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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Trump-Clinton: How leading or trailing can feed on itself

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the Faith

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the Faith and Freedom Coalition's Road to Majority Conference in Washington, June 10, 2016. Photo Credit: AP

It might strike a normal citizen as maniacal for candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to push so hard this early to display momentum in their campaigns.

After all, their parties have yet to nominate them. And poll numbers always fluctuate before November. So it may appear excessive to be sweating them now.

But method lurks behind the madness. Once a one-on-one race commences, the appearance of winning tends to beget winning.

Exhibit A: The latest fundraising appeal, emailed Tuesday by Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook, tells supporters: “As much as I hate to use this term, there’s a sense that we have some momentum at our backs. But momentum is a funny thing.”

Mook goes on to warn the faithful that if “all analysts and political reporters” see Trump “has begun to close the gap with us” after the next big filings, Trump’s staff changes will have looked helpful “and give new energy to all his supporters.”

The Trump camp, meanwhile, is widely reported to be working to squelch the prospect of a revolt at the Republican convention in Cleveland.

Anti-Trump forces in the GOP are likeliest to gain momentum in their unlikely quest if more partisans believe he can’t beat Clinton.

That’s one reason Trump and backers will hype polls when he’s showing strength, but reflexively claim the polls are rigged if they show him fading.

New NBC News/SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking Poll results, released Tuesday, showed Clinton ahead by 8 points.

Ronald Reagan’s failed 1976 effort to oust Gerald Ford as the GOP nominee, and Edward Kennedy’s failed 1980 insurgency against Democrat Jimmy Carter came with Ford and Carter trailing by much bigger margins in the polls.

So as Jon Ward of Yahoo! News suggests, Trump’s numbers would have to slip further for anti-Trumpers to create the kind of momentum those revolts had.

Neither of those insurgencies worked — although the targeted nominees-to-be did lose their elections.

For Trump, the release of an 800-page House report on the 2012 terrorist attack on an American embassy compound in Libya showed some promise early in the day for chipping away at Clinton.

But the report did little to further spread the stain from this episode already imprinted on Clinton’s record as secretary of state. The GOP panel didn’t blame her specifically for the fatal mess. Still, it did say she and other administration officials didn’t do enough to address risks, and the report’s release did get news stations to again use video of the fires at Benghazi.

Both sides’ strategists clearly realize the reality of momentum.

Or, to put it in the negative: Weak poll numbers could breed weak fundraising, which could then make it harder for the trailing candidate to close the gap, prompting more downbeat news coverage and weaker fundraising. And so on.

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