There are now just 64 days to go before Election Day, and just 17 before the first early voting begins.
Polls show Hillary Clinton has a substantial lead over Donald Trump in every important battleground state. Such is Mrs. Clinton’s strength that Mr. Trump has been forced to defend states such as Georgia, Arizona and Utah that have been solidly Republican in presidential elections for 20 years but are now close enough to be considered contested, according to the latest polling. While her campaign has had offices open for months – Mrs. Clinton has more than 250 staffers in Ohio alone – by late last week the Trump campaign didn’t have any offices open in Florida, the largest prize among the swing states.
And yet the unpredictable nature of Mr. Trump and the unpopularity of both him and Mrs. Clinton means the 2016 presidential election isn’t over. Here is a look at three things each candidate needs to do in the home stretch of the election.
Solidify her gains among women voters
Since launching his campaign in June 2015, Donald Trump has offended minority voters key to any winning Democratic coalition and repelled the sort of educated suburban white voters – especially women — who are assumed to be in the GOP camp.
One sign of a looming electoral calamity for Mr. Trump: A Monmouth University poll of likely voters in Wisconsin released last week found that among white women voters, Mr. Trump is running 13 percentage points behind what Mitt Romney received in the 2012 election. Though Mr. Trump is doing five points better among white men, he is toxic to black and Hispanic voters. If white women abandon him, he can’t win enough new votes from men to make up the difference.
Get out the black and Hispanic vote
Mr. Trump will help on this front. The Republican nominee is polling at close to zero among black voters, and is seeing even Hispanic Republicans who supported his campaign denounce him after his Phoenix immigration speech last week in which he pledged to make every undocumented immigrant subject to deportation.
Mrs. Clinton’s role will be to make sure that Hispanics get registered to vote and then turn out at the polls. The campaign in recent weeks sent organizers to register votes in Arizona, where it also spent $100,000 on television ads. If she wins it, Arizona would be the icing on Mrs. Clinton’s Electoral College cake.
Make sure the election is about Donald Trump
Mrs. Clinton is happy to cede the spotlight to Mr. Trump. She held few events in the last two weeks, letting the Republican remain in the headlines while she spent her time raising money. Mrs. Clinton’s TV advertising has been spent attacking Mr. Trump – expect that to continue.
The reason for this is that Mrs. Clinton is the second-most unpopular major-party nominee in modern presidential history. Lucky for her, Mr. Trump is even less popular. Mr. Trump won the Republican primary by dominating the media landscape and starving his opponents of attention. Mrs. Clinton’s task is to make sure general election voters don’t forget his race-based attacks on a federal judge and the rest of a long list of remarks that have offended minority voters.
Stay disciplined about the map
In August, Mr. Trump spent precious days campaigning in states that won’t be competitive. He did rallies in solidly Democratic Connecticut and Washington state and in heavily Republican Mississippi and Texas. Mr. Trump has outsourced his ground game to the Republican National Committee, which doesn’t have a single staffer in any of those four states.
Any reasonable path to victory for Mr. Trump lies in turning out a massive number of white voters for him in the Rust Belt – Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa. Mr. Trump must keep his focus there and in North Carolina and Florida. Holding rallies elsewhere keeps him on cable TV but doesn’t help turn out the votes he will need to win.
Stay disciplined about his message
There is almost no issue on which Mr. Trump hasn’t altered his policy proposals at some point during his campaign. On immigration, his signature issue, he has zigzagged over the last two weeks from saying he was offering a “softening” and would not deport anyone except undocumented immigrants who are criminals, to saying his proposal was a “hardening” and then pitching making all illegal immigrants subject to deportation, to the next day telling a radio interview his position was a “softening.”
The result: Days of headlines about Mr. Trump flip-flopping and Democrats on the attack, with Vice President Joe Biden suggesting Mr. Trump didn’t know his own position on immigration.
Make the election about Hillary Clinton
As long as Mr. Trump stays in the news, the election is about him. He needs it to be about Mrs. Clinton and her litany of vulnerabilities – like her use of a private e-mail server and conflicts related to her family’s foundation. But as long as Mr. Trump says or does provocative things, the news is about him and not Mrs. Clinton.
This will be most difficult for Mr. Trump, who has spent a career making himself the center of attention. Even as he has switched from raucous rallies to delivering the sort of prepared speeches he spent more than a year mocking as the province of boring politicians, Mr. Trump can’t help himself from going off-script.
To have a chance to win, he has to reinforce Mrs. Clinton’s unpopularity without reminding people of his own.