Clinton returns to campaign trail after pneumonia diagnosis

One of the last times the public saw Hillary Clinton, she was being helped into a van by her security detail, her knees buckling and body slouching over as she lost her balance.

Four days after her near fainting spell, Clinton returns to the campaign Thursday -- with little room for another misstep.

After grudgingly following her doctor's orders to slow down and rest to recuperate from pneumonia, and watching Donald Trump seize the spotlight and pull even or ahead in some key swing states such as Ohio, the Democratic presidential nominee has signaled she is eager to make a feisty comeback at a crucial moment in the election. Her overarching goal when she appears at a rally in North Carolina will be to steer the conversation away from the topic that has dominated the news cycle since Sunday: Her health.

Democratic strategist David Axelrod said Clinton has a simple task Thursday to move her campaign forward: "Be energetic and upbeat."

With less than two months until Election Day, polls have begun to tighten. In Clinton's absence, Trump and his surrogates were free to relentlessly attack the former secretary of state with relatively little pushback. Trump particularly zeroed in on Clinton's in artful comments from last Friday night, in which she described half of Trump's supporters as being in a "basket of deplorables."

And even though the Clinton campaign disclosed more information about her health on Wednesday, its initial decision to not immediately reveal the candidate's pneumonia diagnosis until late Sunday -- well after she left the September 11 memorial and briefly disappeared from reporters assigned to follow her -- has raised a slew of fresh criticism about the lack of transparency.

Clinton returns to the campaign trail with a rally in Greensboro followed by a speech at a Congressional Hispanic Caucus gathering in Washington in the evening.

In Greensboro, Clinton will deliver a speech on the topic of "how we lift up our children and families," according to Clinton spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri. That speech will mark Clinton's second in a series of "Stronger Together" speeches -- part of a broader effort to inject more of the candidate's personal story into the narrative.

"One upside to Hillary Clinton's break from the trail was having time to sharpen the final argument she will present to voters in these closing weeks," Palmieri said in a statement.

But if Clinton is trying to change the subject away from her health, Trump may make that difficult. After largely staying away from commenting on Clinton's recent health episode, he took a swipe at his opponent's stamina at a rally in Canton, Ohio, Wednesday night.

"I don't know folks -- do you think Hillary Clinton would be able to stand up here for an hour? I don't know," Trump mused.

Clinton was originally scheduled to travel to the West Coast on Monday, where she planned to deliver a message aimed at millennial voters in California and Nevada. And her remarks in Los Angeles on Tuesday were meant to about a more inclusive economy.

All of those plans fell through when Clinton stumbled at the 9/11 memorial ceremony on Sunday, and it's not clear when the campaign will reschedule those events.

North Carolina's importance

Clinton is sending a message by choosing North Carolina --- a state her campaign believes is a must-win for Trump -- as her first stop back on the trail. Trump has a 5 point lead in Ohio and a 3 point cushion in Florida, according to a new CNN-ORC poll released Wednesday, meaning the Tar Heel State is increasingly important for Clinton as well.

Then-Sen. Barack Obama won North Carolina in 2008, while Republican nominee Mitt Romney won in 2012. Clinton's top aides believe North Carolina may be more solidly blue than typical bellwethers like Ohio because of the abundance of African-American and college-educated white voters.

North Carolina has a larger than average number of college-educated whites, buoyed by growth of college and post-college white voters in the Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill area.

Democratic pollster Geoff Garin said North Carolina is Clinton's "best chance" to win a state that Mitt Romney carried four years ago.

"Polls consistently have showed her holding a narrow plurality in the state, built on strong support among African-Americans and an ability to win over some better educated suburban whites in the Charlotte area and the Research Triangle who liked Romney but find Trump out of sync with their values," said Garin, who advises the pro-Clinton super PAC Priorities USA.

Thursday's visit is her fifth since she clinched the nomination on June, while Clinton's campaign and her aligned super PACs have spent close to $15 million advertising on TV in the state. And by the time she visits on Thursday, Clinton's Tar Heel State operation will have 33 organizing offices in the state.

Clinton has so far struggled break away from Trump in states like Nevada, New Hampshire and Ohio, which have smaller than average numbers of college educated white voters. While Trump has led with white voters, those with college degrees have rejected Trump in larger numbers than past elections.

While Obama lost college-educated white voters by 14 points, national polls in August found Clinton up by 10 points with the group.

But as polls tighten, so has Clinton's advantage with that group. CNN/ORC polls released Wednesday found that Trump actually leads by 9 points among the group in Ohio and 8 points in Florida.

Clinton knows she needs to be on the trail in order to seize back momentum she had earlier this summer. And she says it's been difficult to follow her doctor's orders.

"I was supposed to rest five days -- that's what they told me on Friday -- and I didn't follow that very wise advice," Clinton told CNN's Anderson Cooper Monday night. "So I just want to get this over and done with and get back on the trail as soon as possible."