With two months to go, every move becomes more important and every error more painful for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. While their immediate goal may be to win the election, their real goal should be to lead the American people after the election. This requires that, in addition to winning 270 electoral votes, the next president must also receive a majority of the popular vote.
At this point, it might be too late for either candidate to muster that kind of support, but failure to do so would not be a first.
Of the 24 presidential elections since 1916, a quarter has been won by candidates who garnered less than 50 percent of the popular vote. All these elections were held in the past 68 years, with three in the last 24 years.
Harry Truman won with 49.6 percent of the popular vote in 1948; John Kennedy won with 49.7 percent in 1960; and Richard Nixon won with 43.3 percent in 1968 (then 60.7 percent in 1972). Bill Clinton won both terms with less than 50 percent (43.0 percent in 1992 and 49.2 percent in 1996). George W. Bush won with 47.9 percent in 2000, (then 50.7 percent in 2004).
While the elections were won, and the presidents were sworn in, none of them carried the overwhelming support of the American people.
So far this election season, the Democratic and Republican nominees have hovered in the low- to mid-40s in national polls. A dismal showing indeed. It's not been a question of who is pulling in a majority of support from potential voters, but who is narrowly beating out the other candidate. The current Real Clear Politics average has Hillary Clinton at 46 percent with Donald Trump at 43 percent. Neither candidate has polled above the 50 percent mark consistently.
This year it's about more than presidential politics, no matter what you might be led to believe by watching the news. In the races for the Senate, (currently controlled by Republicans, 54 to 44 seats), Real Clear Politics has 40 safe (or not up) Republican seats, and 4 likely or leaning Republican.
On the Democratic side, they record 44 as safe, with 3 likely or leaning Democratic.
The remaining 9 are in the toss-up category. These include current Republican incumbents: Arizona, (McCain), Florida (Rubio), Missouri, (Blunt), New Hampshire (Ayotte), North Carolina (Burr), Ohio (Portman), Pennsylvania (Toomey) and one open seat in Indiana.
With a total of 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 218 are needed for control. Republicans currently have 246 seats, with Democrats holding 186 seats. Based on the 270towin website, the Republicans are projected to maintain control with 226 seats.
So in summary, the presidential election will be decided based on which candidate the voters can support, even if that means they have to close their eyes and hold their noses to do so. The Republicans will more than likely retain the House, and the Senate is in play -- but leaning Republican.
Is there anything that can be done at the presidential level for one candidate or the other to gather more than 50 percent of the popular vote in the remaining two months before Election Day? To win the mandate to lead rather than just win?
On September 27, 1994, five weeks before the off-season election, the House Republican congressional candidates rolled out the Contract with America. It contained three principles and 10 specific reforms to be voted on in the first 100 days.
The contract changed the tone, tenor and focus of the election, but more importantly laid out a path for the year ahead. The 1994 election resulted in the Republicans taking control of the House and the Senate, with 52 percent of the popular vote.
The contract was clear and specific and communicated a core set of values as well as a playbook for the next session.
That was a generation ago. Imagine a new promise to the American people, one that included specific reforms that could be passed through both houses of Congress and signed by the president, and specific changes that voters would see as leading to real change and a brighter future.
That would be leading rather than just winning.