Donald may yet wield a trump card
HILLARY Clinton's campaign is confronting an emerging risk to her presidential ambitions. If Donald Trump continues to trail her in opinion polls, many Democrats may simply stay at home on Election Day.
Without enough popular support, she would enter the White House lacking the political capital she would need to drive through her agenda.
In the worst-case scenario, it could cost her the presidency if Republicans turn out in big numbers on Nov 8.
Mrs Clinton, the Democratic nominee, has spent much of her campaign sounding the alarm over the prospect of a President Trump.
She has struggled to lay out a compelling vision for her presidency and failed to excite key constituencies, including millennials, minority voters and liberal Democrats.
Opinion polls show that many voters are backing Mrs Clinton primarily to stop Mr Trump, the Republican nominee, from getting into the White House.
If they believe he has no hope of winning, then what would their motivation be to turn up at the polls?
In a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, about half of all Clinton supporters said they were backing her to keep Mr Trump from winning.
By contrast, just 36.5 per cent said it was because of her policies and just 12.6 per cent said it was because they like her personally.
"Turnout is correlated with levels of competition," said Michael McDonald, an elections expert at University of Florida. "The higher the competition, the higher the turnout."
The young Americans, blacks, Latinos and low-income voters, who make up much of the Democratic base, often need to feel motivated by a particular candidate or issue to turn out, Mr McDonald said, as was the case with President Barack Obama's candidacy in 2008.
Mrs Clinton's campaign has long worried about voter complacency and, with her lead growing, that task grows more difficult.
A Reuters/Ipsos 50-state survey (carried out before Friday's release of a video tape in which Mr Trump makes vulgar remarks about women) gave the Democratic nominee a 95 per cent chance of winning the election.
An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll on Monday showed Mrs Clinton with an 11-point lead nationally over Mr Trump.
Low Democratic voter turnout could leave him an opening in swing states.
And should she win the election, a slim margin of victory could compound the challenge she will face in trying to govern a deeply divided nation.
Mrs Clinton's campaign, however, will be able to rely on an extensive and well-funded voter mobilisation effort, one that is expected to give her an edge over Mr Trump's smaller organisation.
The Clinton campaign insisted on Monday that the race will remain tight.
Mrs Clinton must also contend with anger among liberal Democrats over leaked excerpts of paid speeches she made to banks and big business.
Some liberals have also been waiting for her to make a more positive case for her own presidency.
"This election cannot be just a referendum on Trump," said Arun Chaudhury, creative director of Revolution Messaging, a consulting firm.
Mrs Clinton's central message, he added, has been that "everyone has to step up and stop Donald Trump from being president, not step up and make Hillary Clinton president".
Said Ben Turchin, a Democratic pollster who worked for former Clinton rival Senator Bernie Sanders' campaign: "She can win by a bigger margin by giving a little more of an affirmative case for her presidency."
Mrs Clinton's campaign seems to have recognised the need for some adjustments.
Since the presidential race intensified last month, she has returned to the style of campaigning that helped her win early states in the Democratic nominating contests, holding smallish events focused on issues of most concern to core Democratic constituencies such as women and young voters.
Mr Turchin said her efforts at fashioning a positive message were improving, although she is still having difficulty attracting 18-to-34-year-old voters, among others.
"You've got to make the hard case over and over again," he said.
"She's got to convince people she shares their values."