Nervous Senate Democrats raised concerns with Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham Clinton“60 Minutes” tracks how fake news spreads Ill. gov candidate runs as fresh face, despite ties to political machine Huma Abedin 'working hard' on marriage with Anthony Weiner: report MORE during a private meeting in the Capitol Thursday over a recent poll showing Donald TrumpDonald TrumpCould Trump and the Democrats make 'ObamaCare Lite' any lighter? Week ahead: House Intel chair under fire over Trump surveillance claims Jeb Bush: Trump a ‘distraction in and of himself’ MORE leading or tied in several battleground states.
“Some people were freaked out, they were looking down at the polls on RealClearPolitics and asking why it was so close,” said a Democratic senator who attended the meeting, referring to a website lawmakers were checking out on their personal devices.
“She said there are other issues. People are unhappy and they don’t trust institutions,” the senator explained.
A second Democratic source in the meeting confirmed there was “a mention of the Florida poll.”
A Quinnipiac University poll released this week showed the presumptive GOP presidential nominee up 42 percent to 39 percent in swing state Florida. Clinton had an 8-point lead in Quinnipiac’s poll of the state last month.
The same survey showed Trump ahead 2 points in Pennsylvania, another big swing state, and tied in Ohio. The three states have been pivotal in the last four presidential elections.
The source emphasized that no one suggested Clinton wasn’t running a strong race or questioned her performance.
Instead, it was an acknowledgement that the presidential race will be very close even though many Washington-based strategists and pundits across the ideological spectrum question Trump’s seriousness as a candidate.
“There was concern raised about the race because we know it’s going to be a close race,” said the source.
A senior Senate Democratic aide, who was not in the meeting, acknowledged that senators have raised concerns about the closeness of the polls at other times.
“We wouldn't be Democrats if there weren't a few bed-wetters,” the aide said.
But the aide said Democratic lawmakers have felt reassured that when the margin between Clinton and Trump narrows, it’s because Clinton’s numbers dip, not because Trump’s climb.
Clinton suffered a public relations blow earlier this month when FBI Director James Comey issued a statement criticizing her for being “extremely careless” in handling classified material over a private email server when she was secretary of State.
Senate Democrats are especially vested in the race because they’re resting their hopes of winning back Senate control on Clinton winning in November.
A study published last year by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics showed a high correlation between presidential and Senate results historically. In 2012, the correlation was 0.78; a perfect correlation is 1.
The sense of uneasiness among Senate Democrats is heightened by their observation that Trump has stayed within striking distance in pivotal states despite being vastly outspent.
NBC News reported this week that Clinton’s campaign and allied super-PACs have spent $57 million so far, while Trump’s campaign hasn’t spent anything, and two allied outside groups have spent only $3.6 million.
Team Clinton has outspent Team Trump in nine battleground states by a 40-1 ratio, NBC reported.
Nevertheless, Democratic senators praised the meeting as “good” and “productive.”
“It was very good. People were very excited to have her there,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenOvernight Finance: Senators spar over Wall Street at SEC pick's hearing | New CBO score for ObamaCare bill | Agency signs off on Trump DC hotel lease Senators demand Pentagon action after nude photo scandal Senate Dems: We won't help pass additional health bills MORE (D-N.H.).
Sen. Bob CaseyBob CaseyUnder pressure, Dems hold back Gorsuch support The Hill’s Whip List: Where Dems stand on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Friends, foes spar in fight on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee MORE Jr. (D-Pa.) said “there were questions that pertained to the campaign and strategy and things like that,” but he declined to talk about polling.
He added there’s broad recognition within the caucus that the presidential contest won’t be a cakewalk.
“It wasn’t just a meeting where everyone said 'everything is fine, don’t worry about it.' We know this is going to be a tough election. We see it all around us, and we have to be prepared for a close election,” he said.