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Hillary Clinton Looks to Win Over White Working-Class Male Voters

Cementing Hillary Clinton's victory in November is becoming all about one group of voters: White men who haven't gone to college.
Image: Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign rally at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 29, 2016.PETER FOLEY / EPA

DENVER -- Hillary Clinton's campaign is riding high. Polls show she's way ahead with women, minorities and college educated voters -- a coalition that's fundamentally large and strong enough to send her to the White House.

But Donald Trump is a wild card of a candidate if there ever was one. So as her campaign looks to the election's final 90 days, cementing her victory in November is becoming all about one group of voters: White men who haven't gone to college.

Clinton campaign aides know the former secretary of state won't win them overall. President Obama lost badly with this group to Mitt Romney in 2012.

Related: Poll: Clinton Support Spikes Following Democratic Convention

But if Trump is going to win the White House, these voters -- working-class white men in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and maybe Wisconsin and Michigan -- have to hand him the keys. That’s why Clinton’s team is working so hard to hold down losses among that group -- everything Clinton's campaign has done since the convention is aimed at convincing them that the Democratic candidate isn't so bad.

"I know people are angry and frustrated … I’m not going into this with some kind of rose-colored glasses," she said at a campaign stop in Harrisburg, Pa., over the weekend. "The economy isn't working the way it needs to. Too many people feel like they're out on their own -- no one has their back. I can tell you Tim Kaine and I will get up every single day, we will fight for you."

The effort to woo white non-college voters started onstage the week before in Philadelphia, with appeals to police officers and the military, and with self-described Republicans publicly declaring their support for her. It continued through the weekend's three-day bus tour of Pennsylvania and Ohio, two states Trump simply can't afford to lose.

Clinton showed up in small factories in places the new American economy has all but forgotten: Johnstown, Pa.; Pittsburgh; Youngstown, Ohio; places where a guy straight out of high school used to be able to support his wife with a mining or manufacturing job and even give his kids a shot to move up in the world. And these white voters have even been the focus in the diverse swing states of Colorado and Nevada, where Clinton has been fundraising and making public appearances late this week.

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"People are looking at them as angry white men, and yeah, they're angry white men with families and lives and mortgages and they want someone out there fighting for them," said Erin McClelland, who's running as a Democrat for Congress in the rural, union-heavy Pennsylvania district long held by Jack Murtha, D-Pa. Republicans won it back in 2012 and national Democrats hold little hope of winning it back this year.

The Clinton campaign's effort to eat into Trump's advantage with these voters is twofold. First: Discredit his image as a champion of working people by painting him as a hypocrite. This explains the new ad her campaign put out featuring David Letterman telling Trump exactly where his much-touted Trump neckties are manufactured. (Answer: China.)

This also explains her visits to places like a wire factory in Johnstown, Pa., and Knotty Ties, in Denver -- businesses that manufacture their products in America.

The challenge is doing that without coming across as too harsh in the face of a Republican nominee who is making a straightforward promise to return to better times.

"We're gonna put the miners back to work!" Trump declared during a rally in Pittsburgh earlier this year, a reference to the long-shuttered coal mines that once fueled middle class prosperity across western Pennsylvania.

Trump "came to Pittsburgh and he said, 'I'm going to bring all the steel plants back to Pittsburgh, and I'm going to bring all the coal miners back to work and he even said he's going to bring Joe Paterno back,'" Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa, said as he introduced Clinton at her event last weekend in Pittsburgh. "We Pittsburghers know a con when we see it."

First Read: The Clinton Bounce Is Real

The second part of Clinton's effort is convincing white working-class Americans that she has plans that will help them. That's what she was trying to do in Las Vegas on Thursday, where she delivered a policy speech on apprenticeship programs. But who are apprenticeship programs designed to help? Working people without college degrees.

So far, the Clinton campaign is cautiously optimistic that their efforts are working. The most recent CNN poll showed Clinton with a 2-point edge over Trump on the economy -- an 11-point swing from the previous poll that showed voters trusted Trump on that issue.

Their ad spending patterns also reflects this focus. Even though Clinton stopped by the American-made tie company in Denver, her campaign has dropped a dedicated ad buy in Colorado -- a swing state that Romney was trying to win in the final weeks of the 2012 campaign. Between the women in the Denver suburbs and the increasing Hispanic population, the state is moving out of Trump's reach. The Clinton super PAC Priorities USA isn't up in Colorado either--and they're even off the air in Virginia, another diverse swing state that was voting Republican in relatively recent memory.

But both the campaign and the super PAC are airing ads in Pennsylvania, long viewed as "fool's gold" for Republicans -- and of course in Ohio, where the question is whether white working class union-Democrats-turned-Trump supporters in the Mahoning Valley outnumber the moderate, suburban Republicans who helped elect Republican Sen. Rob Portman and Republican Gov. John Kasich.

"There might be a sense of, 'Well, that sounds good. Rich guy gonna fix all our problems,'" Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, said as Clinton spoke onstage during a late-night rally in Youngstown, Ohio. "But they’re starting to catch on."