Less than two weeks before Election Day, Hillary Clinton's campaign held a clear lead in the polls. Republican Donald trump would at some point win. How?


Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and also Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton walk far from their podiums at the conclusion that their very first presidential debate at Hofstra university on Sept. 26, 2016.Joe Raedle / swimming pool via Getty
WASHINGTON — less than two weeks before Election Day, Hillary Clinton held a clear lead in the polls and it looked like her campaign was make the efforts to run up the score — just as the gyeongju was around to revolve upside down.

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At 12:37 p.m. ET ~ above Friday, Oct. 28 — with 12 days left in the choice — the campaign blasted out an advisory come reporters announcing the the former secretary the state would be campaigning in reliably Republican Arizona, a relocate that argued her team to be gunning to compete in states well beyond the battlegrounds they essential for victory against GOP nominee Donald Trump.

They had actually every appropriate to be confident.

The RealClearPolitics polling typical from the day prior to showed Clinton top Trump nationally by nearly six points (for perspective, Barack Obama win Mitt Romney by 4 points in 2012). State polls had Clinton front in crucial battlegrounds prefer Pennsylvania and also North Carolina. Even the data team doing analytics because that the Trump campaign was informing reporters that, together of Oct. 27, they had just a 15 percent possibility of winning.


All this was happening while early on voting was taking place in states throughout the country.

In retrospect, however, the gyeongju was never ever as stable as that appeared. A contest featuring the two most unpopular candidates in modern presidential campaign history made the politics terrain unstable — and more susceptible to suddenly shifts.

And the ground began to relocate under the Clinton team’s feet just 20 minutes after its Arizona announcement, with a tweet indigenous Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the chairman the the house Oversight and also Government reform Committee, who stated the FBI was looking in ~ Clinton’s emails — again.

"FBI Dir just educated me, "The FBI has learned the the presence of emails that appear to it is in pertinent to the investigation." situation reopened."

FBI Dir just informed me, "The FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to it is in pertinent come the investigation." case reopened

— Jason Chaffetz (

Clinton and also her team were suddenly on defense, and also would stay there for the remainder of the race. It to be a true October surprise.

In the ripe months because the election, politics observers have actually pointed to various reasons why Hillary Clinton lost and Donald trump card won: FBI director James Comey’s intervention; Russia and also WikiLeaks; Clinton’s fail to campaign in Wisconsin; African-Americans that didn’t turn out together strongly as they did because that Obama; and also Trump’s strong performance amongst working-class white voters in the Rust Belt.

But the actual tale that 2016 is how the last 12 days of the choice turned a race that seemed out of reach on Oct. 27 into an upset decided by a full of 80,000 votes in three states. Come tell the story, NBC News interviewed almost a dozen peak Clinton and also Trump operatives for their insight and perspective. Both sides agreed the the underlying volatility the the race, an unified with the way the last days unfolded, developed a many unexpected result.

"Unlike 2012 or 2008, there to be a ton of instability in this race," claimed Navin Nayak, the Clinton campaign’s director of opinion research. "If you were the person overcoming the news, girlfriend went down."

Indeed, Clinton’s lead had expanded throughout rough news cycles around Trump (the cannes family, the debates, the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape), and also it shrank throughout rough news cycles around her (the Clinton Foundation, the 9/11 fainting spell, Comey’s Oct. 28 letter).

"I’ve always said, "God is looking the end for us" once Election Day to be so much later than usual — Nov. 8th, not Nov. 4th, not Nov. 3rd," stated Kellyanne Conway, who offered as Trump’s project manager and also now functions in his administration. "It really helped to have that week."

Even the Clinton camp’s Arizona announcement the Friday was more about running the end the clock — by giving a hungry press corps something to cover — than a genuine effort to run up the score, follow to multiple Clinton campaign officials interviewed for this article.

They knew the race was far from over.

"We were delicate to one October surprise," stated Brian Fallon, the Clinton campaign’s national press secretary. "We to be living high top top the hog the the "Access Hollywood" tape," he added in reference to your lead in the polls.

Here’s a look at at how the final 12 days changed the race:

Oct. 28: "The biggest political scandal since Watergate"

RealClearPolitics national polling average: Clinton +4.6 percent/FiveThirtyEight forecast: Clinton 81.5 percent possibility to win

The an initial 27 days of October couldn’t have actually gone better for Clinton — or worse because that Trump.

