Another day, another bombshell.
The ever-turbulent presidential race took another dramatic turn on Sunday afternoon as FBI Director James Comey revealed in a letter to Congress that newly-discovered messages would not affect his bureau’s decision that Hillary Clinton did not deserve prosecution — a revelation that comes a little more than a week after Comey first set the race into a frenzy.
The development — immediately cheered by Democrats — is a major relief to Clinton, who is spending the closing hours of her campaign fighting off Donald Trump’s mad fly-around to try to find a path to 270 electoral votes.
But Clinton and her team played it cool, with the candidate declining to bring up the issue at her afternoon rally, and her chief spokeswoman expressing more enthusiasm about Bruce Springsteen joining Clinton on the trail Monday.
“We have seen Director Comey’s latest letter to the Hill. We are glad to see that he has found, as we were confident that he would, that he has confirmed the conclusion that he reached in July,” said Clinton’s communications director Jennifer Palmieri, shortly before the candidate appeared at her final Ohio rally, introduced by basketball superstar LeBron James. “And we’re glad that this matter is resolved.”
She added, “I have one other thing to tell you: we are adding a guest to our rally tomorrow night in Philadelphia,” as she hyped The Boss.
But Republicans, eager to see Trump continue to close in on Clinton’s stable but narrow lead, were not letting the matter rest.
“The FBI’s findings from its criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton’s secret email server were a damning and unprecedented indictment of her judgment,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. “None of this changes the fact that the FBI continues to investigate the Clinton Foundation for corruption involving her tenure as secretary of state. Hillary Clinton should never be president.”
And House Speaker Paul Ryan, one of Trump’s most tortured supporters, quickly pitched in to boost his nominee, as well. “Regardless of this decision, the undisputed finding of the FBI’s investigation is that Secretary Clinton put our nation’s secrets at risk and in doing so compromised our national security,” he said. “She simply believes she’s above the law and always plays by her own rules … Let’s bring the Clinton era to an end by voting for Donald Trump on Tuesday.”
Trump’s own campaign was defiant, saying Comey’s letter changes nothing about the perception of Clinton’s corruption or Trump’s chances on Tuesday.
“We have not made this a centerpiece of our messaging,” Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said on MSNBC said, despite Trump calling the initial news “worse than Watergate.”
“Some things haven’t changed at all. What FBI Director Comey said on July 7th under oath to Congress is still the same. That she was reckless and careless in her handling of information…the reason that so many Americans have a problem with Hillary Clinton’s honesty and trustworthiness and veracity does not change,” Conway said.
She also broke with Trump’s statement just on Friday in which he said he’s “always had a lot of confidence in the FBI.”
“I immediately thought that he’s mishandled the investigation from the beginning,” Conway said about Comey.
Still, Democrats’ feeling of vindication was mixed with a heavy dose of anxiety: nine days of early voting went by since Comey’s initial letter shook the race.
And his Sunday afternoon letter to congressional leaders came as tensions between Clinton and Trump’s camps near their highest points of the cycle.
While her Republican challenger flies around the country in pursuit of any path to victory — hitting reliably Democratic states like Minnesota and others where early voting put Clinton firmly in the driver’s seat, like Nevada — Clinton is piling resources into Michigan, a blue state where her campaign has long had a presence but where it acknowledges polls have tightened.
Both campaigns are guardedly optimistic about the sudden turn to Michigan: while Democrats acknowledge that the state is closer than they expected it to be at this point, they see last-minute visits from Clinton, former president Bill Clinton, and President Barack Obama as an insurance policy to stave off a last-second Trump surge while an unprecedented wave of Hispanic voters appears to have handed her unexpected strength in Florida, Nevada, and Arizona.
To Trump’s team, it’s evidence that the race has tightened to the point where Clinton needs to play defense — even though no respected survey of the notoriously difficult-to-poll state has shown Trump tied or ahead there all year.
