WASHINGTON – Election Day in sight, Donald Trump tried anew for the discipline and restraint that has eluded him for months, hoping not to waste a burst of momentum that has him closing on Hillary Clinton. Clinton and her allies, meanwhile, are doing their best to trip up Trump.
The candidates were taking their tussle to Florida and North Carolina on Thursday, two linchpins in Trump’s plan to take the White House. With five days before Election Day, the unconventional Republican candidate was hewing closer to convention, running some upbeat ads, bringing out his wife for a rare campaign appearance and trying, publicly, not to veer off-message.
“‘Stay on point, Donald, stay on point,”‘ Trump teasingly quoted his staff as saying, as he campaigned Wednesday in Florida. “No sidetracks, Donald. Nice and easy. Nice and easy.”‘
Melania Trump was to campaign in a suburb of Philadelphia on Thursday, her first turn on the trail since the Republican convention in July. The former model is trying to counter the Clinton campaign’s pounding attacks on her husband as anti-woman, a strategy Democrats see as the best hope for rattling him and driving female voters away from him.
In excerpts of Melania Trump’s prepared remarks, distributed by the campaign, she said, “I come here today to talk about my husband, Donald, and his deep love and respect for this country and all of its people. … And I have come here today to talk about our partnership, our family and what I know for sure in my heart about this man who will make America great again.”
Clinton took her stinging message to a massive audience Wednesday night during the final game of the World Series. The Democrats aired a series of ads that highlighted Trump’s lewd comments about women. Trump’s advertising was a mix of positive and negative spots, including one promising “a future brighter than our past.”
Clinton stuck with the sharp-edged closing argument as polls showed her once-hefty lead noticeably trimmed in recent days. News that the FBI is reviewing her close aide’s emails appears to have revived questions about her trustworthiness just as many late-deciding voters were making up their minds.
Clinton’s campaign has responded by trying to keep the spotlight on Trump, and specifically his history of vulgar and disparaging statements about women, minorities and people with disabilities.
President Barack Obama was campaigning in Florida on Thursday as Clinton headed to North Carolina for rallies in Raleigh and Winterville. Michelle Obama, who has made a powerful pitch to women, is also expected to be on the trail for Clinton before Tuesday.
Trump can’t win the election without carrying Florida, a fact that highlights how narrow his path to the White House is. He campaigned in three Florida cities Wednesday – Miami, Orlando and Pensacola – and will follow up with a stop in Jacksonville on Thursday.
“We don’t want to blow this,” he told rowdy supporters in Miami. “We gotta win. We gotta win big.”
Trump’s confidence aside, Clinton still has more paths to victory – and was looking for even more. She made a late stop Wednesday in reliably Republican Arizona, where Trump’s unpopularity among Hispanic voters has given Democrats hope.
“This state is in play for the first time in years,” Clinton exclaimed during a nighttime rally on the campus of Arizona State University. She was greeted by a boisterous crowd of 15,000, one of her largest of the campaign.
Clinton painted a grim view of life for Hispanics under a Trump administration. She also waded into a local sheriff’s race getting national attention, backing Democrat Paul Penzone for Maricopa County sheriff, a post held by immigration hardliner Joe Arpaio.
But Clinton’s hopes for a landslide appear to be fading. Polls show Trump closing in on her in battleground states, including some where Clinton has led for weeks.
The campaign and its allies were spending additional money in Michigan and Colorado, states long considered solidly in Clinton’s column.
Early voting numbers in some states suggest that her challenge stems, at least in part, from underwhelming support from African-American voters.
Early voting in North Carolina shows a 5 percentage point drop in ballots from black voters from 2012.
Obama, the nation’s first black president, offered an urgent message to North Carolina voters on Wednesday: “The fate of the republic rests on your shoulders.”
Former President Bill Clinton made an unannounced appearance in Detroit Wednesday night to meet privately with black ministers, the city’s mayor and other local leaders. Hillary Clinton planned to travel to the Detroit area on Friday.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, meanwhile, said it saw new hope for its candidate in Wisconsin, a state that favours Democrats in presidential election years. The committee will spend close to $1 million in several media markets, including Milwaukee and Green Bay, on behalf of the GOP incumbent, Ron Johnson, long considered one of the most vulnerable senators.
Private and public polls show a single-digit difference between Johnson and Democratic rival Russ Feingold.
Republicans are battling ferociously to protect their 54-46 majority in the Senate ahead of Tuesday’s election. They are on defence around the country, but a number of close races are essentially toss-ups in states such as Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.
Associated Press writers Steve Peoples, Lisa Lerer, Julie Bykowicz and Josh Lederman in Washington, Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa and David Eggert in Detroit contributed to this report.