WASHINGTON (AP) — Waves of campaign staffers are being dispatched to battleground states. Advisers are starting to consider locations for a splashy convention rally in Philadelphia. An army of lawyers is scrutinizing more than two dozen possible vice presidential picks.
Though she has yet to clinch the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton and her team are taking early steps into a general election campaign. Aides are working under the assumption that Republican front-runner Donald Trump will be her opponent.
Six months before the presidential election, they're looking beyond primary rival Bernie Sanders and preparing their candidate and party for what may be a hard-fought — and personally ugly — fall campaign.
Starting this week, Clinton campaign employees are heading to battleground states across the country, among them Ohio, Florida and Colorado. Democrats are also eyeing the possibility of making a run at traditionally Republican-leaning states such as Georgia, North Carolina and Arizona, calculating that Trump's penchant for controversy could put minority and female voters in play.
"Everybody's got their game face on," said Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who was going to South Dakota on the weekend to campaign for Clinton.
Aides from the primary are getting general election marching orders. Simone Ward, political director of the campaign committee for Senate Democratic races, will run Clinton's Florida operation. Emmy Ruiz, who led a crucial Nevada primary win for Clinton, will handle Colorado. Mike Vlacich led New Hampshire operations in the primary and will do the same in the fall.
"The sooner you can get up and running the better," said Dan Pfeiffer, who advised President Barack Obama. "On the Republican side, Trump has not built anything resembling the sort of field operation it takes to win."
Plans are also beginning to take shape for a convention that will prominently feature Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton and the vice presidential nominee. It's not clear, however, what role Sanders will have.
Taking a page from Obama's 2008 convention address at Mile High Stadium in Denver, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a close Clinton ally, is urging the campaign to hold a major speech — perhaps even Clinton's acceptance address — outside Independence Hall, where the Constitution was signed.
Clinton's campaign has started the internal search for a running mate, though people familiar with the process say that effort is in an early stage.
A team of lawyers is poring through information about a lengthy list of Democrats, among them Labor Secretary Tom Perez, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine. Other names mentioned by party insiders include Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Housing Secretary Julian Castro. No final decision is expected until Republicans hold their convention.
The search for a running mate is being overseen by campaign chairman John Podesta and Clinton confidante Cheryl Mills, both of whom will help cull the list down to a handful of names in the coming weeks. Clinton advisers are debating whether it's more important to select a strong liberal champion from the Rust Belt to woo Sanders backers and cut into Trump's advantage with working-class white men, or to acknowledge her support among minority voters with a more history-making pick. They note that Clinton's — and her husband's — personal chemistry with the eventual choice will be a key factor.
Clinton has begun broadening her message against Trump, calling for the party to unify around her and shying away from nearly all mention of Sanders.
Her team anticipates that Trump will use gender-based attacks against Clinton, probably resurrecting his criticism from earlier this year on her husband's sexual history. This week, her campaign spent days highlighting — and raising money from — Trump's comments that Clinton's political success was due to her playing the "woman's card."
An all-but-settled Democratic race also allows Clinton to raise money and cut primary spending on ads. She's planning a spree of lucrative fundraisers in New York, Michigan, California and Texas next month and has no ads running in coming primary contests.
Priorities USA Action, a super PAC backing Clinton's candidacy, is preparing to spend $90 million on television ads attacking Trump in seven states starting June 8 — the day after the California primary. An additional $35 million is being reserved for digital ads aimed at bolstering Clinton's coalition of black, Latino and younger voters. The group says they could go on the air sooner, if the dynamics of the race change.
Emily's List, an advocacy organization that backs female Democratic candidates, has hired a New York ad agency to help market to millennial voters, a group that Clinton has struggled to win over in the primaries. The effort is testing messages attacking Trump and aimed at motivating young women to come out for Clinton, as part of a $20 million project to elect the first woman as president.
"Millennial women are outraged by Donald Trump," said Denise Feriozzi, the group's deputy executive director. "It's our job to turn that outrage into votes."
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