WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton's presidential bid takes a heavy blow, and Donald Trump sees a big opportunity.
The stunning statement by FBI Director James Comey that agents are reviewing newly discovered Clinton emails rocked the presidential race this weekend, though analysts said it will be a few days before the campaigns know whether actual voters are being changed.
Certainly Trump sees the probe as an election-changing event, telling supporters in New Hampshire that "Hillary Clinton's corruption is on a scale we have never seen before," and voters should "not let her take her criminal scheme" to the White House.
"This is the biggest political scandal since Watergate and I'm sure that it will be properly handled from this point forward," Trump said Friday night during a rally in Lisbon, Maine.
Clinton and her aides, who are demanding that the FBI release more information about its review, said voters have already made up their minds about her use of a private email server as secretary of State.
"I think that's factored into what people think," Clinton told reporters in Des Moines, "and now they're choosing a president."
At first glance, it appears the new FBI development will benefit Trump, who trails Clinton in most national and swing-state polls, analysts said – maybe not by changing peoples' minds, but by prompting equivocal voters to back the New York businessman.
"It re-frames the election as a referendum on Clinton and all the baggage she brings into office with her," said Republican consultant Bruce Haynes, founding partner of Washington-based Purple Strategies. "It puts the spotlight squarely back on her, all her faults and all the truckloads of baggage she brings."
There are more email stories to come.
In calling for more specific information from the FBI, Clinton and aides cited the vague nature of Comey's letter to congressional leaders. Agents have not yet reviewed the recently discovered emails, and cannot say whether they are duplicates of missives that were reviewed as part of a previous investigation into Clinton's private server.
The Clinton campaign has also raised a fairness issue. Campaign chairman John Podesta said, "it is extraordinary that we would see something like this just 11 days out from a presidential election."
In July, Comey announced that the bureau would not pursue charges against Clinton and that the FBI found no evidence of intentional mishandling of classified information. Trump and other Republicans criticized Comey for that decision.
This new phase began when agents discovered the e-mails as part of another investigation, this one into allegations that former U.S. representative Anthony Weiner sexted a 15-year-old girl. Weiner is the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin; the two are now separated.
As the campaigns await new polling data, Haynes noted that recent surveys – pre-FBI – showed a narrowing race, with Trump attracting more support from Republicans who had been skeptical of his candidacy, as well as some independents.
Clinton has for the most part held onto her base voters, Haynes said, but "this news is the kind of late game bombshell that could cause some of her soft supporters to reconsider and switch."
Republican pollster Frank Luntz said the e-mail situation is Clinton's "Achilles' heel," but Trump might be wise to play it cool on the campaign trail, and "let the information do the talking."
Said Luntz: "The more he publicly relishes her problem the less able he is to take advantage of it."
Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, said most voters are locked into their choice, but some can still be swayed by developing news events. Given how little is currently known about these newly discovered e-mails, this story lends itself to "a lot of wild speculation," Murray said, so "the question is how this plays on the news programs those swayable voters are watching."
That said, it seems like there will be some kind of impact on Clinton, and perhaps Democratic candidates in congressional and state races..
"Unless the FBI closes this new investigation one way or the other next week, the likely impact will be to cut into Clinton’s margin," Murray said, "with the bigger effect being on down-ballot races than on the outcome of the presidential election."