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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 ClintonWatchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US Republicans cancel airtime in swing Vegas district The Democratic Donald Trump is coming MORE and Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Guardian slams Trump over comments about assault on reporter Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Watchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US 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 Earl JohnsonThird-party voters made it difficult to predict 2016, says pollster A Senator Gary Johnson could be good not just for Libertarians, but for the Senate too Clinton would beat Trump in landslide in 2016 re-run, says Hill.TV poll 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 ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe Democratic Donald Trump is coming Emmet Flood steps in as White House counsel following McGahn departure Dershowitz: Obama, Ellison have 'special obligation' to condemn Farrakhan 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 ObamaEric Trump calls out Holder on kicking comments: 'Who says this?' Michael Avenatti, please go away Minnesota GOP Senate candidate compared Michelle Obama to a chimp in Facebook post MORE, both hugely popular among black voters, hit the hustings for Clinton this week.



Progressive favorites Sens. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersBooker holds 'Get Out the Vote' event in South Carolina as presidential speculation builds The Democratic Donald Trump is coming Biden: Trump administration 'coddles autocrats and dictators' MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenOn The Money: Mnuchin pulls out of Saudi summit | Consumer bureau to probe controversial blog posts on race | Harris proposes new middle-class tax credit Overnight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump says GOP will support pre-existing condition protections | McConnell defends ObamaCare lawsuit | Dems raise new questions for HHS on child separations Booker holds 'Get Out the Vote' event in South Carolina as presidential speculation builds MORE (D-Mass.) are also campaigning for Clinton in Ohio, where polls show Trump has moved into the lead.



“Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaFive takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Live coverage: Heitkamp faces Cramer in high-stakes North Dakota debate Khashoggi prompts Trump to reconsider human rights in foreign policy 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 GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreThe Democratic Donald Trump is coming Al Gore warns: UN climate change report shows 'we have a global emergency' Political tribalism started in the 1990s, says NBC News political reporter 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.”