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Analysis: Hillary Clinton's Path to 270 Appears Unchanged

The reality is that Clinton’s chances of winning have hardly changed from last week.
Image: U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton greets audience members at a campaign rally at Pasco-Hernando State College in Dade City
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton greets audience members at a campaign rally at Pasco-Hernando State College in Dade City, Florida, Nov. 1.BRIAN SNYDER / Reuters

There's plenty of hand wringing and stomach churning in Democratic households this week as polls show the presidential race tightening in its final days — and the Hillary Clinton campaign is making a series of moves that some see as panicked desperation.

A week out from the election, the campaign has started running ads in Colorado and Virginia, states it long ago felt comfortable leaving, and went on air for the first time in other, bluer states like New Mexico.

Meanwhile, campaign officials have seemed unusually agitated in a series of press calls and statements responding to FBI Director James Comey’s bombshell on Clinton’s email server. And after pledging to close the race on a positive note, the campaign rolled out a tough new ad highlighting women who claim Trump sexually assaulted them, while reintroduced former beauty queen Alicia Machado.

"Make no mistake, they are in panic," Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show Monday.

But the reality is that Clinton’s chances of winning 270 electoral votes have hardly changed from last week. While Democrats’ agitation is palpable, it's driven more by anger than panic at what they see as unprecedented and appalling meddling by outside forces in the election.

FiveThirtyEight’s election forecast still gives Clinton a 71 percent chance of winning, while the New York Times’ Upshot model gives her an 88 percent chance, and Princeton University’s model pegs her likelihood at 97 percent.

Those numbers could fall, of course, as the impact of Comey’s move is only just now being revealed in polls and early vote data. But so far, the effect has been marginal at most and muddled at least.

A panicking campaign would be moving money from one state to another, or pulling out of states entirely, but campaign officials say the blue state ads are more a product of surplus cash and a desire to help Democrats down-ballot.

Clinton has not changed her travel schedule and will still head Wednesday to Arizona, a red state aides believe they have an even shot of winning.

In the last 72 hours, the campaign raised $11.3 million in online donations, according to an aide, the most at any point since the Democratic National Convention.

Related: Clinton Campaign Re-Starts Advertising in Blue States

Their confidence is rooted in the fact that while Clinton has multiple paths to 270 and a wide margin of error, Trump needs almost everything to go perfectly for him Tuesday in order to run the table of almost all of the key tossup states.

"If Hillary wins Florida, she'll be next president of the United States,” Bill Clinton said while campaigning Tuesday in the state, which is essentially tied. The same is likely true for Ohio and North Carolina. And Clinton could still make it to the White House by losing both and instead winning Pennsylvania and one other state, like New Hampshire, two places where she has lead in every single poll since July.

Meanwhile, on every metric typically used to judge campaigns, from surrogates, to TV ad spending, to cash-on-hand, Clinton is well ahead of Trump.

Clinton has what Democrats say is the most sophisticated get-out-the-vote effort in history, while Trump’s campaign is still scrambling to hire canvassers in Florida with seven days to go. Get-out-the-vote efforts are typically judged to be worth about 1-3 percentage points, which could easily tip a right race, and Democrats headed into the fall with a five-to-one paid staff advantage.

And we can’t say they didn’t warn us. Clinton and her campaign spent much of last week reminding supporters that they expected polls to tighten and that Donald Trump could still win.

Robby Mook, Clinton’s Twitter-phobic campaign manager, just tweeted for the first time last week to deliver one simple message.

“We’ve seen polls tighten since the third debate and we expect things to get even closer before Election Day,” he said two days before the campaign was blindsided by the Comey news.

David Plouffe, the former Obama strategist, has become many Democrats’ anti-bed-wetter-in chief this cycle, with his reassuringly bullish projections of Clinton’s chances.

“We saw in 2012 our leads after the Mitt Romney’s 47 percent moment got really large, but they were never going to stay that big and people panicked back then,” he said at the first Clinton-Trump debate, when Democrats were having an earlier bout of agita. “Democrats should focus on turning out the vote and turning off their computers.”

Related: Dems Fear Senate Majority Quest May Be Killed by Comey's Email Bomb

On Sunday, Plouffe said he still thought Clinton was "rock solid" to garner over 300 electoral votes.

Still, that doesn't’ mean Democrats are not perturbed. They are.

They could almost taste an easy, uplifting victory just a few days ago that would serve as severe repudiation of Trumpism and come with the kind of long coattails that could ensure Clinton’s presidency was not merely one long war with a GOP-controlled Congress.

Now, the possibility for a presidential landslide may have evaporated, potentially even along with Democrats’ best chance at retaking the Senate for the rest of this decade.

Team Clinton feels it's been stolen from them through unpredictable interventions they views as undemocratic and one-sided, both from Comey and the Russian hackers who allegedly stole thousands of sensitive emails from campaign chair John Podesta and released them online.

Meanwhile, Democrats are practically tearing their hair out over the fact that while they, again, take on water from an email scandal that has dogged them for more than a year and half, they’re running against someone many Americans say is unqualified and who seems to have a new scandal every day.

One Democratic nervous operative said he’s been trying to head the wise words of Luke Skywalker — or at least Mark Hamill the actor who played, him — who told followers: "Don't panic — VOTE!"