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Opinion How Clinton can help Democrats in down-ballot races

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If Hillary Clinton’s lead over Donald Trump remains substantial — and a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll puts her up nine points nationally — you’ll see the conversation shift hard into the question of what more Clinton can be doing to help Democrats take back the Senate, and possibly even the House.

After talking to a number of Democratic operatives, it seems they want Clinton to help in three ways: Message, margin, and money. With, perhaps, an emphasis on the margin (of victory) and the money.

Senior Democrats involved in the Senate and House races tell me that they aren’t particularly focused on the question of whether Clinton will campaign with Democratic candidates. More important, they say, is that Clinton devote more time to elevating a message about GOP incumbents’ relationship to Trump.

Specifically, they want to hear Clinton use her command of the media to amplify the message that those Republicans who are now distancing themselves from Trump are doing so only for political reasons, cravenly waiting until the sex tape revelations gave them no choice, after sticking with him for months despite his racism, misogyny, hate speech, and abuse directed at individuals and groups alike.

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This message, they say, would be particularly helpful in states and districts where Clinton is running well. One Democrat, for instance, says it would be most helpful to hear this in swing states like Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Florida.

And so, when the Clinton campaign signaled recently that she would be doing more of this in coming days, Democrats were cheered. Per Politico, Clinton spokesperson Jennifer Palmieri said this to reporters last week:

“One thing that we would note is people like John McCain, Kelly Ayotte, Rob Portman, Congressman [Joe] Heck, we think they have a lot to answer for. These are leaders of the Republican Party that legitimized Donald Trump’s candidacy, that propped him up a number of times. Kelly Ayotte herself has said on 30 different occasions that she supports him, she said as recently as a week ago that he was a role model.”

Democrats tell me they want to see — and expect — more like this from Clinton in coming days. This is particularly true now that Republicans appear to be abandoning Trump with a new level of urgency.

The basic calculus that will drive this is that Hillary Clinton is running somewhat ahead of some of the Dem Senate candidates, partly because some constituencies are motivated against Trump in the presidential race, but that motivator doesn’t necessarily translate into support down-ticket. So you can expect a more concerted effort by Clinton to sound such a message to African Americans, independent college educated and/or suburban women, and millennials, in areas where she’s performing well. Obviously other surrogates — such as Barack and Michelle Obama — might have even more success with millennials and African Americans, so they’ll likely be doing more of this in coming days, too.

As I noted this morning, internal Dem polling shows that Republicans may not gain all that much with swing voters from distancing themselves from Trump. But also key here is the core Dem constituencies: a message reminding them that their incumbent GOP Senator or House member stuck with Trump through his summer of racism, sexism, and hate might motivate them, too.

Now, money.

Last month, the Democratic National Committee shoveled $5 million into the Senate and House races, sending $2.5 million to both the DSCC and the DCCC. In another key tell, today we learned that the pro-Clinton Super PAC Priorities USA is eying ways to get more involved in Senate races.

If Clinton continues to hold a solid lead over Trump, you can expect the requests for more money from the Clinton campaign and associated groups to amplify. This will be particularly true if Republicans do end up making good on their long-running threat to continue shifting resources from the presidential contest — in effect giving up on Trump — into their efforts to hold Congress.

“If Hillary is going to open up a big lead or if people perceive that she is as safe bet to win, then Republicans are going to re-direct all of their resources to protect the Senate,” a Democratic strategist tells me.  “In which case the best thing the Clinton campaign can do is send money.”

Another key factor: Many of the GOP-held House districts that Democrats currently see as winnable are suburban districts, outside of places like Philadelphia, San Antonio, Miami, and Denver. One House Democratic strategist tells me that these media markets tend to be expensive, so you can expect the request for funds from the Clinton campaign — and from pretty much everyone else, too — to grow louder.

One Democratic operative adds that the way Clinton can perhaps help the most is also the most obvious: “A win by as big a margin as possible.”

All of which is to say that this isn’t really all that complicated. Message, margin, money.