Victory in sight, Clinton presses for early votes

New York Times News Service

Hillary Clinton moved aggressively Sunday to press her advantage in the presidential race, urging black voters in North Carolina to vote early and punish Republican officeholders for supporting Donald Trump, even as Trump’s party increasingly concedes he is unlikely to recover in the polls.

Aiming to turn her edge over Trump into an unbreakable lead, 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 Trump’s ability to make a late comeback.

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

After lashing Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania in a speech Saturday, Clinton urged voters at an outdoor rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, to elect a Democratic governor and to turn Sen. Richard Burr out of office.

Hillary Clinton waves as she boards her campaign plane after a rally in Raleigh, N.C., Oct. 23, 2016. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

Calling Burr’s Democratic challenger, Deborah Ross, “exactly the kind of partner I need in the United States Senate,” Clinton upbraided Burr for failing to reject Trump.

“Unlike her opponent, Deborah has never been afraid to stand up to Donald Trump,” 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, Clinton is in a position to exhort voters to hand control of the Senate to Democrats. Though she is still not broadly popular, Clinton has cast her candidacy — and now, perhaps, her party — as a safe harbor for voters across the political mainstream who find Trump intolerable.

Seeming to peer past the end of the race, 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.

Republicans: For Republicans, blunting Clinton’s ability to carry other Democrats into office has become the overriding imperative in the final weeks of the 2016 race. With Trump so diminished as a competitor for Clinton, Republicans now say they will ask voters in newly explicit terms to elect a divided government rather than giving 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 Clinton and urge voters in swing districts to support Republicans instead.

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 Clinton over Trump.

Supporters in an overflow room wait to see Hillary Clinton and running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) during a rally for her presidential campaign at Taylor Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh, Oct. 22, 2016. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

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

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

Clinton, who drew support from 50 percent of voters in the poll, was openly dismissive of Trump over the weekend, telling reporters 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.”

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

“I don’t see it happening,” Rove said.

Senate races: In addition to trailing by a wide margin in national polls, Trump has fallen well behind 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 U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Senate Leadership Fund, have also begun running television commercials in Senate races that imply that Clinton is likely to be the next president and that ask voters to limit her power by supporting Republicans.

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

But 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, 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, Trump instead began by threatening to sue the women who have come forward to say that he had sexually assaulted them.

Hillary Clinton poses for a photo while greeting supporters during a campaign rally at St. Augustine's University, where she appeared with members of Mothers of the Movement, in Raleigh, N.C., Oct. 23, 2016. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

Campaigning Sunday in Florida, where early voting is set to begin in most counties Monday, Trump attacked Clinton’s national security record but swerved repeatedly from his script. At one point, he suggested that the U.S.-backed offensive to retake Mosul, Iraq, from the Islamic State was merely an effort by President Barack Obama to “show what a tough guy he is before the election.”

And 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,” 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 Trump to resurrect his candidacy grows slimmer by the day, now that voting is underway in a number of important states.

Clinton is expected to spend two days this week in Florida and also to return to North Carolina for a campaign event with Michelle Obama, the first lady, in a bid to lock down two states without which 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 Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly — leading gun-control advocates who have strongly backed Clinton — were headlining a get-out-the-vote event in Tucson on Sunday. Kelly said Arizona had become a “winnable state” for Clinton, but said Democrats could not take anything for granted.

“It is not over by any stretch,” 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, 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.

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,” Reed-Veal said, “shut your mouth.”