Clinton campaign memo to donors: Don't panic

Team Hillary has 49 days until Election Day to clinch what should be an easy victory. After Donald Trump’s August swoon, Hillary Clinton should have been able to coast to November 8th. Instead she has apparently stumbled back into a virtual tie, and Electoral College maps now make the race look like a dead heat with the first presidential debate on the near horizon. With allies and donors getting restive over her inability to close the deal, the Clinton campaign sent out a memo with one main message — don’t panic. Greg Sargent got a look at the Robby Mook missive:

Hillary Clinton has many paths to 270 electoral votes, while Donald Trump has very few. Hillary is nearly certain to win 16 “blue” states, including Washington D.C., which will garner her 191 electoral votes. If we add the five states that gives Hillary a 70% or greater chance of winning (Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin), Hillary only needs ten more electoral votes. …

Even if he wins Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio he’s still 17 electoral votes short of 270. To win, he’ll need to find those electoral votes in Colorado (which FiveThirtyEight gives Hillary a 65% chance of winning), plus at least two of the three small battleground states: Iowa, Nevada, or New Hampshire. All of these scenarios assume that Trump wins traditionally “red” states, such as Arizona, Georgia, and Utah, even though he is currently underperforming in these contests.

One could make the same argument about Hillary Clinton, too. She may be leading in the states where Mook argues she’s a near-lock, but she’s also underperforming. A candidate as well known as Hillary, and whose policies and party affiliation make her a near-incumbent in this cycle, should be scoring 50% or more in these battlegrounds — especially against an amateur like Trump. And yet, seven weeks before the general election, she’s sinking back into a virtual tie while Trump manages to improve his standing.

Sargent asks a few uncomfortable questions that the memo doesn’t answer, such as: Why is the race tightening? Are Virginia and Colorado secure? And how seriously does the Clinton campaign take her problems with Latinos and millennials? The issue with millennials was easily predicted, but not the lack of enthusiasm among Hispanic voters. The news isn’t all bad there — Trump’s only doing as well as Romney, as Jazz pointed out, which doesn’t bode well for the GOP in the short or long run — but if turnout drops off more than marginally, Hillary will be in serious trouble on Election Day.

As for why the race is tightening, there’s really only one answer: Hillary Clinton. This began before her collapse in New York City a little over a week ago, but that and her fumble on the “basket of deplorables” attack line didn’t help. Notice that the campaign has cooled off on that sound bite of late? That’s probably no accident. But the real reason for her setbacks is that no one trusts Hillary Clinton, and she keeps providing more and more reasons to earn that distrust. Lying about her health only added to that public perception of dishonesty, and may do more damage than pay-for-play evidence emerging from the Clinton Foundation and State Department e-mails.

At the same time that Mook insists the Electoral College map looks secure for Hillary, NPR argues that it suddenly doesn’t:

But now, less than a week before the crucial first debate of this presidential race — and as a terrorism bombing investigation continues in New York and New Jersey — a viable route has emerged for the Republican nominee, according to the latest NPR Battleground Map.

About a dozen battleground states have gotten closer with some key ones showing Trump leading for the first time. Hillary Clinton retains the advantage, but it’s a far more precarious lead for the Democrat than at any time in this presidential race.

Trump’s movement comes as many pollsters have switched to “likely voter” models, which try to predict the electorate based on factors like enthusiasm and past voting records. That alone may be responsible for most of the tightening, but it also follows a less-disastrous month of campaigning for Trump than the stretch immediately following the party conventions, which saw his fight with the Khan family, whose son, a Muslim American, was an Army captain killed in Iraq. Trump also began running his first major round of campaign ads in key states in recent weeks.

That may well point to a simple explanation. Trump has picked up his game, while Hillary has not. Whether Trump can keep improving is a big question — but Democrats have to worry more about whether Hillary can stop the bleeding at this point.