While things may change later this week as a result of the debate, the most recent polls have held no joy for Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump has gained on her nationally, either pulling ahead or landing in a dead heat. In the swing states the news was even worse. If you need proof of the fact that Team Clinton has noticed this, look no further than their efforts to stop bleeding off votes to third party candidates. The Hill reports today that the Clinton campaign has seen some of her support going to Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and they’re trying to rope those wandering sheep back into the corral.

Liberal groups are passing around embarrassing videos of Johnson and running ads against him warning about his positions on issues like climate change that are important to young voters and independents.

The Clinton campaign will rely heavily on Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the coming weeks as it seeks to shore up its deficit among young voters and left-leaning independents who are not energized by her campaign and are considering casting a vote for either Johnson or Green Party nominee Jill Stein.

The Libertarian ticket of Johnson and Bill Weld is running surprisingly strong among young voters — a cog in the Obama coalition that Democrats need to turn out for Clinton if she’s to pull away from Trump.

If groups supporting Clinton are at the point where they are actually dumping significant cash into developing and running attack ads on Johnson you know that the mood in her HQ is serious. By this point in any campaign you’d expect the two major party candidates to have shrugged off third party challengers and be focusing their fire on each other. But if the 2016 election is going to come down to a game of inches, Clinton doesn’t have that option. Trump’s support, while far from a majority, has been stubbornly strong and resistant to any perceived bad news in the press. With that in mind, Clinton needs to find more voters, and Johnson is currently collecting nearly ten percent nationally with particular strength among millennials.

But it’s not just Johnson drawing the attention of the Clinton machine. Green Party candidate Jill Stein is very far down in the polls, but the roughly 3% she’s drawing is coming pretty much exclusively from liberal voters who would otherwise likely go to the Democrats. There have been signs in the past couple of weeks that the word went out to the Clinton faithful about knocking Stein out of this race. I first noticed it when Washington Post editorial board member Jonathan Capehart began sending out a series of tweets highlighting a very negative column on Stein.

Now, seeing Capehart tweeting out links to his own columns is nothing new. He’s quite effective in promoting his work on social media. And I don’t shy away from saying he’s working to elect Hillary Clinton because he admits as much himself on a nearly daily basis, reminding his Twitter critics that he’s an opinion writer, not a reporter. But if you follow the link from the tweet above you’ll notice something a bit more remarkable. That column is from August.

When editorial page editor Fred Hiatt asked Stein about the NATO alliance and whether she shared Baraka’s opinion about “gangster states” of NATO,” she said, “ “Well he uses language I would not use. But, shall we say, I don’t think it represents American democracy to do an end run around our process or determining when we will go to war.”

“Well he uses language,” Hiatt pressed, “but what does he mean? Do you agree?” To which Stein replied, “I think he means the same thing I’m saying.

That scathing article was written to frame Stein as a closet racist… the go-to card to play when trying to summon up the liberal voting army. Given the negligible impact Stein has had on the race and the fact that she’s made a complete joke of herself through her various run-ins with the law, one might imagine that a single column on Stein’s perceived shortcomings in August would be a job well done and simply leave it at that. But the fact that it’s being trotted out yet again at the end of September shows that Clinton and her water carriers want to exterminate as much of the Stein vote as possible and bring that three percent back home.

That’s a common sense plan when you stop and think about it, but it has one potentially fatal flaw. Getting people to leave a candidate also depends on offering them something to come home to, and Hillary Clinton isn’t exactly a tempting offer these days.

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