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Hillary Clinton’s Plan for the Last Two Months of the Campaign

David Plouffe on how she can win debates, voters, and the toughest states

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Getty Images

On the latest Keepin’ It 1600, Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer brought in former Barack Obama campaign manager David Plouffe to talk election strategy. Plouffe explained why he doesn’t think Hillary Clinton’s latest missteps — her “basket of deplorables” comment and her delay in sharing her pneumonia diagnosis — will have much of an effect on the race. Then, he detailed the most important things for the Clinton campaign to focus on as the race comes down to the wire.

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

Why the “Basket of Deplorables” Comment and Pneumonia Diagnosis Won’t Affect the Race

David Plouffe: The “basket of deplorables” thing is … The press views it as a monumental mistake. I don’t think so. I think if anything, it helps. It’s a distraction, so you don’t want that, but on the other hand, it does generate days and days of “Is Donald Trump a racist and a bigot,” and “Does he attract people who agree with that?” It’s not the worst discussion to have.

On the [topic of Clinton’s health], I think a lot of people may have admiration that she tried to plow through that. We can debate whether they should have released something on Friday saying she has pneumonia. Clearly if Sunday morning had been dealt with a little differently, not just quickly, but [the campaign had] said, instead of saying “She got overheated,” [that] she’s been suffering from pneumonia, [then] I think it would have been a little bit less of a deal. But again, at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s going to matter. And I think this is a campaign where every day you would think that man has landed on the moon for the first time.

Win the Three Big Moments Left: The Three Debates

Plouffe: There’s three big moments left: The three debates. The first debate is probably worth 50 percent of that. So I think that if you focus on the big moments and the fundamentals of the race, I think all the people wetting their bed throughout America and really throughout the world should settle down and realize that this is Hillary Clinton’s race to land. She in all likelihood will. And if anything, I think her lead could open up here a little bit here in the last month. So nationally what does that mean? And again, none of us really care about the national vote, but to use that as a measure, you know it’s still not crazy to think she could win this race by 4–6 [percentage] points. It may be if she was a stronger candidate with higher favorables, she could win by 8 or 10 [points] but that’s not the race that we’re in right now. It’s kind of a muddy track. But you know, we won a national vote margin by 4 [points] in ’12, and it yielded 332 electoral votes, so. You know, I’ll take a 1-[point] margin, but I think we’re looking at something more in the 4- to 6-[point] range.

Do Everything to Turn Out Voters

Plouffe: The key thing is she’s got to focus on … turning out tough-to-turn-out voters. She’s got to go out there and make people as passionate about electing her as they are about defeating [Donald] Trump. She’s got to focus on that. And I do think she’s got to wrestle the agenda away from him. That doesn’t mean she needs to play news-cycle politics or worry about the 15-minute Twitter feed bursts, but she does need to put him on the defense. And lord knows there’s any number of things that will come out just in the last 72 or 96 hours that would sink most candidates. So I think she’s got to be aggressive.

Start Focusing Exclusively on Swing States

Plouffe: Clearly money is important, and they’ve got a budget to reach, but boy, we’re in the last six weeks here. I’d spend as little time in California and N.Y. and the fundraising states, and more time in battleground states and getting into smaller communities in those states. Even though she may not win some important counties, she can cut the margin down so she’s losing by eight or 10, instead of 12 or 14 [points]. That could make a difference. And [she can] just be out there mixing it up with people. … But [she] can’t just [connect with people] in the debates, I think she needs to go out there every day, and make it clear as a bell that all the things she believes in and why she’s doing this is because she feels so passionate about helping a lot of people in this country get ahead.

Take Advantage of Your Surrogates

Plouffe: They’ve got an army of really important surrogates, [though] we should be careful to not overstate the importance of surrogates. They have limited appeal. This is about Clinton and Trump. But you’ve got both the [Obamas], you’ve got the vice president, you’ve got obviously former President Clinton, you’ve got any number of people in that sort of entertainment world. Like, she’s got a lot of assets, and just deploy those smartly. And not get panicked. That’s a hard thing, I know. But you can’t get sensitive to the bed-wetting and the Monday morning quarterbacking.

Let Hillary Be Hillary

Plouffe: You’ve got a game plan. Stick to it, and just let Hillary Clinton be who Hillary Clinton is. And at the end of the day, I think there’s going to be a lot of people who say, “You know what, I’m still not sure. I love her. I like her. I’ve got some issues around trust.” But who are ultimately going to say, “I trust that behind the desk in the Oval Office, or manning the Situation Room, I can trust her. And I can’t trust Trump.”

And also, understand that this is kind of not on the level. I mean, this is a circus. And you don’t necessarily want to become a carny yourself, but kind of understand the rhythms of this. Trump’s doing some interesting things out there. And … I still think dominating that whole thing, “any news is good news,” right? “Bad news doesn’t matter.” I’m not sure that works. I think Trump’s had plenty of days where he’s dominated the news coverage and it’s been harmful to his case. But you’ve got to make sure you’re not playing second fiddle every day. So you’re going to have to launch some pretty aggressive attacks, and I think some of those are probably going to have to come directly from her.