- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Hillary Clinton will enter Wednesday night’s final presidential debate with Democrats having already declared victory in the Nov. 8 election, and analysts say her biggest task in the high-stakes showdown is to avoid any unforced errors against Republican Donald Trump and try to “run out the clock” over the next three weeks.

Showing just how confident the Clinton team is heading into the Las Vegas forum, campaign officials this week announced that the campaign would shift millions of dollars to House and Senate candidates, believing that the battle against Mr. Trump essentially is over.

Donald Trump is becoming more unhinged by the day, and that is increasing prospects for Democrats further down the ballot,” Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said Monday.

Recent polls, almost all of which show the former first lady enjoying a comfortable lead, also have the Clinton campaign believing it’s firmly in the driver’s seat. The most recent Real Clear Politics average of all surveys gives Mrs. Clinton a 7 point advantage; some recent polls, including a CBS News survey released this week, show her up by double digits.

If she’s able to avoid any mistakes Wednesday night, Mrs. Clinton likely will shift her full attention toward building a Democratic landslide on Nov. 8 in the hopes of bringing with her to the White House majorities in both houses of Congress and a clear mandate from the American people.

As Mr. Trump struggles to fend off multiple accusations of sexual assault and faces a Republican Party that in many respects has abandoned him, Mrs. Clinton and her team have hunkered down, refusing to even publicly acknowledge a series of damning revelations brought to light after a WikiLeaks hack of campaign chairman John Podesta’s private email.

Those emails are sure to be an issue at the debate, specialists say, but Mrs. Clinton will gain no benefit in striking back, and should instead keep the focus on policy, and the growing firestorm that’s sinking her opponent.

“There’s kind of a run-out-the-clock view of it for the Clinton campaign, which is just to not make a big mistake, not overreact to anything,” said Ben Voth, director of debate at Southern Methodist University, adding that Mr. Trump is likely to take the opposite approach.

“He has to, even though it’s very difficult, not be on the defensive and be on the offensive,” Mr. Voth continued. “His campaign really needs to sit down … and summarize what are the five best takeaways from the WikiLeaks [email dump] against the Clinton campaign and be sure to try to articulate those five things they think have damaged the Clinton campaign.”

The emails have, among other things, revealed that Mrs. Clinton told wealthy bankers she has “both a public and a private position” on Wall Street reform; that her campaign aides routinely mocked Catholics, Southerners and other groups; and that she made calculated political decisions on everything from her position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to how much “outrage” to show at congressional hearings on the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack.

The Trump campaign has zeroed in on many aspects of the hacked emails, including Mrs. Clinton’s on-again, off-again support for the TPP — an issue the billionaire businessman is sure to raise early and often in the debate.

“From NAFTA to TPP to shipping our jobs offshore to China, this is the economic disaster of our time. It’s a politician-made disaster with the names of Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all over it,” Peter Navarro, a senior policy adviser to Mr. Trump, said Tuesday, foreshadowing a central part of the Republican’s debate game plan.

But Mrs. Clinton and her surrogates so far haven’t taken the email bait, and instead have basked in Mr. Trump’s free fall in the polls, along with the possibility of a Democratic landslide. Democratic fundraising pitches now focus as much on reclaiming control of Congress as they do on beating Mr. Trump.

“Allow me to deliver the Trump campaign’s eulogy: It launched. It failed miserably. It died,” top Democratic strategist James Carville wrote in a fundraising email Tuesday night. “Here’s the deal: Just because Trump’s dunzo doesn’t mean your job is over! Oh heck no — Democrats have a chance to win the whole enchilada!”

With his chances seemingly fading, Mr. Trump must pursue a dual strategy at Wednesday night’s debate, scholars say, one that centers on apologizing for his past lewd comments about women while also casting himself as a tooth-and-nail fighter against the political status quo, of which Mrs. Clinton is a key part.

“Apologize and ask the nation to forgive him. Put another way, be contrite for the video,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Pennsylvania’s Franklin and Marshall College, referring to an 11-year-old “Access Hollywood” video that showed Mr. Trump bragging in a vulgar fashion about how he can grope women because of his celebrity status.

In the second debate, Mr. Trump apologized for the incident but downplayed his words as mere “locker room talk” and quickly pivoted to former President Bill Clinton’s past sexual indiscretions. He even went so far as to bring Mr. Clinton’s accusers to the debate.

Repeating that strategy, Mr. Madonna said, would be a mistake.

“Stay away from the accusers,” he said. “He needs to reassure the voters about his temperament and judgment. Talk about his being the change agent, and what his leadership will do for the economy and the war on terror.”

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