WHITE PLAINS, New York (AP) — Hillary Clinton is expanding her campaign into states Democrats haven’t won in decades, a sign of confidence in her presidential prospects and mounting efforts to win control of the Senate.
First lady Michelle Obama, one of Clinton’s most effective surrogates, is making Clinton’s case in Phoenix on Thursday, while the campaign puts an additional $2 million in television ads, direct mail and digital spots to help Arizona Democrats running in competitive races for the House and Senate. Clinton’s team is also putting an additional $1 million into efforts in Missouri and Indiana, and expanding already existing operations by $6 million in seven battleground states, according to campaign manager Robby Mook.
Clinton’s announcement came as her campaign was hit with another revelation related to the use of a private email server as secretary of state. Newly released FBI records show a senior State Department official unsuccessfully sought to lower the classification level of an email found on the server, a move Republican Donald Trump’s campaign labeled collusion.
The news was the latest twist in controversy that has dogged Clinton’s campaign but has often been drowned out by Trump’s erratic campaign, provocative claims and caught-on-tape scandalous sexual comments.
With her lead in opinion polls increasing, Clinton might seem unlikely to need any of the normally solid-red states to win the White House. But her team believes that a wide presidential margin of victory would help end Trump’s political movement and undermine his intensifying claims that the election is rigged.
Democrats aren’t alone in worrying about Trump’s rhetoric about casting doubt on the legitimacy of the election system.
In a Monday morning blitz of Tweets, Trump lashed out at Republicans who have tried to tone down his rhetoric, calling his own party’s leaders “so naive” and claiming without evidence that large-scale voter fraud is real.
“Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day. Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naive!” he tweeted Monday.
There is no evidence to back up Trump’s claim of widespread voter fraud. A study by a Loyola Law School professor found that out of 1 billion votes cast in all American elections between 2000 and 2014, there were only 31 known cases of impersonation fraud.
The tweet showed Trump continuing to play a scattershot defense rather than make his case to voters, with just three weeks left and much ground to make up in opinion polls.
Rather than campaigning in the tightest battlegrounds, Trump was slated to spend much of Monday out of sight before speaking in Green Bay, Wisconsin, a state where Clinton is viewed as having an edge. Clinton was spending the day with advisers near her home in New York, preparing for the third debate Wednesday night.
Clinton’s email use is certain to return as an issue in the final faceoff between the candidate and Trump was given new ammunition.
According to the FBI records released Monday, State Department Undersecretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy, a close aide to Clinton during her time as secretary of state, contacted an FBI official seeking to change an email’s classification. Notes on the conversation describe discussion about a “quid pro quo” in which the email’s classification would be changed and “State would reciprocate by allowing the FBI to place more agents in countries where they are presently forbidden.”
It was not clear whether Kennedy or the FBI official proposed the bargain, which ultimately did not occur.
The Trump campaign issued a statement calling the emails proof of collusion between the FBI, the Justice Department and the State Department “to cover up” criminal activity.”
Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said it is well known that there was disagreement among various government agencies “about the decisions to retroactively classify certain material in emails sent to Secretary Clinton. … and we were not part of these disagreements that played out inside the government.”
Clinton’s campaign also continues to answer for hacked emails being released by the thousands by WikiLeaks. The group said Monday that founder Julian Assange’s internet access had been cut by an unidentified state actor. Few other details were immediately available.
Clinton’s campaign for months has been eyeing an expansion into Arizona, where Hispanic voters make up more than 15 percent of the electorate, and Trump’s sharp language about Hispanic immigrants have left him vulnerable, said Republican pollster Whit Ayers, an adviser to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s re-election campaign.
“Trump has run against Hispanics,” Ayers said. “Consequently, Arizona is tailor made as an easily winnable red state where Trump could lose.”
Trump also leads in Indiana and Missouri, but U.S. Senate races in both places have become very close. In Indiana, former Sen. Evan Bayh is in a dead heat with U.S. Rep. Todd Young. In Missouri, Republican Sen. Roy Blunt is locked in a tight race with Democrat Jason Kander, Missouri’s secretary of state.
A former senator, Clinton and her team are clear-eyed about how closely her success as president would be tied to having her party in power on Capitol Hill. Senate Republicans already are casting themselves as a crucial check on her, signaling the fights to come.
“I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, said in a radio interview as he campaigned for Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican trying to win re-election in Pennsylvania.
An aide later said McCain would examine the record of anyone nominated for the high court and vote based on their qualifications.
Clinton’s team has suggested she may continue her campaign expansion. Democrats are looking to make a play in Utah, where the politically dominant Mormon community has taken issue with Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric.