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Republicans are running against Hillary Clinton (Again.)

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WASHINGTON — Republicans are running attack ads blasting Hillary Clinton as an out-of-touch elitist. Fox News prime time is blanketed with reports about Clinton investigations. Trump 2020 campaign rallies in key presidential swing states feature “lock her up!” chants.

If you follow campaign news, it may seem like the 2016 campaign never ended. And in at least one way for some Republicans, it hasn’t: The GOP has gone negative on Clinton for more than 25 years — and they don’t think her absence from the ballot is reason enough to stop now.

So far, at least three Republican candidates or groups have released ads over the past week slamming Clinton, in what amounts to an early midterms election-year beta test of her continued utility in firing up the conservative base.

A new spot for Rep. Evan Jenkins, one of the Republicans challenging Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin in West Virginia, opens with recent comments Clinton made at a conference halfway around the world. President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, she said last month in Mumbai, India, was all about looking “backwards,” while she won big cities and other places that are “optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward.”

It was a line guaranteed to strike a sour note in West Virginia, which voted for Trump over Clinton by more than 40 points.

 Hillary Clinton smiles as she accepts the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 28, 2016. Lucy Nicholson / Reuters file

“It’s Hillary who’s got it backwards,” Jenkins says in the ad as undated images of urban riots flash on screen. “The big cities she won are the places flooding our state with heroin — where lawlessness, looting and liberalism rule.”

In Missouri, Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is running against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, is airing an ad that shows a long clip of Clinton’s “backwards” comments before concluding, “This is what Claire McCaskill and her ‘president’ think of you.”

And a new digital ad from the National Republican Senatorial Committee opens by telling viewers Clinton “called you deplorable,” adding that “Florida won’t forget” Sen. Bill Nelson’s 2016 endorsement of her White House bid. It’s one of several state-specific spots being released by the GOP’s Senate campaign arm that ties vulnerable Senate Democratic incumbents to their party’s most recent presidential nominee.

Rick Wilson, a Florida-based Republican strategist and ad-maker, said the GOP’s strategic bet is that shifting the focus back to Clinton “lets Republicans and Donald Trump pretend like the 2016 campaign is still going on.”

“If I were advising Hillary Clinton,” he added, “I would raise a gigantic sh** ton of money for people and stay out of the news.”

Whatever Clinton does, that’s unlikely to happen in at least one corner of the media: Conservative news outlets have never stopped covering her with election-year intensity.

Some 17 months after Election Day 2016, Fox News is still devotes roughly equal time to Trump and Clinton, according to an analysis by the liberal media watchdog Media Matters — despite the fact that one is now a private citizen, and the other president of the United States.

Red-state Democrats run for cover

Democratic campaign officials say the GOP’s throw-back message reflects the lack of an effective new one in what promises to be a tough year for Republicans.

But candidates on the receiving end of the Clinton attacks aren’t dismissing their potential potency. Some are laying low, avoiding the issue entirely: Of half a dozen red state Senate Democrats asked to comment for this story, only one responded for the record.

That lawmaker, Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., a Trump-state Democrat facing a bumpy road to re-election, replied NBC’s question about what he thought Clinton’s 2018 role should be with a statement that didn’t mention her and said the midterms weren’t about “rehashing the tired political arguments of past elections.”

Nelson, who’s expected to face Florida GOP Gov. Rick Scott in November, avoided giving the Tampa Bay Times a direct response about whether he would campaign with Clinton. “I’m not going to answer that,” he told the paper. “Obviously when she was a candidate, I campaigned with her. That’s like you asking me, ‘would I campaign with Robert Redford’…We’ll take that up when we get there.”

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