Clinton, Trump Zero In on Battleground States That Will Decide Election

The candidates narrow their focus as they trade attacks on national security and fitness for office.

Clinton, Trump Dig In for Next Phase of Campaigns

With the start of the intensified, two-month sprint to Election Day, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump expanded their availability to the news media as they zeroed in on the states and groups of voters they need to claim victory on Nov. 8.

The candidates crossed paths at Cleveland’s Hopkins International Airport at the start of the day Monday, illustrating the narrow focus of both campaigns on Ohio and about seven other battleground states that will decide the election. Trump will seek to improve his standing with women and continued his courting of black voters while Clinton tried to bolster support with labor groups and made plans to reach out to religious voters.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks on Aug. 31, 2016, in Phoenix.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks on Aug. 31, 2016, in Phoenix.
Photographer: Ralph Freso/Getty Images

Along the way, they kept up attacks on each other that will define the rest of the race. Clinton, the Democratic nominee, hammered on her rival’s lack of national-security experience and his temperament. The Republican candidate questioned Clinton’s fitness for office over her use of private e-mail while secretary of state.

Although Labor Day no longer marks the start of the general-election season —the timetable has made a years-long shift toward a years-long campaign—the unofficial end of summer remains a transition point as U.S. voters send their children back to school, return to work, and refocus their attention on issues.

Voters Tune In

“People get back from vacation, they start paying more attention,” said Marlon Marshall, Clinton’s director of state campaigns and political engagement. “That’s when folks start really tuning in and think, ‘What decision am I going to make for this race?’”

Clinton held a consistent lead over Trump in national and battleground polls after the Democratic convention in July, though it has narrowed in recent weeks after a steady drumbeat of reports about her use of private e-mail and about the Clinton Foundation. Trump had 45 percent support to Clinton’s 43 percent in a CNN survey of likely voters released Tuesday that also included the Libertarian and Green Party candidates, putting Clinton’s advantage in the RealClearPolitics average of national four-way polls at just 2.4 percentage points.

One sign of the campaigns shifting is how they are making themselves available to the corps of reporters who trail them across the country.

Clinton debuted a larger campaign airplane that can accommodate dozens of journalists traveling with her on a daily basis, a Boeing 737, wrapped with her “Stronger Together” slogan. Before traveling to Cleveland and then later to Hampton, Illinois, Clinton ventured into the part of the cabin where the journalists were seated.

Trump for the first time allowed the small group of reporters to climb aboard his privately owned jet—a luxury aircraft with two bedrooms and a boardroom that seats only about 40. He said he doesn’t mind if the they accompany him—sometimes. “I have no problem with that, with letting some of the folks travel,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be all the time.”

Trump aides have argued their candidate is more accessible, given that he has held 18 free-ranging news conferences while Clinton had not held a full news conference since last December.

Answering Questions

After leaving Cleveland, Clinton took several questions from the traveling reporters covering the investigation into her use of private e-mail servers while she was secretary of state, including sending information later deemed classified; concerns about Russian interference in U.S. elections; and Trump’s national-security qualifications.

“I went into the State Department understanding classification,” said Clinton, who served in the Senate before joining the Obama administration. “The fact I couldn’t remember certain meetings, whether or not they had occurred, doesn’t in any way affect the commitment that I had and still have to the treatment of classified material.”

She said Trump is “so oblivious to the impact of his own words and the kind of messages that people around the world are taking from him.” Earlier in the day in a campaign stop in Cleveland, Clinton called Trump’s last-minute visit to Mexico last week to meet with President Enrique Pena Nieto “an embarrassing international incident.”

Trump had said that the subject of who would pay for a U.S.-Mexico border wall to keep undocumented immigrants out of the U.S.—a central tenet of his campaign—never came up during his meeting with Pena Nieto. But the Mexican president, who has rejected the idea publicly, said the subject did come up during their meeting because he had raised it.

Trump on Monday reinforced his stance on illegal immigration. “We want the wall. We want total border security. We want to get all the bad ones out,” he said.

He also scoffed at Clinton’s explanations on her handling of sensitive documents in her e-mails. “It’s too much, it’s too much,” he said.

Presidential Debates

Trump committed to participating in all three presidential debates, the first of which is Sept. 26 at Hofstra University in New York. The debate may determine whether Trump can overcome Clinton’s wide advantage in fundraising and organization, and close in on her in the final weeks of the race.

Trump’s senior communications strategist, Jason Miller, said the Republican nominee is “very focused, very driven, and he’s feeling it. He sees the benefit of what’s working and the positive response that voters are giving him.”

Trump was preparing to roll out “women’s coalitions,” lists of female supporters in battleground states, aides said, in a move aimed at bolstering one of his weakest areas of support. Three female surrogates for Trump are taking on bigger roles: Sarah Huckabee Sanders will work on communications targeted at faith leaders, gun rights supporters, military groups, and other voter coalitions. Omarosa Manigault, who met Trump when she was a contestant on his Apprentice reality-TV show, will step up outreach to African-American media outlets. And A.J. Delgado, a lawyer and conservative commentator with Cuban roots, will push for coverage in Spanish media outlets.

After spending several weeks concentrating on fundraising, Clinton is heading into full campaign mode. She planned to be Florida and North Carolina later in the week and to address the National Baptist Convention on Thursday. Trump was set to campaign in the swing states of Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida later this week. Both candidates are scheduled to appear in succession on the same stage Wednesday at a forum on national security and military issues.

Trump is so far planning to continue his pace on fundraising, with events schedule in Des Moines, Chicago, Cleveland, and elsewhere incoming weeks. He raised $80 million in July in combination with the national GOP effort. While Trump hasn’t released figures from August, Clinton announced a total of $143 million raised for her campaign and party committees.

“I would say Trump’s July fundraising number threw a lifeline to panicked establishment donors that maybe Trump was capable of shifting gears and running a real campaign,” said David Kochel, who was chief strategist for Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign. Still, he said, “there are real concerns we will ever get anywhere near parity with her campaign, on the ground or over the airwaves.”

After Trump’s initial TV ad buy started Aug. 19 in four states—Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and North Carolina—the team tacked on Michigan starting last Tuesday. This week, they’re on air in five more: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Virginia, and Colorado. They’re not ruling out further expansions, aides said.

The bombardment from both campaigns will increase enormously in coming days.

“The TV ads, the speeches and the constant TV coverage, and your friends and relatives talking about it,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

One reason Clinton stayed out of the public eye through much of August was to keep the focus on Trump, Sabato said. “They believe the more exposure Trump has the less likely he is to win, and of course that could also be true of her. So they’re holding her back.”

—With assistance from Kevin Cirilli and Jennifer Epstein.

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