Trump cuts into Clinton’s lead as crucial stretch begins

But nothing is more crucial for either contender than Sept. 26, when Clinton and Trump will meet at Hofstra University for the first presidential debate. Both campaigns have come to the conclusion that for the Republican nominee to compete in the homestretch, he needs a shock to the system and the Hempstead, New York, forum offers his best opportunity.

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“The wildness and unpredictability of the last 16 months?” said Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. “It’s only going to increase. It’s not going away. Hold onto your hat.”

Clinton’s camp is already wary. After watching Trump try to refocus after a staff shakeup in the second half of August, stick to his teleprompter-loaded remarks, travel to Mexico to stand next to an elected head of state and then deliver a hard-line immigration speech lauded by conservative Republicans, operatives at the highest rungs of the Democrat’s operation admit to mounting worry about his ability to pare deficits in the battleground states in which she is leading by roughly 5 points or less.

At the center of senior Clinton aides’ pre-debate concern is the belief that Trump’s past few days demonstrate how low the bar is for his performance to be called a success. If simply standing next to the Mexican president is perceived as a win for Trump’s image, they complain, appearing across from Clinton will likely further elevate his standing. Indeed, Clinton’s inner circle is eager to tamp down any sign of confidence, no matter her current lead or the Electoral College map.

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