Hillary Clinton’s email scandal will shape race’s final week
© Moriah Ratner

Last Friday morning it wasn’t supposed to be this way. The only final week decision that mattered for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Poll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future Popping the progressive bubble MORE was whether to expand the electoral map and go for a landslide, or tie down as many swing states won by President Obama in 2004 and 2008 as possible.

Either way she was headed for a decisive victory.

For Donald TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel faces double-edged sword with Alex Jones, Roger Stone Trump goes after Woodward, Costa over China Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves MORE the last week decisions were of real importance. Did he go to tie down normally Red states like Arizona and Georgia where Clinton threatened to upset him? Or did he go back to swing states (then mostly out of his reach) and continue his message that the campaign was rigged and thus a loss on Nov. 8 was a real possibility?

Then a letter sent to Congress by FBI Director James Comey fundamentally altered the final week strategic decisions of both campaigns.

The letter informed Congress that emails found in a separate FBI investigation that were not from Clinton’s controversial private email server used when she was Secretary of State, and that might or might not be relevant to the FBI investigation of those servers.

That investigation was concluded in July of this year and found that no emails, among the 30,000-plus emails reviewed by the Bureau, came close to justifying criminal charges against the former Secretary of State.

When Director Comey appeared before Congress shortly after his decision not to seek criminal charges, Republicans from every region of the country and every ideological bent from Right to Totalitarian viciously attacked Comey.

To his credit, Comey stuck to his decision. In the weeks and months that followed, Comey came under constant fire from Republicans. There were calls for his impeachment and charges he colluded with the Clinton campaign to get her off the hook, itself a criminal act.

Last week Comey was presented with additional emails, apparently discovered in the federal investigation of former Congressman Anthony Weiner (the estranged husband of Clinton’s close confidant Huma Abedin) concerning Weiner’s use of the internet to engage in sexual contact with a 15-year- old girl.

Comey then took the unprecedented step of publicly informing Congress of the findings and inexplicably linked them to Clinton’s closed server investigation. In the process, he threw the Justice Department and the FBI into the 2016 presidential campaign, 11 days before the polls officially open on Nov. 8.

Each presidential campaign we hear about an ominous “October Surprise,” which rarely, if ever, occurs. Comey’s October Surprise is perhaps the biggest surprise of all in modern presidential politics, and carries with it more implications for the outcome of the presidential race.

No wonder Hillary Clinton called for the immediate release of all the new emails so the public and press could judge for themselves their relevance to Clinton’s fitness for the presidency.

No wonder Trump and the Republicans immediately pounced on Comey’s letter as finally “reopening” the Clinton email investigation (Comey said nothing of the kind), and in Trump’s words exposing a scandal “bigger than Watergate” (it wasn’t even close as anyone who lived thru Watergate would attest).

I don’t blame Republicans. With a candidate as weak as Trump, a life preserver like Comey’s letter was the only shot of staying in the game.

My guess is that after a few days of ominous press stories, (the press always loves to see a front-runner stumble), and some polling data indicating the story is hurting Clinton, the press and the public will take a second look.

If the emails are released they will speak for themselves, and both the press and the public will decide how relevant they are. If the emails are not released and Republicans continue to maximize the silence as an epic scandal, the press and the public will wonder why this information was released so closed to the election, and whether this was just Comey’s way of covering his ass.

As a former presidential campaign manager, I remember the final week of the campaign as being the longest and most important week of the campaign. The week doesn’t seem to end. Yet you are forced to make resource decisions that will affect not only your own campaign but also all the campaigns down-ballot. You have to accept that certain states are just un-winnable and quietly move resources and staff out of them to states that are close and winnable.

You have to avoid states you are sure to win despite the candidates wanting to hear the cheers of a loving electorate. Finally, you need to decide on a closing message, no longer than a paragraph, on why you and not the other candidate, are best suited to be president.

For Donald Trump the decisions are easy (assuming the emails Comey refers to stay hidden); go to swing states and hammer on “Crooked Hillary.” For Clinton, I strongly advise her to campaign in only swing states with the message (backed up by a huge money advantage in paid advertising and field staff), if the emails are not released then it is she, not Donald Trump, who is being subjected to a “rigged” election.

Personally, I still think Clinton, even being indicted and perped-walked in cuffs, could still beat Trump in a landslide.

Bob Beckel is a political analyst for CNN; he was campaign manager for Walter Mondale in 1984.

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.