7 Days to Go, Nominees Buckle Down in Battlegrounds

7 Days to Go, Nominees Buckle Down in Battlegrounds
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The wildest presidential race in memory is showing signs of becoming a bit more traditional in the final week of the campaign.

With just seven days to go until all ballots are counted, the RealClearPolitics polling average finds Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by just 2 percentage points nationally. While the Democratic nominee still holds an Electoral College advantage, some polls have narrowed in North Carolina, Florida, and other key battleground states. 

With the fallout over the FBI email probe continuing to take up oxygen, Trump has stayed uncharacteristically on message. Campaigning near Philadelphia on Tuesday, the GOP nominee and his running mate focused on the projected 25 percent average increase in premiums for some Affordable Care Act plans, as open enrollment began. Trump let Mike Pence do most of the talking, and the Indiana governor closed his remarks on repealing the law by asking Republicans to “come home.”

Polling has shown GOPers coalescing around their nominee, and a new Washington Post/ABC tracking poll finds a decrease in enthusiasm for Clinton. The Trump campaign believes several recent news items taken together have curbed Clinton’s momentum and provided openings for the Republican nominee.

“Between the mess with ObamaCare, the continual revelations of Clinton, Inc., the FBI restarting its investigation, and the hunger for change among the American people, we are seeing a big jolt of enthusiasm for Donald Trump as we come down to the wire,” Trump Deputy Campaign Manager David Bossie told reporters.

Others lamented Trump's late start on policy matters. "If he had been driving substantive issues overall, like the weakness in the economy and how families are being punished with higher premiums brought to you by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, he would be in a better place," said one Republican strategist. "The issue is explaining an ACA alternative, which he he has been unable to do. But even railing against ACA without a solution or virtually anything else would have been better than attacking women accusing him of sexual malfeasance," he added.

The Trump team knows its path to the presidency remains narrow, and winning would require the candidate to not only preserve states Mitt Romney won in 2012 and add a couple of battlegrounds, but also to break through blue states in the Midwest. Trump campaigned in Wisconsin Tuesday night with Gov. Scott Walker and will head to Florida for four events over the next two days before returning to Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

The campaign announced a $25 million advertising buy for the final week of the campaign and plans to air spots in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia, Nevada and New Hampshire. Trump Digital Director Brad Parscale said in a statement that the campaign is expanding its map to Michigan and New Mexico and similar states as the attention on the FBI and Clinton’s emails remains. Trump is trailing by 7 and 8.5 points in those two states, respectively. 

Trump also continues to trail Clinton in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, states that haven’t voted Republican in presidential years in decades. But the two states are also home to competitive Senate seats Democrats hope to turn their way. 

Flush with cash, the Clinton campaign will be airing ads for the first time in New Mexico and Michigan and reinvesting in spots in Colorado and Virginia, after pulling out earlier this year. Clinton on Tuesday did not address the FBI news (as she did in Ohio on Monday) during a three-stop swing through Florida, and instead focused her attacks against Trump in an attempt to appeal to women. Former Miss Universe contestant Alicia Machado, who was at the center of the political universe last month after Trump sparred with her, introduced Clinton. 

Clinton began her event in Dade City by ticking off Trump’s offenses over the course of the campaign -- from criticizing Judge Gonzalo Curiel, to questioning President Obama’s birth certificate, to criticizing Machado’s weight after she was a pageant contestant.

“Who acts like this? I’ll tell you who: a bully, that's who,” Clinton said. She then invoked the “Access Hollywood” tape that sent shockwaves through the political campaign earlier this month. “He has shown us who he is; let us show him on Tuesday who we are,” she said.

Clinton and her surrogates have been barnstorming in Florida in recent days, hoping to shore up the state and block Trump from the nomination. Vice President Joe Biden will campaign for her in Tampa and Palm Beach Gardens on Wednesday, and President Obama will rally supporters in Miami and Jacksonville on Thursday. Running mate Tim Kaine will swing through Melbourne and Fort Meyers on Friday. The RealClearPolitics polling average shows Trump leading Florida, a must-win state for him, by 1 point.

In Florida as in other key states, Clinton has emphasized early voting. Nearly twice as many early ballots have been cast a week before Election Day than at this point in 2012, according to analysis by NBC News. But there are some areas of concern for the Clinton campaign regarding voter behavior so far among the Democratic coalition. Politico reported that early voting among black voters in Florida has decreased, and Republicans are outpacing Democrats in ballots cast there.  

Aiming to shift attention away from the renewed spotlight on Clinton’s use of a private email server, the campaign has been promoting connections between Trump and Russian operatives. Clinton’s team seized on a Slate report that claimed computer scientists had found a connection between an email server at Trump Tower and a Russian bank. The Trump campaign called the report untrue. 

Yet there has also been reporting that would dilute some of the Clinton campaign’s claims that Russia was trying to influence the outcome of the election in favor of Trump. The New York Times reported that the FBI, while investigating Russia’s attempts to interfere with U.S. politics, found no direct evidence of the Russian government trying to sway the election in favor of the GOP nominee. The FBI had started to look into the foreign business connections of Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

Clinton is continuing with her plans to campaign in Arizona on Thursday, a stop announced last week as she held a decisive lead in the polls and had been focusing on expanding the map to Republican territory and campaigning for Democrats down the ballot. She will also campaign that day in Las Vegas, as polls show her leading by 1 point in Nevada. Democrats also hope to hold a U.S. Senate seat there that Minority Leader Harry Reid is vacating.

The Democratic nominee will campaign on Friday in Pittsburgh, Detroit and Cleveland, cities in states where Trump is hoping to compete. Clinton will host a get-out-the-vote rally in Philadelphia on Saturday.

Rebecca Berg contributed to this report. 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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