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What to Expect From Longer-Than-Usual General Election

What to expect as campaigning ramps up for Clinton and Trump 3:41

With two national conventions concluded, you might be thinking that this costly and historically unpopular election is about to wrap up.

Think again: there are still 100 days until the general election on Nov. 8.

If that seems longer than usual, it’s because it is: In 2016, the gap is 40 days longer than the 62 interim days between the 2012 party conventions and Election Day.

Both conventions were moved up nearly a full month this year, in hopes of giving candidates more time to raise money and campaign before the general election and to accommodate the Summer Olympics in August, which will eat up a lot of voters' attention.

The extra month is sure to spice up what’s already proved to be an unusual race. Here’s how.

Bring on the fundraisers

Candidates can only legally fundraise for the general election after formally accepting their party’s nomination, so a shorter primary helps candidates launch fundraising efforts early in hopes of boosting the big-dollar ad buys and costly national grassroots machines that mark the fall campaign.

In 2012, Mitt Romney locked down the nomination in April, but couldn’t fundraise for the general election until September. By the time he reached Tampa for his convention near the end of August, he was slumping in the polls and had been badly outspent — $173 million to $75 million — by President Barack Obama's re-election campaign.

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But running a national campaign for another 40 days also means 40 more days of payroll, rent, advertising and other expenses, so candidates are going to have to pay for all this extra time.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s fundraising machine has far out-raised Republican nominee Donald Trump, who self-funded much of his primary bid. Trump has struggled to wrangle the typical big-dollar donors his party has relied on for years.

Mo’ money, mo’ problems

While strategists say the convention scheduling change was designed in hopes of ensuring that the party didn't get too divided during the primary, 2016's primaries were the longest and most divisive in years, on both sides of the aisle. That means the candidates will also have to keep working to shore up party unity during the general election.

"The earlier convention was designed to do precisely what it did not, and that is it was supposed to shorten the primary season, so it wouldn’t divide the party, in other words," Republican strategist Rick Tyler said. "Long primary seasons tend to exacerbate divisions within the party, shorter primary seasons favor those traditionally who can raise the most money and secure the nomination as quickly as possible. We ended up with one of the longest primary seasons we’ve ever had and subsequently the most divided party. Maybe those extra days will give Donald Trump a chance to unite the party, and I think that applies to Hillary too."

Attack ads

With history’s two most unpopular presidential candidates on the ballot this fall, this cycle is sure to be rife with attack ads, but political strategist Rick Wilson says candidates need to be careful not to overdo it.

“I’ve always had a rule of thumb over a long life in politics. For every point of negative [polling numbers] you buy your opponent by advertising against him, you probably buy yourself half a point of negative,” he said. “The stink gets all over.”

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Strategists say so many days of negativity may exhaust voters, and to turn out the base on a chilly November day, candidates will need to find a way to pitch themselves optimistically.

Down-ballot liability

With a longer general election, there’s also more time for down-ballot contests — often overshadowed by the headline-grabbing presidential race — to take center stage.

Democrats say tying Trump to down-ballot Republicans is central to their hopes of reclaiming one or both houses of Congress, as they push to tie moderate, vulnerable Republicans to Trump’s most polarizing and inflammatory statements on the campaign trail. With a nominee prone to slamming members of his own party if they disagree with him (or even if they don’t), get ready for fireworks.

40 days and 40 nights of risk

Forty more days are 40 “more chances to make mistakes,” Republican strategist Susan Del Percio told NBC News. After Labor Day, when many Americans start tuning into national elections, the conventions will be a distant memory, and the extra 40 days will give candidates and their surrogates many more opportunities to step in it.

Candidates used “to hold onto your post-convention bump a little longer,” she added.

Highs and lows from the 2016 conventions 5:44