Clinton bested she Republican rival in all three presidential debates, according to snap polls. The "Access Hollywood" tape, in i beg your pardon Trump was captured boasting the he could do something to ladies (like "grab "em by the p***y"), had actually his project in damage-control mode. And it seemed that a different woman each day to be accusing trump of inappropriate behavior.

By mid-October, Clinton’s lead in the RealClearPolitics typical of nationwide polls had actually jumped to seven points — the same as Obama’s to win margin versus John McCain in 2008. And an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll of Pennsylvania proved Clinton front of trump card by dual digits in that all-important state.

But that good run because that Clinton ended on Friday, Oct. 28, together her 7-point benefit in the RealClear median shrank below 5 points.

Comey educated Congress the his agency had uncovered emails in an unrelated instance — a probe into previous Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., then-husband to Clinton aide Huma Abedin — which appeared "pertinent" come the investigation into Clinton’s an individual email server. And he said the FBI to be reviewing them.

Strikingly, Comey’s notice was vague.

"Although the FBI cannot however assess even if it is or no this material may it is in significant, and I can not predict exactly how long it will take us to complete this added work, I think it is essential to upgrade your Committees around our initiatives in irradiate of my previous testimony," Comey said in his letter.

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald trump card cheer during a campaign rally, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, in Pensacola, Fla.Evan Vucci / AP

Trump seized ~ above the development, i m sorry he provided to resurrect the months-long debate over Clinton’s emails and private server.

"They space reopening the situation into she criminal and illegal conduct that intimidates the security of the United says of America," Trump stated on the campaign trail in new Hampshire less than one hour ~ the news broke. "Hillary Clinton"s corruption is ~ above a range we have never viewed before. We need to not let her take she criminal scheme right into the Oval Office."

"The investigation is the best political scandal because Watergate, and it's everybody's hope that justice in ~ last deserve to be delivered. The FBI would never have reopened this case currently unless it to be a many egregious criminal offense" — candidate Donald trump card in Iowa.

He would repeat the thrust that this message against Clinton over the following 11 days, and also his supporters would certainly respond through "lock her up" chants. "She"ll it is in under investigation for years. She"ll be v trials. Our country, we need to get ago to work," Trump stated on Nov. 4 in brand-new Hampshire.

"If she were to victory this election, it would certainly create an unmatched constitutional crisis. In the situation, us could an extremely well have actually a sitting president under felony indictment and ultimately a criminal trial," he claimed the next day in Nevada.

That ended up being Trump’s closing dispute — Watergate, countless investigations, criminal activities and an inability to govern.

Of course, what voter didn’t recognize until after ~ the election: The FBI, for months, had actually been investigate the trumped campaign’s ties v Russia.

Oct. 31: "FBI searches emails!"

RealClearPolitics nationwide polling average: Clinton +3.1 percent/FiveThirtyEight forecast: Clinton 75.2 percent opportunity to win

On October 31, three days after ~ the FBI director’s letter to Congress, Comey ongoing to overcome headlines and evening newscasts.

"Clinton functions to save Trump and also Emails at Bay," said The brand-new York Times"Get all set for four much more years that Clinton scandals," to be the headline because that conservative columnist Marc Thiessen in The Washington Post"Is brand-new scandal just like the old scandals? Controversies haven"t swayed voters much in the Clinton-Trump race. Email inquiry is the recent test," The Los Angeles times said"Email testimonial Underway," was the lead story top top NBC’s "Nightly News""FBI Searches Emails," to be the top news that night ~ above ABC"FBI Investigation," said CBS

Nearly half of the lead stories on the three broadcast network"s evening newscasts from Oct. 28 to Nov. 7 were around Clinton’s emails.

Nine month after the election, top officials who worked for both the Clinton and also Trump campaigns think Comey’s intervention — and also its results — impacted the race.

Multiple trump aides claimed they obtained ground top top Clinton after the 3rd presidential conflict when the GOP nominee focused on abortion and also the can be fried Court, happen conservative voters back into the fold. They also said they benefited from news stories about rising Obamacare premiums and also a sharper campaign message indigenous Trump himself.

Comey, castle said, included to a snowball the was already moving under the mountainside.

