Raleigh, United States |
Donald Trump launched a final marathon Monday as the wildest US presidential campaign in memory drew to a close, desperate to persuade Americans they would be better served by a political outsider than establishment favorite Hillary Clinton.
After a grueling Sunday crisscrossing seven states, the braggadocious billionaire began his day of political reckoning in Florida, the must-win southeastern swing state that, along with Ohio, could propel him to victory or sink his fortunes on Tuesday.
“Who would have believed this?” Trump told about 4,000 die-hard fans in Sarasota, speaking of his 18-month odyssey towards the White House.
“It’s been some campaign, too.”
Blue state blitz
Trump has been on a non-stop cross-country crusade in recent days, diving into Democratic strongholds like Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania in a bid to flip blue states, while holding all the ground his predecessor Mitt Romney won in 2012.
“We’re leading in North Carolina. We’re doing very, very well in Pennsylvania,” he insisted, his hyperbole increasing as the clock ticks down to Tuesday.
“My poll numbers are going through the roof,” he added. “You watch what’s going to happen.”
Amid reports that advisors and staffers are clashing behind the scenes in the race’s final days, the 70-year-old Manhattan real estate tycoon’s campaign stamina has been extraordinary.
On Saturday he logged nearly 4,500 miles (7,240 kilometers) on his gilded Boeing 757, followed by 3,000 more on Sunday, when he mocked the “exhausted” reporters traveling with him.
Monday promised to be another bruiser, with 3,000 frequent flier miles likely as he makes five campaign stops, including a midnight rally in Michigan.
– Florida dreams –
No question about it, Florida is critical for Trump. The Clinton campaign is matching her rival rally for rally in the Sunshine State, rolling out heavy hitters like President Barack Obama and pop-star Jennifer Lopez to stump for her in a bid to shut the door on Trump’s Florida dreams.
White male voters are lining up behind Trump, polls show, but he is suffering with Hispanics — who form an increasingly influential voting bloc in Florida — and women.
Trump insisted he will do far better with female voters than polls suggest.
“You watch: the women are gonna come out big,” he said in Sarasota.
With the eccentricities of the campaign on full display in the final hours, the candidate called on one person who was wearing a rubber Trump mask in the crowd to hand it over.
“Nice head of hair, I’ll say that,” Trump reflected as he held the mask.
Trump’s second rally of the day was in Raleigh, North Carolina, a state that Obama won in 2008 but lost four years later. Trump holds the narrowest of leads here.
Clinton might claw back the ground by highlighting how the FBI at the 11th hour lifted its threat of charges against her over her use of a private email server while secretary of state.
Trump previewed his line of attack earlier Monday, renewing his proclamation that “the system is totally rigged” and that the United States was a global “laughing stock” because of the email scandal.
“It’s up to the American people to deliver justice at the ballot box tomorrow,” he said.
Kathy Smith, who owns a construction company, said she was excited but nervous about the election’s final day.
“So many seem to have given up on Trump but I have not, I just believe that people are going to come out tomorrow and vote for him,” she told AFP as she waited in line at the Raleigh event.
“Hillary is just an awful person, she has lied, cheated.”
Trump heads from there to a rally in the Pennsylvania Rust Belt town of Scranton, where Clinton herself has family roots but where the Republican is counting on the blue-collar working class.
It will be Trump’s second stop in the state in under 24 hours.
But Clinton is parrying Trump’s charge into Pennsylvania with a mega-event of her own: a closing-argument rally featuring the president, First Lady Michelle Obama, ex-president Bill Clinton and rock idol Bruce Springsteen.
No rest yet for the campaign. It flies to Manchester, New Hampshire for a rally at SNHU arena, site of Romney’s final major rally of 2012.
Trump wraps up his whirlwind with a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a state Trump is unlikely to win, polls suggest.
But his team has expressed confidence that the race there is tied, and that voter enthusiasm could put Trump over the top.
US presidential campaigns become frantic affairs in the final days. Secret Service agents are stretched as they protect multiple sites per day, and travel in and outside of the motorcades gets harried.
If Sunday was any indication — when Trump’s last stop in Virginia was three hours behind schedule — the late night Michigan event will likely tumble past midnight.