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 Rodham ClintonClinton returns to election night convention hall to talk about her new book Biden jabs at Trump in Cornell commencement speech Hollywood's war on Trump is part of liberal America's 'resistance' MORE and Donald TrumpDonald TrumpThe Memo: Trump returns to challenges at home Among 'good people' he met on trip, Trump names 'Justin from Canada' White House is 'not going to comment on Jared’ Kushner 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 JohnsonPoll: 85 percent of Clinton supporters would vote for her again Open primaries are the answer to America’s election woes — so what are we waiting for? Trump’s early economic success reveals Obama failures, could presage 2020 landslide 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 ClintonLewandowski: 'I would clearly look at' White House job Washington needs high-level science and technology expertise – now! House lawmakers pitch ban on North Korean tourism 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 ObamaHungry for shame — who’s trashing America’s school lunch? Make national service a priority Trump gets royal welcome during 'tremendous' Saudi Arabia visit MORE, both hugely popular among black voters, hit the hustings for Clinton this week.



Progressive favorites Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFunding confusion complicates Meals on Wheels budget fight The Hill's 12:30 Report Five takeaways from the Montana special election MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSenate panel approves Scott Brown as NZ ambassador Senate confirms Trump's first lower-court nominee The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Mass.) are also campaigning for Clinton in Ohio, where polls show Trump has moved into the lead.



“Barack ObamaBarack ObamaObama visits Prince Harry at Kensington Palace White House to share info on ethics waivers White House considering vetting Trump’s tweets: report 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 GoreMcCain: Dems killed Lieberman’s FBI shot Five things to know about Joe Lieberman Lieberman is front-runner for FBI director: report 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.”