"It absolutely had one effect," said Matt Oczkowski, who directed Trump’s analysis team. "Comey carried these voters out the the woodwork. World had a reason to vote against Clinton."

Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, had actually a slightly different take.

"The Comey letter may have been mildly helpful, but it did not result in 306 electoral votes," she said. "That to be baked in the cake earlier on."

"We witnessed to be stuck in neutral, she floor and also ceiling to be dangerously close with each other in these vital states" — then-Trump project manager Kellyanne Conway.

But the Clinton camp trust Comey’s treatment was much much more significant.

"In the last 2 weeks, it to be the only jolt come the device that occurred," claimed Oren Shur, the Clinton campaign’s director of paid media. "We recognized at the moment that it was impactful. We didn’t recognize at the moment that it was determinative."

Elections number-cruncher Nate silver of the website FiveThirtyEight agrees.

"At a maximum, it could have shifted the race by 3 or 4 percent points toward Donald Trump, swinging Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and also Florida come him," silver wrote. "At a minimum, its affect might have actually been only a percentage allude or so. Still, due to the fact that Clinton lost Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by much less than 1 point, the letter was probably sufficient to adjust the outcome of the Electoral College."

The brand-new York Times’ Nate Cohn has actually been an ext skeptical the Comey’s announcement expense Clinton the election, discussing that she poll numbers had actually been declining prior to Oct. 28: "t’s currently clear that Mrs. Clinton to be weaker heading into Oct. 28 보다 was interpreted at the time. Several other polls were performed over the same period that verified Mr. Trumped gaining quickly on Mrs. Clinton in the days ahead of the Comey letter."

In May, the American Association for Public Opinion research study concluded the the proof Comey tipped the choice to trumped is, at best, mixed. "he Comey letter had actually an immediate, an adverse impact for Clinton ~ above the stimulate of 2 portion points. The apparent affect did not last, as assistance for Clinton often tended to mite up in the days simply prior come the election," the combination wrote.

But the way Clinton and also her top campaign officials view it, a different president would be sit in the Oval Office had the race finished two mainly earlier.

"If the election had actually been on Oct. 27, I would certainly be her president," Clinton claimed last spring.

Nov. 2: "Stay ~ above point, Donald. Stay on point"

RealClearPolitics nationwide polling average: Clinton +1.7 percent/FiveThirtyEight forecast: Clinton 67.7 percent chance to win

Comey wasn’t the just surprise that the last two weeks of the campaign. The other was exactly how Trump, uncharacteristically, stayed on message.

He was no longer attacking former Miss universe Alicia Machado, criticizing a Mexican-American judge, or asking: "Russia, if you"re listening, i hope you"re maybe to uncover the 30,000 emails that are missing" — i m sorry he had said in what turned the end to it is in his last news conference of the campaign, top top July 27.

"He to be remarkably disciplined under the residence stretch. You might tell there to be a light the went top top — that we’re walk to win this thing" — a peak Trump campaign communications official.

"We space going to success the White House, gonna win it," Trump said in Pensacola, Florida, on Nov. 2. "Just —we"ve gotta be nice and also cool, nice and also cool. Right? remain on point, Donald, continue to be on point. No sidetracks, Donald. Nice and easy."

Indeed, trump fired off 138 tweets and retweets in the final 12 work of the contest, and also none were controversial — which enabled his project to store the focus on Clinton, and away from its candidate.

Meanwhile, top top the very same day trumped was telling himself come "stay on point" in Florida, Clinton do that project stop in Arizona.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton city hall the World series baseball game between the Chicago Cub and the Cleveland indians after she final project rally that the day in ~ Arizona State college in Tempe, Ariz., Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016.Andrew Harnik / AP

"This state is in play for the first time in years. Arizona has actually only voted for a Democrat for president once because 1948, and that to be my husband in 1996," she told 15,000 voter in Tempe.

In fact, many Clinton campaign officials claimed in post-election interviews that the Arizona trip was to plan to gain back a sense of momentum after the final debate on Oct. 19, no as a real play to win the state.

Clinton project officials were likewise thinking around proposing a 4th presidential debate, and they had also floated the news that Clinton was considering Vice chairman Joe Biden together her secretary that state — something to change the subject.

