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December, 5, 2016

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Clinton in good shape with 3 weeks to go: GOP strategists

DES MOINES, Iowa -- With roughly three weeks to Election Day, Republican strategists nationwide publicly concede Hillary Clinton has a firm grip on the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House — and may be on her way to an even more decisive victory over Donald Trump.

"He is on track to totally and completely melting down," said Republican pollster Whit Ayres, who is advising Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's re-election campaign. Like many Republican strategists, he was willing to speak publicly about the GOP nominee's rough road ahead at the end of an unprecedented campaign.

Things can change before Election Day. There is one more presidential debate, and Trump has rallied before. His core supporters remain strongly committed.

But along with indicators such as polling, campaign travel, staffing and advertising, the interviews with Republican political professionals unaffiliated with the Trump campaign suggest only an epic collapse by Clinton would keep her from winning enough states to become president.

In the past week, Trump's campaign has been hit by allegations the New York billionaire sexually accosted several women over the past three decades. Early voting in pivotal North Carolina and Florida shows positive signs for Clinton, and donations to the Republican National Committee are down about a quarter over the past three months from the same period in 2012, when Mitt Romney was the nominee.

Preference polling in the past week, meanwhile, has generally moved in Clinton's direction, with the Democrat improving in national surveys and in a number of contested states.

Failed Play

If the election were held today, Clinton would likely carry the entire West Coast and Northeast, as well as most of the Great Lakes region — a place Trump once identified as ripe territory for his populist message against free trade.

Only Ohio is a toss-up in that part of the country, but the perennial battleground may not play a decisive role come Election Day this year due to Clinton's strength — and Trump's weaknesses — elsewhere.

Trump and running mate Mike Pence have made a hard play for Pennsylvania, a state carried by the Democratic nominee in the past six elections. But their strategy to hold down Clinton in Philadelphia and its suburbs while running up Trump's vote total in more conservative parts of the state has failed to materialize.

"He's getting his brains beat in by women in the Philly suburbs," said Ed Goeas, a Republican pollster who is surveying presidential battlegrounds and several states with races for U.S. Senate.

Trump was already struggling to attract support from women before his first debate with Clinton in late September. It was at that event in New York where Clinton stung Trump by reviving his past shaming of a former Miss Universe for gaining weight.

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