WHITE PLAINS, New York — Hillary Clinton is advancing into states the Democrats haven’t won in decades, confidently expanding her offensive against Donald Trump and aiming to help her party win back control of Congress.
There’s a new $2 million push in Arizona, aides said Monday, including a campaign stop in Phoenix by first lady Michelle Obama, one of Clinton’s most effective surrogates. An additional $1 million is going into efforts in Missouri and Indiana, both states with competitive Senate races, a small amount of TV time is being bought in Texas and media appearances are scheduled in Utah.
At the same time Clinton is showing new signs of confidence, she faced fresh revelations about her use of a private server as secretary of state and hacked emails from a top campaign official’s personal account. FBI records released Monday show that a senior State Department official unsuccessfully sought to lower the classification level of an email found on the server, a move Trump’s campaign labeled collusion.
The new questions highlight a dual reality of the presidential race: Even as Clinton has a growing advantage, she’s been unable to put the biggest controversy of her campaign behind her.
With her lead increasing, Clinton is 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.
On the other side, Trump’s campaign dramatically expanded its ad buys in seven battleground states and announced plans to launch a $2 million advertising blitz in long-shot Virginia.
“Donald Trump is becoming more unhinged by the day, and that is increasing prospects for Democrats further down the ballot,” said Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook, who cited early voting and registration numbers to predict record voter turnout
Democrats aren’t the only targets of Trump’s rhetoric about the legitimacy of the election system.
In a Monday morning blitz of tweets, he lashed out at Republicans who have tried to tone him down, calling his own party’s leaders “so naive” and claiming without evidence that major 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.
There is no evidence to back up Trump’s claims. 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.
Trump’s tweets show he is 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 spending 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 final presidential debate Wednesday night.
Clinton’s email use is certain to return as an issue in that faceoff, and Trump was given new ammunition.
According to 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.”
The records indicate that Kennedy made that suggestion, but both the FBI and State Department said Monday that it was the unidentified FBI official. Neither the declassification nor the increase in agents occurred.
In an online video, Trump called the records proof of collusion between the FBI, the Justice Department and the State Department “to try to make Hillary Clinton look like an innocent person.”
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.
On a brighter note for her, the Clinton 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 immigrants have left him vulnerable, said Republican pollster Whit Ayres, an adviser to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s re-election campaign.
“Trump has run against Hispanics,” Ayres 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 states 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. An aide later said McCain would examine the record of anyone nominated and vote based on their qualifications.