"What had came to me greatly after the third debate to be being in ~ sea. No moorings, no bearings, nothing to anchor yourself. The danger zone for us was always when there was nothing else going ~ above in the race," said Jennifer Palmieri, the Clinton campaign"s communications director.

"Can the actual election come fast enough?" Palmieri stated in summing up her feelings about the campaign’s last two weeks.

Nov. 3: A sigh the relief, or to be the polls wrong?

RealClearPolitics national polling average: Clinton +1.3 percent/FiveThirtyEight forecast: Clinton 66.2 percent to win

The same day Clinton travel to Arizona and also Trump to be urging self to "stay top top point," nail-biting Democrats acquired some good news from public polls in key battlegrounds taken during and also after Comey’s seismic announcement.

A trio of polls had Clinton increase 4-5 point out in Pennsylvania. She additionally was narrowly ahead in Florida and North Carolina, return those surveys were well within the margin of error. The gold-standard poll in Wisconsin proved Clinton top Trump by 6 points in the state.

As NBC’s very first Read finish on Nov. 3, "Team Clinton breathes sigh of relief, yet they"re no in the clear yet."

Clinton would go ~ above to lose all four of those says on choice Day.

The national polls, that turned out, were fairly accurate: The final RealClearPolitics average had actually Clinton front by three points. And she finished up winning the national famous vote by 2 points, 48 percent come 46 percent, or practically 3 million votes.

But the state polls to be a various story, and it wasn’t just the windy data. Clinton’s inner polling had her up by around 6 points in Wisconsin in ~ the finish of the election. Internal Trump numbers also showed Clinton ahead in the state, return by a smaller sized margin.

And the Republican national Committee was sharing numbers with reporters that had actually Clinton top in Florida.

"Everyone’s data was wrong — in the very same direction — and that developed a traditional wisdom the was off," claimed Nayak of the Clinton campaign.

Nov. 4: "Boy, i love reading WikiLeaks"

RealClearPolitics national polling average: Clinton +1.6 pecent/FiveThirtyEight forecast: Clinton 64.5 percent chance to win

Another major plot in the presidential race was Russia’s alleged intervention in the contest — a story that proceeds to unfold today.

Less attention, however, has been payment to just how Trump and his team seized on that Russian meddling, i m sorry the U.S. Intelligence ar says had the hacking of Clinton project chair man Podesta’s emails — and also their release via WikiLeaks.


The revelations native Podesta"s emails — including excerpts the Clinton’s paid speech come Goldman Sachs, advisers’ candid objections of their candidate and also a memo on "Bill Clinton Inc." — all fueled an adverse headlines. And also Trump pounced:

Oct. 31 in Warren, Mich.: "Did you view where, on WikiLeaks, it to be announced that they to be paying protesters to it is in violent, $1,500?... Did you see another one, one more one come in today? This WikiLeaks is prefer a sweetheart trove"Nov. 2 in Orlando, Fla.: "WikiLeaks just came out with a new one, just a small a when ago, it"s simply been shown that a rigged system with an ext collusion, maybe illegal, between the room of Justice, the Clinton campaign and also the State Department"Nov. 4 in Wilmington, Ohio: "Boy, ns love reading those WikiLeaks"

NBC News counted 145 mentions of WikiLeaks by trump in the last month the the race.

Beyond the headlines and also attacks indigenous the stump the they produced, the WikiLeaks revelations hurt Clinton because voters can not tell the difference between them and the longstanding controversy surrounding Clinton’s own emails, follow to top project officials.

"People conflated WikiLeaks v Hillary’s emails," claimed Palmieri, Clinton’s communications director.

"Benghazi, Comey, WikiLeaks all sounded like the same thing come voters," added Robby Mook, the campaign manager.

(Both Russia and also WikiLeaks have actually denied the Russia to be behind the 2016 hacks and also email revelations.)

Nov. 6: "It"s a totally rigged system"

RealClearPolitics national polling average: Clinton +1.8 percent/FiveThirtyEight forecast: Clinton 64.9 percent chance to win

Comey no finished do news in the last two main of the election. And once again, it was Chaffetz who damaged it first.

"FBI Dir just informed us "Based on ours review, we have actually not adjusted our conclusions that us expressed in July v respect come Sec Clinton,"" Chaffetz tweeted about the second letter Comey had actually sent to Congress.

