Democrats weigh down-ballot drag of Clinton email saga

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AP Photo/Jim Cole

WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Clinton is not the only one playing defense after the FBI’s disclosure last week of additional emails relevant to its probe of her use of a private email server. Other Democrats are under the gun, too, in dozens of down-ballot races that will determine whether they control the House and Senate next year.

Clinton herself still is favored and a tracking poll conducted by ABC News and the Washington Post suggested little immediate change following the email story breaking on Friday.

Still, it’s unflattering attention for Clinton in a race in which the candidate in the spotlight has typically slumped in the polls. And to the extent the fortunes of down-ballot Democrats rise and fall with Clinton, it’s a worrisome development for the party.

At the very least, the flare-up gives Republicans, many of whom have been repeatedly on the defensive over a slew of controversies involving GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, a welcome opportunity to go on offense.

“This is the first time in months that down-ballot Democrats have been forced to play defense on their nominee,” said GOP consultant John Ashbrook. Still, Ashbrook says, “some of these states are almost baked” after months of campaign attacks and counter-attacks.

In New Hampshire, the campaign of embattled GOP incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte was quick to put out a digital advertisement entitled “Dodges” that spliced television news clips on the renewed email controversy with older snippets of her opponent, Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, hemming and hawing when asked if Clinton is honest and trustworthy.

Democrats say they haven’t seen slippage yet and they hope that the email story won’t move the needle in a half-dozen or so Senate races that are either tied or within the polling margin of error.

“Headed into the final days of the election, Republicans will try whatever they can to distract from their failed records and indefensible support of Donald Trump,” said Lauren Passalacqua, national press secretary for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.

FBI Director James Comey told Congress Friday that the bureau had discovered additional emails that might be relevant to the Clinton email case. In July, Comey announced that the FBI had completed its probe into the Clinton email server and said that Clinton would not be charged – though he reproached her for being careless with classified information.

“Any slight breeze in any direction going into this final week has the potential to swing these races,” said Ian Prior, a spokesman for the Senate Leadership Fund “super PAC” that is spending heavily on behalf of GOP Senate candidates.

Republicans are stoking the controversy in news releases, web ads, and in the media, but it’s not likely to become a major issue in a late burst of campaign ads. Instead, candidates are already making their “closing arguments.”

“Look, it’s not a good development for Hillary Clinton,” said Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf. “But I think we’ve seen in the polls so far that it hasn’t had much of an impact.”

In the House, the GOP’s campaign committee sent out press releases trying to make the email inquiry resonate.

“This is just another reminder to voters of why they haven’t trusted Hillary Clinton from the get-go,” said Katie Martin, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Still, Republicans were not airing TV ads targeting the email issue. None of the three TV ads the NRCC began airing Monday mentioned Clinton’s emails.

Democrats were unified in fighting back against the GOP attacks – led by Clinton herself, who said Monday “there is no case here” by the FBI.

“Democrats are not wavering in their support for Secretary Clinton. This includes voters and candidates sharing the ballot with her,” said Meredith Kelly, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which supports Democratic House candidates.

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