The DNC doesn’t know how to paint Hillary in a good light. Is this a good thing for Trump?
With Election Day less than two months away, Democrats are increasingly worried that Hillary Clinton has not built a formidable lead against Donald Trump despite his historic weaknesses as a national party candidate.
Even the Democratic nominee’s advisers acknowledge that she must make changes, and quickly. Clinton leads Trump by three percentage points, having fallen from her high of nine points in August, according to the latest RealClearPolitics average. That tightening has frustrated many Clinton allies and operatives, who are astonished that she isn’t running away with this race, given Trump’s deep unpopularity and his continuing stream of controversial comments.
“Generally, I’m concerned, frankly,” said former Democratic Senate leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.). “It still looks positive, and I think if you look at the swing states and where she is right now, she’s got a lead. But it’s certainly not in the bag. We have two months to go, and I think it’s going to be a competitive race all the way through. I would say she’s got at least a 60 percent chance of winning.”
At the same time, Daschle said, “all the things that Trump has done, the numbers should be far more explicitly in her favor, but they’re not.”
Among Democrats’ concerns is the fact that Clinton spent a great deal of time over the summer raising millions of dollars in private fundraisers while Trump was devoting much of his schedule to rallies, speeches and TV appearances — although many of those didn’t go as well as his campaign may have hoped.
Clinton has focused more heavily on fundraising than Democratic strategists had hoped would be necessary at this stage, partly to help Democrats running for Congress and state offices who would be useful to Clinton if she is president and partly to hold off further erosion in the polls.
One new goal for Clinton now, aides said, is to spend more time trying to connect directly with voters by sharing a more personal side of herself — and by telling them where she wants to take the country.
The campaign has long predicted a tightened race and has taken to using recent polls both to imbue supporters with a sense of urgency and to continue raising money.
“Trump’s pulled neck-and-neck in a few recent public polls” and is ahead in the battleground Ohio in one survey, campaign manager Robby Mook wrote to supporters. “His fundraising numbers are spiking — he and the Republicans raised $90 million in August (his best month yet). His ground game is growing,” Mook wrote.
“That means we can’t underestimate our opponent — because if we don’t see a serious uptick in our fundraising right now, Donald Trump’s presidency could be a real possibility.”
Trump’s campaign, meanwhile, battling historic unpopularity and a flood of public Republican defections, has been delighted and somewhat relieved to see the polls tighten. Aides attributed the change to Trump’s packed August schedule, including a visit to Mexico, as well as increased discipline — at least by Trump standards.
Just as Trump was repeatedly underestimated during the Republican primaries, his aides say he is again being underestimated heading into the general election. There’s a sense in the campaign that things are finally coming together and that Trump can propel himself ahead of Clinton over the next two months.
That optimism is less prevalent outside the campaign, though many operatives are loath to predict an outcome in such a volatile election.
“It’s really quite amazing that after the Trump adventure this is still a competitive race,” said Scott Reed, chief strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a longtime Republican operative who managed Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign.
Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s former chief strategist, threw cold water on Trump’s enthusiasm in an interview Friday, saying he has yet to see Trump outperform Romney in any state or with any demographic in a way that would signal that he has a chance to win. Stevens said that any talk of Trump having a ground game is “fantasy” because Trump has yet to build a campaign structure anything like Clinton’s. Stevens called Trump’s optimism “childish.”
“I don’t see the path. I just don’t see the path,” Stevens said. “I’ve been in these races where you’re nine points down, then you’re five down — you’re still losing.”
Even among Democrats who wonder why Clinton isn’t doing better, the overall view is that she remains in position to win in November.
“It’s going to be the craziest 60 days we’ve ever seen in politics,” said Mary Anne Marsh, a veteran Democratic consultant who is not working for the campaign but said she remains confident in Clinton’s chances. “Give me any other Republican, and I can tell you exactly how this is going to go down. I can’t do that with Donald Trump.”
She added: “I don’t think we’ve seen the most negative part of this campaign yet, and that’s saying a lot.”
Marsh and other operatives said Clinton will benefit by more directly engaging media and the voters in the final stretch of the race — as Trump has been doing already.
“I look at this race, and I’m thinking that’s not a dumb thing for them have to have done,” said Joe Trippi, a veteran Democratic consultant.
Some changes in Clinton’s operation are already in evidence on the campaign trail. Among them: more interaction with the media; a series of policy speeches that Clinton’s communications director, Jennifer Palmieri, said are “more about her than about him”; and a shift back toward positive messages in television advertising and efforts to present positive elements of Clinton’s biography elsewhere.
By the end of this week, the first in which she has traveled on the same plane as her press corps, Clinton had appeared four times before their cameras to answer questions.
Clinton also played to the cameras and showed a flash of irreverent humor Friday when, after she had left the podium following a short press conference on national security issues, she paused and then returned to answer a shouted question about Trump. With dramatic timing and a sardonic smile, Clinton slowly shook her head and took a breath before addressing Trump’s perhaps ill-advised appearance on a television network backed by the Kremlin.
“Every day that goes by, this just becomes more of a reality-television show,” she said. “It’s not a serious presidential campaign. And it is beyond one’s imagination to have a candidate for president praising a Russian autocrat like Vladimir Putin and throwing his lot in with him,” Clinton said.
Clinton also addressed head-on the perception that she is chilly or aloof, telling the online interview site Humans of New York on Thursday that her natural reserve is born of the “hard path” she walked as a professional woman.