Hillary Clinton hasn't noticed that she is locked in a four-way race and not the two-way struggle with Donald Trump for which she and her strategists have been preparing. The very premise of Clinton's campaign — to denigrate Trump — is rooted in the flawed assumption that those she persuades not to vote for Trump will have no choice but to vote for her.
Wrong. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson is on the ballot in all states but Kentucky. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, is on in almost all the swing states.
The Fox News poll suggests that these two alternative candidates hurt Clinton much more than Trump. Her vote share drops from 48 percent in a two-way contest to 41 percent in a four-way ballot test — a 7-point falloff. Trump's falloff, by contrast, is only 3 points (from 42 to 39). So while Clinton enjoys a 48-42 lead in a head-to-head with Trump, she is ahead only 41-39 in a four-way contest, with Johnson drawing 9 percent and Stein getting 4 percent.
Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, is on the ballot in 49 states (contested access in Kentucky). Stein is definitely on the ballot in 40 states, including the swing states of Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Colorado.
The latest Fox News poll shows that 44 percent of voters say that both Trump and Clinton are "terrible" candidates, a finding that shows the tremendous potential for growth in the Johnson and Stein votes.
A candidate can only win through a negative campaign in a two-way race. But in a four-way contest, the potential to drive votes to one of the alternative candidates is very great.
And while the polls predict that Johnson and Stein would hurt Clinton more than Trump, it is not necessarily obvious to the average voter that they would. Everyone knew that a vote for Ralph Nader in 2000 was a vote against the Democrat Al Gore. But with a Libertarian candidate, the political math is not so compelling.
So rather than see Johnson and Stein as covert ways of electing Trump, voters are more likely to see them as "plague on both your houses" candidates, a position that is increasingly attractive as Trump and Clinton exchange negatives.
Like it was once said of the French Army, Clinton is going into the next war perfectly prepared to win the last one. But a four-way race requires that she build up her positive image — now at an all-time low. And that's not an easy task when incriminating emails keep falling out of the sky.