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Nervous Democrats ask: Could Election Day disaster strike again?

Alex Roarty, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- It was this week two years ago that Hillary Clinton's victory looked assured, when the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape of Donald Trump bragging about sexual assault appeared all but certain to end his campaign.

Jesse Ferguson remembers it well. The deputy press secretary for Clinton's campaign also remembers what happened a month later.

It's why this veteran Democratic operative can't shake the feeling that, as promising as the next election looks for his party, it might still all turn out wrong.

"Election Day will either prove to me I have PTSD or show I've been living deja vu," Ferguson said. "I just don't know which yet."

Ferguson is one of many Democrats who felt the sting of unexpected defeat in 2016 and are now closely -- and nervously -- watching the current election near its end, wondering if history will repeat itself. This year, instead of trying to win the presidency, Democrats are trying to gain 23 House seats and win a majority.

The anxiety isn't universal, with many party leaders professing confidently and repeatedly that this year really is different.

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But even some of them acknowledge the similarities between the current and previous election: President Trump is unpopular and beset by scandal, Democrats hold leads in the polls, and some Republicans are openly pessimistic.

FiveThirtyEight gives Democrats a 76.9 percent chance of winning the House one month before Election Day. Its odds for Clinton's victory two years ago was 71.4 percent.

The abundance of optimism brings back queasy memories for Jesse Lehrich, who worked on the Clinton campaign and remembers watching the returns come in from the Javits Center in New York.

"I was getting texts after the result was clear -- including even from some political reporters and operatives -- texting me, you know, 'Are you guys starting to get nervous?' or 'What's her most likely path?'" he said. "I was like, 'What do you mean, starting to get nervous? What path? They just called Wisconsin. We lost.'"

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