his support had always lagged) and his support elsewhere quickly evaporated.

These analogies aren’t perfect, of course. Unlike Trump, Giuliani was vying to be the GOP establishment’s choice. Turned out, he wasn’t. Hillary Clinton is . . . not Donald Trump. In many, many ways.

So yes, The Donald has a chance. So far he’s been able to say pretty much anything without eroding his base of 25 to 30 percent support. Will that continue, particularly in Iowa and New Hampshire? Time will tell, starting about now.

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