By Jonathan Easley - 10-12-16 18:40 PM EDT
Hillary Clinton has opened up a significant lead over Donald Trump in the race for the White House, imperiling down-ballot Republicans and potentially tipping several traditionally red states into the Democratic column.
Clinton has sprinted ahead of Trump nationally and in the battlegrounds on the strength of her growing support among women and independents, emboldening Democrats who now think they can win states such as Utah, Arizona and Georgia, where they are not typically competitive.
Losses there for Trump would push the race into landslide territory and endanger the down-ballot Republicans who have been fighting election-year headwinds and constant controversy at the top of the ticket as they seek to hold onto majorities in the House and the Senate.
"If this thing moves another two or three points away from Trump nationally then we're talking landslide," said Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray. "We're close to getting there."
Trump was experiencing an erosion of support among women and independents even before Friday's explosive release of a video in which he talks obscenely about grabbing a woman.
The video, and the non-stop media attention, is stoking GOP fears that the gender gap will grow worse, hurting down-ballot Republicans.
In an interview with Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly on Tuesday night, Trump dismissed polls that showed Clinton leading with women.
"I'm not sure I believe it," Trump said.
But Trump suffered a jaw-dropping collapse among women in a new Marquette University survey of Wisconsin - a blue state he had hoped to put in play.
When pollsters were in the field on Thursday, before Trump's lewd remarks were revealed, they found Clinton leading Trump by 9 points among women. Clinton's lead swelled to 23 points among women in the surveys conducted on Saturday and Sunday.
The political data website FiveThirtyEight.com has run models showing the state-by-state election outcomes if only men or only women were to vote.
In the all-male scenario, Trump would defeat Clinton 350 electoral votes to 188 - a smaller margin than President Obama defeated Sen. John McCain by in 2008.
In the all-female scenario, Clinton would crush Trump 458 to 80.
The GOP also thinks the infighting in the Republican Party over Trump could hurt their candidates.
Trump has ripped Republicans, including Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who has told his caucus to cut Trump loose if that's what it takes to win reelection.
Republicans cast into despair about the state of their party could stay home. Or Trump's energized base of supporters might turn out for him, but pass on voting for Republicans in close races down below.
"It is total chaos on that side," said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. "The House is getting closer to being in play."
Two national polls released this week show Trump trailing Clinton nationally by double-digits.
A NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey released in the aftermath of Trump's Access Hollywood scandal found him trailing Clinton 50 percent 40 percent. Trump has been languishing in the 40-percent range, unable to expand his base of support, while Clinton has been hitting the 50 percent mark with more regularity in recent weeks.
A PRRI-Atlantic poll released Tuesday put Clinton ahead by 11 points, 49 percent to 38 percent. Only two weeks ago the candidates were tied at 43 percent in that survey.
Independents are abandoning Trump in droves.
The GOP nominee trails Clinton by 11 points among independents in the PRRI-Atlantic survey, after leading her by 8 points in the same poll from last month.
Ohio, a must-win state for Trump, once looked to be firmly in his column. He led Clinton there by 3.5 points in the RealClearPolitics average only 9 days ago.
But a survey released this week from Baldwin Wallace University found Clinton surging to a 9-point lead over Trump. Clinton has since overtaken Trump in the RCP average of Ohio, provoking the University of Virginia Center for Politics to move the state from "Leans Republican" into the "Leans Democratic" column.
And Trump has suffered a full collapse in Utah, which has not gone for the Democratic nominee in more than 50 years.
Over the weekend, Trump was publicly rebuked by nearly every elected official of consequence in Utah, with Gov. Gary Herbert, Sen. Mike Lee, House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz, and Reps. Chris Stewart and Mia Love either withdrawing their support or calling on him to drop out of the race.
A stunning new survey from Y2 Analytics found Trump and Clinton tied at 26 percent there, with independent candidate Evan McMullin at 22 percent and Libertarian Gary Johnson at 14 percent.
Other traditionally red states like Georgia and Arizona may also be in play. Those contests have been close for much of the cycle but Democrats have not been active there.
"They're way more competitive than they have been in the past," said GOP pollster Robert Blizzard. "The only reason those states are a part of the presidential map at this point is because of Donald Trump."
Still, pollsters caution that a true landslide appears unlikely.
Trump appears to have a solid floor of support, even if his inability to grow his base is what ultimately dooms his presidential hopes.
Most pollsters interviewed by The Hill doubt that Clinton will win nationally by double-digits. They put the current state of the national race in the 5- to 8-point range.
"She's on pace for a resounding Electoral College victory, but I don't know that we live in an era where a landslide is possible," said Center for Politics analyst Geoffrey Skelley.
Pollsters say the volatility in this year's election - punctuated by the historic unfavorability ratings by both major party candidates - could lead to unprecedented ticket-splitting, potentially protecting the GOP's majority in the Senate even if Clinton wins with ease.
In states like Ohio and Florida, GOP Senate candidates continue to run well ahead of Trump. Elsewhere, like in Missouri, statewide Republicans are running worse than Trump.
And some pollsters say Democrats are getting ahead of themselves to believe the House is in play. The more likely scenario is that Republicans lose a dozen seats or so from their 30-seat advantage.
"I think everyone needs to calm down a little bit about how good the last week has been for Democrats," said Tom Jensen, the pollster for liberal outlet Public Policy Polling.
"A slight shift like that in the national picture does not all the sudden bring House or Senate races where you had been down by 7 or 8 points into lean Democrat or even toss up status," he said.
In the final weeks, election handicappers will be watching the generic Democrat versus Republican ballot to gauge the potential Trump fallout on down-ballot GOP candidates.
If that inches into double-digits, the House could be in play, pollsters say.
An internal survey conducted by the House Democratic campaign arm released this week put Democrats ahead by 7 points, 49 percent to 42 percent.
"These down-ballot Republicans are going to have to step up their performance," said GOP pollster David Winston. "It's doable for them but they don't have an easy task."