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Clinton and Democrats are looking past Trump, focusing on winning House and Senate seats

Hillary Clinton says she doesn't "even think about responding" to Trump anymore and would instead spend the final weeks on the road "emphasizing the importance of electing Democrats down the ballot" in an effort to help them seize the Senate and chip away at the Republican-controlled House.

Democrats would need a net gain of 4 Senate seats to retake the majority, 30-seat gain for House

U.S. President Barack Obama, right, and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wave following a campaign event in Charlotte, N.C., in July. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

Hillary Clinton says she doesn't "even think about responding" to Donald Trump anymore and would instead spend the final weeks on the road "emphasizing the importance of electing Democrats down the ballot."

The shifting political map has now freed her and her well-funded campaign to spend time and money helping other Democrats in competitive races to help them seize the Senate and chip away at the Republican-controlled House.

"We're running a co-ordinated campaign, working hard with gubernatorial, Senate and House candidates," said Robby Mook, Clinton's campaign manager.

And for good reason. 

After a merciless two-year campaign, the next president will face the daunting task of governing a bitterly divided nation. If Clinton wins, her prospects for achieving her goals will be greatly diminished unless her victory is accompanied by major Democratic gains in Congress.

"We've got to do the hard and maybe most important work of healing, healing our country," Clinton said Sunday at Union Baptist Church in Durham, N.C.

Battling Trump's 'rigged' election claims

For Democrats, there's another reason to try to run up the score. With Trump warning he may contest the race's outcome if he loses, Clinton's campaign is hoping for an overwhelming Democratic victory that would undermine any attempt by Trump to claim the election had been stolen from him.

If Clinton wins, Democrats would need a net gain of four Senate seats to retake the majority. House control would be much harder, considering Republicans currently enjoy their largest House majority since 1931. Democrats would need a 30-seat gain, a feat they haven't accomplished in roughly four decades.

In a rare admission of fallibility by the typically boastful Trump, his campaign acknowledged he's trailing Clinton as Nov. 8 nears.

"We are behind. She has some advantages," Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said. Still, she added, "We're not giving up. We know we can win this."

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally in June in Phoenix. Trump's campaign recently acknowledged he's trailing Clinton as Election Day nears in a rare admission of fallibility by the typically boastful candidate. (Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)

Trump's slump in the polls come as sexual assault allegations continue to dog his campaign. On Sunday, one of his accusers, Jill Harth, said she'd countersue after Trump said he'd sue all of his accusers once the election is over.

Harth and her attorney, Lisa Bloom, responded to Trump on Twitter with a statement saying  they will "counter sue for the emotional hurt and lost income his attacks have caused" Harth.

Harth, a former Trump beauty pageant business associate, filed a $125 million US lawsuit in 1997 against Trump alleging that on Jan. 24, 1993, at Trump's Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, Trump forcibly moved her to a bedroom, where she was subjected to his "unwanted sexual advances."

Disputes over Trump strategy

Clinton's nascent focus on helping fellow Democrats comes with an inherent contradiction. For months, she deliberately avoided the strategy employed by other Democrats of trying to saddle all Republicans with an unpopular Trump.

Painting Trump as beyond the typical Republican was a strategy intended to help Clinton win over voters who identify as Republicans but dislike Trump. Yet it's been a major sore point for Democratic campaign groups, illustrated by an internal Democratic National Committee email in May that was hacked and later disclosed by WikiLeaks.

"They don't want us to tie Trump to other Republicans because they think it makes him look normal," top DNC official Luis Miranda wrote under the subject line "Problem with HFA," an acronym for Hillary For America.

Hacked emails disclosed by WikiLeaks show that painting Trump as beyond the typical Republican was a strategy that has been a major sore point for Democratic campaign groups. (Gary Hershorn/Reuters)

Andrea Bozek of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate Republican's campaign arm, said Clinton's last-minute push to aid Democrats was insufficient to make up for her party's shortfalls in recruiting competitive candidates this year.

"Democrats have relied on political gravity from the presidential race to carry them across the finish line," Bozek said.

Indeed, as Clinton campaigned in North Carolina, where Democrats hope to unseat Republican Senator Richard Burr, Clinton's argument appeared to rest on the hopes that voters offended by Trump would vote against Burr, too. She said Democratic candidate and American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Deborah Ross knows that Trump "is wrong for America."

"Unlike her opponent, Debra has never been afraid to stand up to Donald Trump," Clinton said.

Obama campaigns for Senate seats

Clinton isn't the only Democrat putting a premium on down-ballot races. President Barack ​Obama's recent itinerary has focused on competitive White House states that also have close Senate races. 

Obama flew Sunday to Nevada to campaign for the Democratic Senate candidate there before heading to California to raise money for House Democrats. He and Vice-President Joe Biden have recorded ads, raised money and campaigned in person for dozens of Democratic candidates this year.

In Nevada, the president is trying to help Democrats retain the seat of the Senate's top Democrat, Harry Reid, who is serving out his fifth term before retiring.

President Barack Obama arrives to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base on Sunday. Obama headed to Nevada to boost Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and help Democrats in their bid to retake control of the Senate. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

The president was scheduled to speak at a rally at a Las Vegas-area high school for Clinton and Senate candidate Catherine Cortez Masto, a former state attorney general whose opponent is Republican Rep. Joe Heck.

Late Sunday, Obama planned to speak at an event in San Diego to benefit the organization that leads party efforts to elect Democrats to the House. His schedule included fundraisers in Los Angeles on Monday and Tuesday.

Polls indicate that the presidential and Senate races in Nevada are extremely tight. Reid's seat is considered the only one Republicans could reasonably flip to their side this election. Outside groups have spent tens of millions of dollars trying to influence the outcome.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada arrives before the third presidential debate at UNLV in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Obama is trying to help Democrats retain the seat of the Senate's top Democrat, Harry Reid, who is serving out his fifth term before retiring. (Joe Raedle/Pool/Associated Press)

Heck, now in his third House term, is trying to distance himself from Trump. Two weeks ago, Heck said: "I cannot, in good conscience, continue to support him nor can I vote for Hillary Clinton."

But Obama is working to tie Republican candidates to Trump every chance he gets. "I mean, I know that some of them now are walking away. But why did it take you this long?" Obama said during a speech in Miami this past week when he criticized Senator Marco Rubio.

Democrats need to pick up five seats to gain the majority in the Senate, or four if they hang onto control of the White House. The vice-president casts tie-breaking votes in the Senate.

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