Part that a Nov. 6, 2016, letter native FBI director James Comey come Congress.Jon Elswick / AP

In other words, the FBI’s investigation into those extr emails no uncover noþeles new. Nearly every one of them were duplicates that emails the agency had currently seen.

Trump railed against Comey"s 2nd letter, and also he offered it come re-litigate the debate over Clinton"s emails, informing voters the was currently up come them "to deliver justice" on election Day since no one rather would.

"Right now, she is being safeguarded by a rigged system. It"s a totally rigged system," Trump said in Michigan.

"Hillary Clinton is guilty. She to know it. The FBI to know it. The world know it. And now it"s as much as the American people to deliver justice at the ballot crate on Nov. 8th," trumped added.

For the Clinton campaign, Comey’s second letter showed up to be good news — the looked favor Clinton was in the clear of any wrongdoing.


NOV. 6: Trump phone call on voter to 'Deliver Justice' after ~ Comey's 2nd Letter

Aug. 18, 201701:05
But month later, optimal officials believe the 2nd letter only restored the email story two days prior to the election.

"At best, that hurt as lot as that helped," said the Clinton campaign’s Shur. "It just lugged it all up again," Palmieri added.

On may 3, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., request Comey in ~ a Senate hear why the made the Oct. 28 announcement in the an initial place, particularly given currently Justice department guidelines versus interfering in upcoming elections.

Comey responded that he confronted two options: One, speak around the newly discovered emails. Or two, conceal them.

"Speak would certainly be yes, really bad. There"s an choice in 11 days. Lordy, that would certainly be really bad," he told Feinstein. "Concealing in my see would be catastrophic, not just to the FBI, yet well beyond. And honestly, as in between really bad and also catastrophic, I said to mine team we"ve gotto walk into the civilization of really bad. I"ve obtained to phone call Congress that we"re restarting this."

He added, "It provides me mildly nauseous to think the we could have had actually some influence on the election. Yet honestly, that wouldn"t readjust the decision."

Comey to be fired 6 days after the testimony.

Nov. 8: choice Day

RealClearPolitics national polling average: Clinton +3.2 percent/FiveThirtyEight forecast: Clinton 71.4 percent possibility to win

Despite the jarring occasions of the final two weeks, all indications still pointed to a Clinton victory. The early-vote number from Florida and also Nevada looked great for the campaign. And also the last national polls — from NBC News/Wall Street Journal, ABC/Washington Post, CBS and Bloomberg — boosted Clinton’s command in the RealClear average over three points.

But trumped clobbered Clinton in the poll on November 8, specifically in key battleground states, as contrasted through the beforehand voting.

Take Florida, for example: practically 70 percent of votes were actors in the state prior to Election Day, and Clinton delighted in an approximated 4-point lead over Trump — about 240,000 votes.

Voters line up to vote early on at the super of vote office on October 24, 2016 in Bradenton, Florida.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

" won election Day through 13 points," said autonomous strategist Steve Schale, who very closely examined Florida’s early-vote numbers.

According come the departure poll data, Trump winner those who said they decided their vote in the critical week by 11 point out in Michigan, 17 point out in Pennsylvania and also Florida, and a chuck 29 clues in Wisconsin. (By contrast, Clinton winner the so late deciders in Virginia — a state she brought by five points.)

From the Trump team’s perspective, the final 12 days of the campaign permitted them to pull off maybe the biggest political uncomfortable in American history.

The Trump analysis data that showed him with only a 15 percent possibility of winning on Oct. 27 was as much as a 35 percent possibility by choice Day — and also that was assuming Trump no going to win Florida.

"We still no think he to be going to be the critical winner," stated Oczkowski. "But 35 percent is within striking distance."

But because that the Clinton campaign, the final 12 work — Comey, WikiLeaks, a more disciplined Trump and drubbing in vital battlegrounds on choice Day — stood for their worst two-week stretch that the basic election.

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"Campaigns have actually been told because that years to intend the unexpected. However in this choice we essential to intend the unbelievable, and we didn"t," said Jesse Ferguson, the Clinton campaign’s deputy national press secretary and senior spokesperson.

"A the majority of things came with each other to develop what happened," Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, called NBC News. "We had a bunch of black color swans that converged on us."