By Niall Stanage - 10-28-16 06:00 AM EDT
Hillary Clinton's campaign fears that her lead in the polls could create complacency among supporters, potentially leading to a dangerous drop in Democratic turnout on Election Day.
Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook warned in an online video that Republican nominee Donald Trump is "absolutely right" when he says he could still win the White House on Nov. 8.
"We've seen polls tighten since the third debate and we expect things to get even closer before Election Day," Mook said in the video, released Wednesday evening.
The former secretary of State holds a significant polling lead with only 12 days to go. She was up by 5.8 percent in the RealClearPolitics national polling average on Thursday afternoon.
As a result, many Democrats are skeptical that the Clinton campaign really fears a late Trump surge. They see the Mook video and other such efforts as an attempt to run up the score in the Electoral College, so as to build up political capital for future battles with congressional Republicans.
"Three or four states could go the other way if people got complacent and didn't turn out," said Joe Trippi, who served as campaign manager for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's (D) 2004 presidential bid. "I don't think - at least today - there is a real chance of that happening in enough states where she would lose the presidency."
But, Trippi added, "there is a difference between barely getting to 270 [electoral votes] or getting to 332 like Obama did - particularly with how tough the Republicans will be."
There are also real elements of uncertainty, due to the breadth of variation in the polls.
Of seven significant national polls released Wednesday, one gave Trump a one-point advantage, another put Clinton up by 14 points, and the others gave the lead to Clinton by more modest margins.
Trump and his team argue that the polls are simply wrong. A senior policy advisor to the Trump campaign, Peter Navarro, told The Hill that pollsters' assumptions about who will vote are failing to take account of the GOP nominee's unconventional appeal.
"The pollster who gets it right is going to be able to poll the people who are actually going to vote," Navarro said. "The people in this election will look very different from the people who voted in the last four or five presidential elections."
On the other hand, Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign's digital director, told Bloomberg in a story published Thursday that, "Nate Silver's results have been similar to ours." Silver's data modeling and prediction site, FiveThirtyEight, gives Trump about an 18 percent chance of winning the White House.
Still, a big drop-off in turnout among Democrats could put Clinton in real danger.
"Democrats need to be careful about implying this race is over. It is not," said one party strategist unaffiliated with the Clinton campaign, who asked not to be named.
"There is still a significant amount of time for the dynamics to change given the instability of this race. The focus here needs to be on getting out the vote, not measuring the vote."
One element that could be particularly important in that regard is turnout among black voters.
African-Americans voted by overwhelming margins for President Obama in both 2008 and 2012, turning out in record numbers. If black turnout fell back to the levels seen in the 2004 or 2000 elections, it could spell trouble for Clinton.
While the Clinton campaign evinces confidence on this score, based on early vote numbers, others have expressed some doubt.
Early-voting expert Michael McDonald has said that absentee ballots in Cuyahoga County, the Ohio county that includes Cleveland, are down almost 20 percent from their 2012 levels. A recent New York Times op-ed noted that Google search data indicated that "there are significantly fewer searches for voting information in cities with large black populations than there were in 2012 and 2008" - another possible harbinger of reduced African-American turnout.
In a call organized by the Clinton campaign this week, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) emphasized that "we must not rest upon our laurels. We have to work as hard as we possibly can over the next two weeks...This is going to be a very tight race."
First lady Michelle Obama joined Clinton on the campaign trail for the first time on Thursday in North Carolina, a state where the black vote could be decisive.
"If Hillary doesn't win this election, that will be on us," Obama said at a rally in Winston-Salem. "It will be because we did not stand with her; it will be because we did not vote for her. And that is exactly what her opponent is hoping will happen. That's the strategy."
Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen said appeals like Mook's and the first lady's could prove vital.
"The campaign is absolutely right to keep up the warnings that this race is not over," she said. "Hillary needs to keep moving for the next 10 days and asking for every vote, supporters need to be calling their friends and the campaign needs to stay focused. Doing anything less would be a mistake."
Mike Lillis contributed.