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July 18, 2016

Political adviser Mark McKinnon: 'I wouldn't bet anything on this election'

Now documentarian on 'The Circus,' McKinnon answers a few questions about the upcoming political conventions

Politics Conventions
07182016_Mark_McKinnon_Circus Credit/Showtime

Mark McKinnon weighs in on the presidential election in a scene from Showtime's documentary series, "The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth." Expect some surprises this week from Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention," McKinnon says.

The Republican National Convention kicks off today in Cleveland, where the GOP is expected to rally, if not coalesce, around Donald Trump.

Not terribly long ago, the thought of Trump accepting the party's presidential nomination seemed laughable, even to many Republicans. Nevertheless, here we sit with Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton.

On the eve of the national conventions, PhillyVoice caught up with longtime political adviser Mark McKinnon to discuss an election season that has been seemingly everything but predictable.

McKinnon weighs in weekly on "The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth," a Showtime series documenting the 2016 presidential campaigns. But he earned his chops as a media adviser working for the presidential campaigns of Republicans George W. Bush and John McCain.

He also has advised Democrats, including former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, and served as a political consultant for the television series "The Newsroom" and "House of Cards."

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PhillyVoice: If you could watch only one of the conventions, which would it be – RNC or DNC, and why?

Mark McKinnon: That's a no-brainer. It's the Republican Convention. What's interesting about a convention is the surprises. If anything we've learned about Donald Trump, it's that he's got a lot of surprises. He's entertaining and he's different. We pretty much know what we'll get with Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Convention. It will be a conventional convention. We have every reason to believe the Republican Convention will be unconventional.

PV: There’s a lot of talk that the Philadelphia suburbs will be a key presidential battleground. Do you agree?

"I think a lot of people who are unhappy with their choices are looking toward third parties." – Mark McKinnon

MM: Yeah. I think that's why it was very smart for the Democrats to pick Philly. I think Pennsylvania is going to be much more in play this election than it has in recent elections. I think Donald Trump, just given his blue-collar appeal, there's at least a chance that Pennsylvania will be in play.

PV: Given that, why are there reports that the Trump apparatus in Pennsylvania is so skeletal?

MM: The Trump operation is skeletal everywhere and it has been from the beginning. What he lacks in organization he makes up for in message. In any campaign I've ever done, message is much more important than organization.

PV: Will Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton have the bigger so-called “convention bounce?"

MM: Donald Trump has more potential upside. He's not as known a quantity as Hillary Clinton is. People have been watching Hillary Clinton for three decades. There's not a whole lot new to learn about Hillary Clinton. I think there's a lot of people who are curious about Donald Trump who haven't made a final judgment about it.

PV: Nate Silver of says Hillary Clinton has a 77.4 percent chance of winning the election. Do you think the election will be that one-sided? (Editor's note: Silver's updated projections now give Clinton a 64.1 percent chance.)

MM: Well, I think Nate Silver gave Donald Trump a zero chance to win the Republican Primary. He got Donald Trump completely wrong in the primary. I think a bunch of polls that came out (last Wednesday) show Trump is up, (including) in Florida. I think that Nate Silver and others are looking at this in a very conventional lens. They're looking at historical patterns and Donald Trump is throwing all the conventional wisdom out the window. ... I wouldn't bet anything on this election.

PV: Anecdotally, we’re hearing more and more Republicans saying they can’t vote for Trump or Clinton. Is Donald Trump going to be able to get Republicans out to the voting booths?

MM: I think Trump is going to struggle for some Republicans. Clinton is going to struggle for some Democrats. That's why Jill Stein (of the Green Party) and Gary Johnson and Bill Weld (of the Libertarian Party) are going to get a good look and potentially some substantial support. I think a lot of people who are unhappy with their choices are looking toward third parties.

PV: Is Bernie Sanders' endorsement of Hillary Clinton enough for her to win considerable support among his supporters? Or does she still have more to prove?

MM: She's got more to do. But I think that goes a long way. She has adopted much of the Sanders agenda. I think that's enough for most of Sanders' supporters. She's doing better with Sanders supporters at this point than Obama was doing with Clinton supporters in '08. I think that's a pretty big deal.

PV: If you were to reprise your role as chief media adviser for each of these campaigns, how would you try selling each of these candidates?

MM: Oh jeez. I'm playing the role of documentarian now. Donald Trump's main imperative is to convince people that he has the temperament for the job. Hillary Clinton's real imperative is to disqualify Donald Trump. Those are the two imperatives, really.

PV: Do the anti-Trump Republicans have any chance to steal the nomination away from Donald Trump?

MM: I think it's talk. I've seen no evidence that the "Dump Trump" movement attending the convention has any real firepower.

PV: Will you be in Philly for the DNC?

MM: I will be there. "The Circus" will be there.