And on Sunday morning, the final NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of the cycle landed with Clinton ahead of Trump by four points nationwide, 44 to 40 percent — roughly the same margin as other national polls have recently shown. A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll also released Sunday morning reaffirmed the small-but-steady lead, showing the Democratic nominee with a three-point cushion, 45 percent to Trump’s 42 percent.
But far from settling into a groove, a restless energy has overtaken the contest, as Clinton avoided mentioning the FBI news on Sunday in Cleveland — after stopping through a Philadelphia church — and Trump strove to stay on message in Iowa and Minnesota.
Trump’s team in particular has been on high alert after the real estate developer was rushed from the Reno stage on Saturday night when an audience member’s sign was mistaken for a gun and the Secret Service tackled him. Both Donald Trump Jr., the candidate’s son, and Dan Scavino, the campaign’s social media chief, retweeted a supporter’s message calling the moment an “assassination attempt,” despite all evidence to the contrary.
And emboldened by his furious fly-around, Trump amped up his similarly unfounded claims of election-rigging, even calling Clinton’s late-campaign concerts featuring celebrities like Jay Z, Beyonce, and Katy Perry “almost like a form of cheating” and “demeaning to the political process.”
Meanwhile, apparently pointing to long lines at a heavily Latino polling place in Nevada that forced the location to stay open late, Trump questioned whether there had been any improper activity at “certain key Democratic polling locations in Clark County.”
“Folks, it’s a rigged system. It’s a rigged system, and we’re going to beat it,” he said.
“The campaign’s made it very clear: a clear outcome, obviously both sides will accept,” Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, said on Fox News Sunday. “I think both campaigns have also been very clear that in the event of disputed results, they reserve all legal rights and remedies.”
Seeking to further rev up his base on Sunday, the Trump campaign sent supporters a battleground map showing Nevada, Florida, North Carolina, and Maine leaning red, with Arizona, Utah, and Georgia firmly in the Republican camp and Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Virginia in the toss-up category — categorizations that do not fit the public polling.
Clinton, meanwhile, was visiting Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire on Sunday in a bid to energize African-American voters in Cuyahoga County one more time with a joint rally with LeBron James, and to energize her supporters in the other two states where there’s been no early voting.
Still dogged by lagging African-American turnout and the ongoing release of campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails by WikiLeaks after what appears to be a Russian hack, the campaign is fighting the perception that it’s trudging to the finish line.
“I’ve got pretty thick skin, Chuck. So you know, what I’ve worried about is to make sure that, you know, this is an unprecedented situation where a foreign power hacked my emails as with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange to dribble them out in order to maximize the damage to Hillary and to maximize the help to Donald Trump, who’s adopted — essentially — Russian foreign policy and rejected bipartisan U.S. foreign policy,” Podesta said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “So it’s kind of an unprecedented circumstance. But look, my job is to make sure that we’re doing what we need to do to make sure that those volunteers are on doors, on the phones. And that’s what we’re going to do to win this election.”
Yet Clinton’s campaign’s lingering confidence is largely buoyed by early-voting figures in Nevada and Florida. A surge of Latino voters in Las Vegas’ Clark County, for example, pushed Democrats’ lead in early voting to 72,000 ballots — larger than it was four years ago, when Obama won the state by nearly 7 points.
And in Florida, Latino voters have cast roughly 14 percent of the early and absentee votes, far ahead of their 2012 pace, when Obama narrowly beat Mitt Romney there.
“We’ve built a different kind of coalition and a bigger coalition,” said Podesta. “You mentioned the historic Hispanic turnout that we’re seeing in Florida, Nevada, where we feel very, very good.”
With Clinton clinging to a small but sturdy lead, Trump on Sunday kept up his talk of a “rigged” election, keeping alive the prospect that he might not accept a defeat on Tuesday.
“You have to understand it’s a rigged system and she’s protected,” he said at his Minnesota rally.
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