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Clinton’s top strategist says she’ll draw sharp contrasts with Trump

The mission for Hillary Clinton, says the candidate’s chief strategist Joel Benenson, is to draw sharp and clear differences with Donald Trump. Clinton will spell out two visions — an optimistic one in which Americans are “stronger together” or Trump’s, which he says is one of dark divisions. Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff talk with Benenson.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    And now we turn to Hillary Clinton's strategist and pollster Joel Benenson. And Joel joins us now.

    Tell us about that — now that this campaign, this convention is almost over, as you launch into the general election, tell us what the key expectations are.

  • JOEL BENENSON, Chief Strategist, Hillary Clinton Campaign:

    For tonight or going forward?

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Going forward.

  • JOEL BENENSON:

    Look, I think that we're in the homestretch here, really.

    You have about 100 days to go. The convention is the last time you get four days to deliver your message unfiltered without interference largely from your opponent, although Trump kind of tried a little bit yesterday.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Interference.

  • JOEL BENENSON:

    I think he created for interference for himself.

    I think what you want going forward is, tonight, you are going to see Hillary Clinton lay out a very clear choice of two visions for America, one that is optimistic, one that is rooted in the beliefs that we have always been stronger together as a country, from the time our founders struggled to come together in Philadelphia, in this city, to create this nation up and through today.

    And with the challenges we face, that's how we will live up to our values and be at our best, vs. a very dark divisive — divisive vision that Donald Trump laid out.

    And I think you have got to drive that every day. I think you have got to talk about how you're going to create an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top, draw a clear contrast on who can keep America safe.

    I think Mr. Trump, Donald Trump, proved this week he can't do that with erratic statements, like inviting Russia to start hacking computers. And I think you drive that every day. That's what you have to do that from here on out, consistently show people the differences about where you are going to take the country, what your values are that are driving you and will shape your presidency.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, Joel Benenson, are you describing an effort to be just about as negative toward Donald Trump as the Republicans are toward Hillary Clinton?

  • JOEL BENENSON:

    No.

    I think what I said is, you have got to lay out a choice and you have got to do some contrast. They're doing only contrast. Donald Trump, as you heard President Obama say last night, has one answer: I alone can fix it.

    He has got no prescriptions, no real plans that will create a single job, no real plans that will raise wages in America or educate a single child. What Hillary Clinton has to do, on balance, is show people the positive, affirmative, uplifting vision she has, her belief in the way we solve our problems is by working together, by having each other's backs, lifting each other up, not tearing each other apart.

    I think you lean very heavily towards the positive, but you have to call out your differences, particularly when you have got someone, as you're hearing at this convention, whom even Democrats are calling a demagogue, who are turning away from their party, who say — people like Michael Bloomberg.

    Tonight, you will hear from another one saying it's — we have to put our country ahead of our party.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But here's the thing. You're banking on the idea that talking about the positive and personalizing this toward Donald Trump will somehow outbalance this nervousness among a lot of individual Americans that you're not listening, that their lives are not doing so well.

  • JOEL BENENSON:

    Oh, I don't think I said that at all, Gwen.

    I think, in fact, what I said is, you have to have an affirmative vision of how you're going to create an economy that works for everyone. That's not being personal about Donald Trump.

    When Donald Trump says to Americans, wages are too high, you're not going to create an economy that works for everyone when you believe that. You have to do things that are going to help people get ahead in their lives.

    And the bulk of what we have been talking about throughout our primaries is how to put the plans in place to do that. One thing that Hillary Clinton will be doing in part in this speech and going forward is laying out very specific plans.

    She said in one of the speeches she gave a couple of weeks ago, I have got this old-fashioned idea. When you're running for president, you have got to tell people what you're going to do, how you're going to get it done and how you're going to pay for it.

    And if you back to the Republican Convention, I don't think it's personal to say that, if you ask yourself right now, what specific policy idea did Donald Trump put on the table for the American people, other than he was going to build a wall?

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    How do you reach — we keep hearing that Hillary Clinton's biggest problem — or one of her biggest problems are white male voters who have had not had a college education? How do you reach them?

  • JOEL BENENSON:

    Look, I think the number one way you reach them is by showing that you understand the lives, the struggles that they have been feeling, that, in parts of this country, many of those voters feel they are being left out of a new and changing economy.

    But, by the same token, we put together a coalition, Democrats in general. This has been part of a stronger bloc for Republicans for quite a while. We have never given up on them. We have talked about them. President Clinton talks about them and has talked about addressing their economic concerns and how they can have good-paying jobs in the future.

    And Hillary Clinton is the only candidate here in this race, you have to remember, who is really talking about creating good-paying jobs, and doing it not just the old ways we did it, by making investments in things that will help our country grow, and grow together and grow fairer.

    So, when you talk about infrastructure, it's not just about rebuilding roads. It's about modernizing our schools, modernizing our power grid, investing in clean energy for the future, which is where we're going to create the jobs of the future, using technology to be the clean energy superpower of the 21st century.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Joel Benenson, thank you for — congratulations on your big night tonight.

  • JOEL BENENSON:

    Thank you.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Thank you for joining us.

  • JOEL BENENSON:

    It's not my big night. It's the country's big night.

    They have got Hillary Clinton as a nominee for president, a pioneering woman, breaking some barriers, like the two women I'm sitting here with.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    I like the way you got that in.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Yes. Well, we do.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Thank you.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And we will be watching.

  • JOEL BENENSON:

    Thank you. Great.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Thank you.

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