No one is working harder to make sure the world knows Hillary Clinton can lose than Hillary Clinton.
Things could hardly be going better for the Democratic nominee: She’s ahead in every poll and Donald Trump finds new ways to sabotage himself nearly every day.
But her campaign would rather focus on the bad news — at least when communicating with donors, whose checks Clinton still wants to flow in, even when it looks like she doesn't need the help.
Clinton has built a massive, state-of-the art campaign operation, but that doesn’t come cheaply. Her campaign spent more than $34 million on operating expenditures in June, while a related joint committee, whose fundraising Clinton is responsible for, transferred tens of millions more to the Democratic National Committee and state parties.
Campaign officials now see complacency as one of their top concerns. That spans from voters, whom officials fear might not feel compelled to cast a ballot, up to super wealthy donors, who might think the campaign doesn’t really need their hard-earned, non-tax-deductible contributions.
So the campaign has assumed the role of nervous partypooper, working hard to demonstrate that they do need that donation, because Trump could still win.
“The constant mantra is: The polls will tighten, please don't take this for granted,” said Alan Kessler, a top Clinton fundraiser from Philadelphia who was her 2008 national finance chair. “That’s the message that we're getting from the campaign, and in turn, it's the message that we're telling people.”
“The pressure's on all of us,” Kessler added, noting the fate of Republican rivals who took Trump for granted in the primary.
Top fundraisers report no drop-off in contributions due to Clinton’s lead in the polls, and instead say donors have been coming off the sidelines since the Democratic National Convention. Still, they say it’s early yet and it remains possible that donors will ease off the gas closer to Election Day if Clinton’s lead holds.
Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, wants to make sure that doesn’t happen. He sent a memo to major donors Monday with subject line, “Wake Up Call,” warning that Trump’s recently announced $80 million July fundraising haul was “far more than anyone expected.”
“[T]his race remains incredibly fluid, much more so than recent presidential elections,” Mook wrote in the memo, obtained by NBC News and first reported by Politico. “[W]e fully expect the polls to tighten again,” he added, in a section underlined for emphasis.
Mook upped the fear factor by referencing three-week-old polls showing Trump ahead in some battleground states. While he doesn’t mention the pollster, the data likely came from Quinnipiac University, whose methodology has consistently under-counted Clinton’s support compared to other polls.
The message has been the same on the end of the finance spectrum, with recent email solicitations to small-dollar donors harping on Trump’s strong July fundraising.
Subject lines from the past five days alone include: “He may still beat me,” “Here’s another reason why Trump might win,” and “Trump's supporters almost outraised us.”
”Pay no attention to the polls — it's only August,” Clinton wrote in one email, there’s a “very real possibility that we could be outspent in this election.”
So far, Clinton has raised $264 million while Trump has raised $89 million. Her allied super PACs and outside groups have spent $110 million to Trump’s $9.7 million.
President Obama’s most successful fundraising plea from the 2012 campaign was, “I will be outspent.” And Clinton’s darker emails seem to be working as well, since her campaign keeps sending them.
At an event in Florida, Clinton announced her campaign had received 6.2 million contributions from more than 2 million individual donors.
Exaggerated as some of these warnings may be, veterans of Obama’s 2012 campaign note that they too felt pretty confident after the Democratic Convention, and some even dared to wonder if the House might be in play. But it all came crashing back to earth after the first Democratic debate in Denver, when polls tightened, even though Obama went on to win.
It’s not impossible to imagine some scenarios that could turn 2016 around: A bad first debate for Clinton, explosive revelations in yet-to-be-published emails hacked from the DNC, or a new scandal, among others.
Even the slim possibility of a Trump victory is enough to keep anxiety levels up among Democratic donors, with many spooked by his brief lead in polls between the Republican and Democratic conventions.
One donor, who asked not to be named, recalled frantically phoning the head of a progressive advocacy organization she funds with a plea to “Talk me down,” after seeing a poll that had Trump in the lead.
In fact, several Clinton fundraisers said fear of Trump and confidence in Clinton’s campaign has actually motivated donors.
“In tech — especially in the Valley — the community really seems to now be focused on this race in a way that did not exist pre-Conventions,” said Chris Lehane, a California Democratic strategist who sits on the board of AirBnB. “In particular, because of the perception amongst many that Trumpism constitutes a unique existential challenge to democracy that there is a responsibility to engage in the campaign in a meaningful way.”
Clinton, husband Bill Clinton and VP nominee Tim Kaine, will spend much of the remainder of August trying to capitalize on that, visiting moneyed enclaves like Silicon Valley — where Apple CEO Tim Cook is hosting a $2,700 per head fundraiser — to fill their coffers for the fall campaign.
Clinton will also visit the Nantucket, the Hamptons and Provincetown on Cape Cod, among other places. In Los Angeles, she’ll stop by Magic Johnson’s Beverly Hills home for a fundraiser hosted by Disney CEO Bob Iger and then Leonardo DiCaprio’s manse for a reception featuring Tobey Maguire, Jennifer Aniston and Shonda Rhimes.
She’s even forgoing her typical Hamptons vacation rental in order to stay on the fundraising circuit, according to Politico.