50 days: Clinton, Trump plot paths for campaign's frantic finish

50 days: Clinton, Trump plot paths for campaign's frantic finish
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Only 50 days remain in the presidential race between Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonO’Malley tells Dems not to fear Trump FBI informant gathered years of evidence on Russian push for US nuclear fuel deals, including Uranium One, memos show Pelosi blasts California Republicans for supporting tax bill MORE and Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpO’Malley tells Dems not to fear Trump Right way and wrong way Five things to know about the elephant trophies controversy MORE, one of the most volatile and unpredictable political battles in U.S. history.
 
And there's just one week to go before the first, pivotal presidential debate.


National polls show Clinton and Trump running neck and neck. Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, begins with an advantage in the Electoral College, but Trump, the Republican nominee, is closing fast in a number of battleground states including Florida and Ohio.

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The campaign has been unrelentingly negative, and both Trump and Clinton are disliked by a huge number of voters, suggesting a nasty fight to the finish.



Clinton will have an advantage in money and ground game, but she is struggling mightily to energize the Democratic coalition that turned out for President Obama.



Trump’s supporters are enthused, but his favorability rating is even lower than Clinton’s. Vast swaths of the electorate don’t view him as presidential.

An unprecedented number of voters remain undecided, and third-party candidates are pulling more support than they have in decades.
 
Libertarian nominee Gary JohnsonGary JohnsonGary Johnson: I don’t want to be president anymore ‘because of Trump’ Gary Johnson ruling out 2020 bid: 'It does boil down to two political parties' Court: Excluding outside parties from presidential debates does not violate First Amendment MORE and Green Party nominee Jill Stein appear to be hurting Clinton, who polls suggest is struggling to win over young voters.

But neither Johnson nor Stein will make the stage at the first debate next Monday in Hempstead, N.Y., because both failed to meet polling criteria for inclusion.


The debate is the first of three that will take place over a 25-day period, with a vice presidential matchup also coming up on Oct. 4. This first presidential debate is widely expected to attract more viewers than any other debate in history.
 
Clinton, who is enduring one of the roughest patches of her campaign and who just returned to the campaign trail on Thursday from a dramatic illness, is raising the stakes for the next 50 days.


“The next 53 days will shape the next 50 years,” she said at a press conference in Washington, D.C., on Friday.



Clinton is looking to reclaim her standing after falling ill to pneumonia and a serious gaffe. She had to express regret for saying half of Trump’s supporters belonged in a “basket of deplorables.”
 
She has also had difficulty shaking controversies at the State Department and Clinton Foundation.


Democrats say that over the final 50-day stretch, Clinton needs to focus on turning out the African-American, Hispanic and young voters that formed the core of the Obama coalition.



Polls show Democrats are not excited about voting for Clinton and there are worries that those voters will stay home on Election Day.



Clinton has acknowledged that she needs to give voters a reason to cast a ballot for her and not just against Trump. But Democrats say she has struggled to make that case.



“It’s amazing to me that after all this time she hasn’t been able to come up with anything better than we’re ‘stronger together’ and 'don’t vote for him,' " said Douglas Schoen, an adviser to former President Bill ClintonBill ClintonBill Clinton distributes relief supplies in Puerto Rico In Washington and Hollywood, principle is sad matter of timing Mika Brzezinski: Bill Clinton needs to apologize or stop talking MORE’s 1996 reelection campaign. “She simply doesn’t have a message that is catching on.”



Clinton will get an assist in that department from an all-star cast of surrogates.



Obama and first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaMichelle Obama on sexual misconduct allegations: I’m ‘sick’ Michelle Obama on dealing with difficult times: 'Don't tweet nasty stuff' House passes bill to curb presidential pensions MORE, both hugely popular among black voters, hit the hustings for Clinton this week.



Progressive favorites Sens. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersDe Blasio headed to Iowa to speak at political fundraiser Yes, spills happen — but pipelines are still the safest way to move oil Why sexual harassment discussions include lawmakers talking about Bill Clinton’s past MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenCordray's legacy of consumer protection worth defending Booker tries to find the right lane  Jones raised 0K a day after first Moore accusers came forward: report MORE (D-Mass.) are also campaigning for Clinton in Ohio, where polls show Trump has moved into the lead.



“Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaReport: FCC chair to push for complete repeal of net neutrality Right way and wrong way Keystone XL pipeline clears major hurdle despite recent leak MORE and Bernie Sanders are as strong of allies as you can have,” said Democratic strategist Joe Trippi, a veteran of Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign. “There’s nobody even remotely as connected to the millennial generation on the Republican side.”



Trump’s challenge is different.



The GOP nominee, famous for becoming entangled in unnecessary controversies, appeared to right the ship after bringing in a new campaign team over the summer. He uses teleprompters at rallies now and has cut back on press conferences and media interviews.



But Trump was blown off course once again this week, getting into a spat with the female pastor at a black church in Flint, Mich. He also reignited the “birther” controversy, ultimately holding a press conference at his new hotel in Washington, D.C., to acknowledge publicly for the first time that he believes President Obama was born in the U.S.



“He needs to stay on message,” said Grover Norquist, the president of the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform. “He needs to focus on the issues where he has the advantage, like the economy and how he would be the agent of change over Clinton, who is the status quo. He can’t become distracted when Hillary or the press throw shiny objects into the air.”



Trump also faces a stiff commander in chief test at the first debate, as polls show the public does not view him as presidential.



Trump must address that challenge in substance, tone and temperament, Republicans say.



“There is an acceptability threshold he has to pass,” said veteran GOP operative Charlie Black. “At the debate, he needs to be gentlemanly and serious. We’ve seen more of that from him lately, and he’s done good to shore this up with his policy proposals.”



There are any number of wild cards that could come into play in the final stretch.



Russian hackers and WikiLeaks have already left their mark on the election, embarrassing former Secretary of State Colin Powell and contributing to the ouster of the head of the Democratic National Committee. Both sides are bracing for further hacked email dumps.



Then there’s the chance that Johnson or Stein could play spoiler to Clinton, a development that Democrats are starting to take seriously.



They vividly remember the 2000 election and still blame Ralph Nader for costing Al GoreAl GoreOvernight Energy: Trump officials defend fossil fuels, nuclear at UN climate summit | Dems commit to Paris goals | Ex-EPA lawyers slam 'sue and settle' policy Al Gore: A new president in 2020 could keep US in Paris agreement Ron Klain: ‘It’s not even going to be that close’ MORE the presidency in what turned out to be the closest presidential election in history.



“It’s entirely plausible to think that Johnson and Stein could tip one or two states to Trump,” said Democratic strategist Craig Varoga. “As disappointing as that outcome was in 2000, it pales in comparison with the prospect of an election accidentally in favor of a guy with an impulse-control disorder.”