Victory in sight, Hillary Clinton seeks to press advantage through early votes

Mrs Hillary Clinton at a campaign event at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in North Carolina on Oct 23, 2016.
Mrs Hillary Clinton at a campaign event at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in North Carolina on Oct 23, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Mrs Hillary Clinton has moved aggressively to press her advantage in the presidential race, urging black voters in North Carolina to vote early and punish Republican office-holders for supporting Mr Donald Trump, even as Mr Trump's party increasingly concedes he is unlikely to recover in the polls.

Aiming to turn her edge over Mr Trump into an unbreakable lead, Mrs Clinton has been pleading with core Democratic constituencies to get out and vote in states where balloting has already begun. By running up a lead well in advance of the Nov 8 election in states like North Carolina and Florida, she could virtually eliminate Mr Trump's ability to make a late comeback.

At times, Mrs Clinton is going beyond seeking simply a victory over Mr Trump, asking voters to strengthen her hand in Congress and repudiate not just Mr Trump but also Republicans who have accommodated or endorsed him.

After lashing Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania in a speech on Saturday (Oct 22), Mrs Clinton on Sunday (Oct 23) urged voters at an outdoor rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, to elect a Democratic governor and to turn Senator Richard Burr out of office.

Calling Mr Burr's Democratic challenger, Ms Deborah Ross, "exactly the kind of partner I need in the United States Senate," Mrs Clinton upbraided Mr Burr for failing to reject Mr Trump.

 
 

"Unlike her opponent, Deborah has never been afraid to stand up to Donald Trump," Mrs Clinton said, adding: "She knows that people of courage and principles need to come together to reject this dangerous and divisive agenda."

It is a sign of the extraordinarily lopsided nature of the presidential race that, even in a Republican-controlled state like North Carolina, Mrs Clinton is in a position to exhort voters to hand control of the Senate to Democrats.

Though she is still not broadly popular, Mrs Clinton has cast her candidacy - and now, perhaps, her party - as a safe harbour for voters across the political mainstream who find Mr Trump intolerable.

Seeming to peer past the end of the race, Mrs Clinton offered herself as a figure of conciliation during a visit to a black church in Raleigh on Sunday.

"There are many people in our country willing to reach across the divide, regardless of what you've heard in this campaign," she said.

For Republicans, blunting Mrs Clinton's ability to carry other Democrats into office has become the overriding imperative in the final weeks of the 2016 race. With Mr Trump so diminished as a competitor for Mrs Clinton, Republicans say they will now ask voters in newly explicit terms to elect a divided government rather than giving Mrs Clinton unchecked power.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a powerful super PAC that supports Republicans in the House of Representatives, is to begin running ads in the coming days that attack Democratic candidates as "rubber stamps" for Mrs Clinton and urge voters in swing districts to support Republicans instead.

Mr Mike Shields, the group's president, said it had tested that message and found it effective in closely contested races, even with voters who are likely to support Mrs Clinton over Mr Trump.

"There are many districts where we are going to be running ads that talk about the Democrat being a rubber stamp for Hillary Clinton," Mr Shields said. "In many districts, it is a very, very potent weapon to use against a Democratic candidate for Congress."

Republicans fear Mr Trump will do grievous damage to the party unless he can close the yawning gap with Mrs Clinton in the presidential race. An ABC News tracking poll published on Sunday showed him trailing Mrs Clinton by 12 percentage points nationally and drawing just 38 per cent of the vote.

Mrs Clinton, who drew support from 50 per cent of voters in the poll, was openly dismissive of Mr Trump over the weekend, telling reporters on Saturday that she no longer worried about answering his attacks. "I debated him for 4 1/2 hours," she said. "I don't even think about responding to him anymore."

Mr Karl Rove, the chief strategist of Mr George W. Bush's successful presidential campaigns, said on Sunday on Fox News that he no longer believed Mr Trump had a realistic path to victory against Mrs Clinton.

"I don't see it happening," Mr Rove said.

In addition to trailing by a wide margin in national polls, Mr Trump has fallen well behind Mrs Clinton in states that are likely to determine control of the Senate, including North Carolina, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Florida and New Hampshire, and also in suburban areas around the country that are critical to the Republicans' House majority.

Two outside groups aligned with Republicans, the US Chamber of Commerce and the Senate Leadership Fund, have also begun running television commercials in Senate races that imply that Mrs Clinton is likely to be the next president and that ask voters to limit her power by supporting Republicans.

Mr Trump's campaign manager, Ms Kellyanne Conway, acknowledged on NBC's Meet the Press that Mr Trump was trailing. She said the campaign had "a shot" at winning over undecided voters who do not now support Mr Trump but who dislike Mrs Clinton.

But Mr Trump has made little effort in recent days to deliver a sharply honed campaign message or to address the flaws at the core of his candidacy.

In his public remarks, Mr Trump has delivered an insular and self-referential closing message, dwelling on personal frustrations at the expense of any wider appeal to voters.

In a Saturday speech that was intended to outline his closing message in the race, Mr Trump instead began by threatening to sue the women who have come forward to say that he had sexually assaulted them.

Campaigning on Sunday in Florida, where early voting was set to begin in most counties on Monday (Oct 24), Mr Trump attacked Mrs Clinton's national security record, but swerved repeatedly from his script.

At one point, he suggested that the US-backed offensive to retake Mosul, Iraq, from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was merely an effort by President Barack Obama to "show what a tough guy he is before the election".

And Mr Trump appeared to acknowledge the growing separation between him and other Republicans, even as he asked voters to elect a friendly Congress and help him "re-elect Republicans all over the place".

"I hope they help me, too," Mr Trump said in Naples, Florida. "It would be nice if they help us, too, right? To enact my first 100 days."

While there are two weeks of campaigning left in the race, the window for Mr Trump to resurrect his candidacy grows slimmer by the day, now that voting is underway in a number of important states.

Mrs Clinton is expected to spend two days this week in Florida, and also to return to North Carolina for a campaign event with Mrs Michelle Obama, the first lady, in a bid to lock down two states without which Mr Trump has no realistic route to the White House.

Her campaign has deployed surrogates across the map, including Republican-leaning states like Arizona, where former Representative Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mr Mark Kelly - leading gun-control advocates who have strongly backed Mrs Clinton - were headlining a get-out-the-vote event in Tucson on Sunday.

Mr Kelly said Arizona had become a "winnable state" for Mrs Clinton, but said Democrats could not take anything for granted.

"It is not over by any stretch," Mr Kelly, a retired astronaut, said in an interview. "Strange things can happen in elections and polling numbers can move very fast, and people can get complacent."

At a Raleigh church a few hours earlier, Mrs Clinton appeared with a group of mothers who had lost their children through gun violence or interactions with the police, to deliver much the same message.

Ms Geneva Reed-Veal, whose daughter, Sandra Bland, died in a Texas jail after a traffic stop last summer, called on the congregation to make its voice heard at the polls.

"If you decide not to vote," Ms Reed-Veal said, "shut your mouth."