Donald Trump is claiming a surge of late momentum behind his presidential bid as Hillary Clinton rushes on air with TV ads for the first time in four blue states she supposedly already locked up.
With less than a week to go, Clinton, with $153 million in cash to spend, is fighting to reclaim the narrative. And she’s taking nothing for granted in Colorado and Virginia, two swing states where she confidently pulled down ads months ago, and New Mexico and Michigan, blue states in which Trump is making a late play amid some signs that the race is tightening.
Just as Clinton’s own behavior may look more skittish than that of the typical candidate with a roughly 80 percent chance of winning the White House, Trump’s outward confidence also obscures the reality of a race that still favors his opponent, even after last week’s FBI shocker.
Although one national tracking poll Tuesday showed Trump pulling 1 point ahead of Clinton, the GOP nominee spent Tuesday launching a last-minute ad blitz in two deep-blue states that he’s unlikely to win. And he will campaign tonight with Gov. Scott Walker (but without House Speaker Paul Ryan) in Wisconsin, a sign he is still struggling at this late stage to unify the Republican base.
As Clinton’s team continues to methodically hammer away at FBI Director James Comey in a strategic effort to shift the media’s focus away from the renewed investigation into her emails, Trump has shown uncommon discipline, stopping himself from saying anything outlandish enough to step on the current news cycle. But he also did Clinton a favor on Tuesday by failing to mention the email investigation during his morning speech — a speech his campaign billed as an address on Obamacare, an issue Trump alighted on for just five minutes.
Brushing off a slew of stories overnight detailing his failure to pay income taxes and his coziness with Russia, worrying little about his decision not to build a ground operation that can compete with a Clinton machine that has already spent two weeks banking votes, Trump and his team spent Tuesday putting a confident face forward.
“The momentum is on our side. The latest polls have Donald Trump leading nationwide,” declared Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, drawing loud cheers from supporters in a Doubletree Hotel ballroom where the duo appeared together in a Philadelphia suburb near Valley Forge, a place, Pence noted, that marked “a turning point in the Revolutionary War.”
But with one week to go until Election Day, Clinton maintains a commanding lead in Pennsylvania, a state that Trump’s team believed just months ago was his for the taking and possibly the linchpin to a strategic path to 270 electoral votes that ran through the Rust Belt. And even Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally, was throwing cold water on the same ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll that Trump, Pence and campaign manager Kellyanne Conway spent Tuesday morning touting. “Trump has not moved up 13 points in the last 8 days,” Gingrich tweeted.
Announcing a $25 million TV ad blitz over the final week, Trump’s digital director, Brad Parscale, declared the campaign to be “expanding the map” in an email announcing the ad buy that will include reservations in New Mexico and Michigan (the email at first omitted Pennsylvania just as Trump was stumping there; a correction followed).
The Hail Mary pass to somehow win two blue states in which Clinton is firmly ahead and Parscale’s claims that Trump is going on offense might scare Brooklyn more if they weren’t up by three touchdowns so late in the fourth quarter. Clinton’s team also rejected Trump’s suggestion that the Democrat’s late forays into Colorado, Virginia, New Mexico and Michigan are fear-based, arguing that an unexpected $11 million windfall in online donations over the weekend in response to the FBI investigation news enabled them to expand advertising in order to block Trump’s efforts to expand the map.
Meanwhile, Trump’s own events Tuesday were those of a candidate still working to bring disaffected voters within his own party home in the election’s final week.
Before flying to Wisconsin, a state where moderate conservatives predominate and one that handed Trump one of his most humiliating primary defeats, the GOP nominee yielded his microphone to his more establishment-styled running mate.
At the Obamacare-focused event in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, Pence, in an unusual role reversal, spoke for longer than Trump as he hammered upcoming price increases and problems with the health care law, promising a full repeal.
“We can’t trust Hillary Clinton any more with our health care than we can with classified information,” Pence said.
And he focused a significant portion of his remarks on a Republican base that has proved reluctant to embrace Trump. “It’s time to come home,” he said.
Trump’s remarks were less focused, though he did promise he would call a “special session” of Congress to repeal the law “immediately,” should he win (ignoring the near certainty of a Democratic filibuster).
“If we don’t repeal and replace Obamacare, we will destroy American health care forever,” Trump said apocalyptically.
Figuring that Clinton does better, and Trump sinks, when national attention is on the GOP nominee, the Democrat spent Tuesday focusing on his treatment of women after spending Monday largely zeroed in on his fitness to lead the nuclear arsenal.
Former beauty queen Alicia Machado, whose name Clinton brought up at the end of the first presidential debate, much to Trump’s consternation, introduced the candidate in Dade City, retelling the story of her own history with Trump.
“I was scared of him. He made fun of me, and I didn’t know how to respond. He told me I was ugly and I was massive. He called me names, he called me Miss Piggy, Miss Housekeeping, Miss Eating Machine,” she said of Trump. “For years afterwards, I was sick, fighting back eating disorders.”
“It’s really clear he does not respect women, he just judges us on our looks,” she added. “He thinks he can do whatever he wants and get away with it.”
And earlier in the morning, Clinton’s campaign released a stinging new one-minute ad due for circulation in Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The spot, called “What He Believes,” features back-to-back-to-back clips of Trump describing women or his treatment of them, as dramatic music plays.
“This is Donald Trump,” reads the text as the ad closes. “Anyone who believes, says, does what he does is unfit to be president.”
Amplifying the campaign’s efforts to refocus voters on Trump’s negatives, Priorities USA, Clinton’s super PAC, released its own ad Monday aimed at female voters, juxtaposing images of female icons from Rosa Parks to Eleanor Roosevelt and an empowering soundtrack with audio clips of Trump speaking about women in misogynistic terms.
On stage in Dade City — the first of her three events in Florida on Tuesday — Clinton took the argument further as Trump-supporting protesters chanted “lock her up” just within earshot.
“He sure has spent a lot of time demeaning, degrading and assaulting women,” Clinton said, winding up her latest attack, in which she recounted a series of reports about Trump’s treatment of women. “Can we stop for a moment and reflect on the absurdity of Donald Trump finding fault with Miss Universe?”
“Who acts like this?” she continued. “I’ll tell you who: a bully.”
And, alluding to the leaked tape of Trump boasting about being able to get away with sexual assault, she added, “We heard that tape, and we know what he does to women. I’m not going to repeat it, but we know what Donald Trump was bragging about. Grabbing women, mistreating women.”
“He doesn’t see us as full human beings,” she continued. “He is wrong about both the women and the men of this country.”
Clinton’s camp maintains that the latest anti-Trump push is not a response to tightening polls, but rather a long-planned piece of the closing argument — even if the renewed urgency is undeniable.
“We saw after the third debate that the polls started tightening, Republicans started to come home to Trump,” said a senior campaign aide, explaining the decision to go hard on Trump now while insisting that the campaign still sees Clinton leading nationally.
The aide added that the campaign’s new ad buys in states like Wisconsin, Colorado, Virginia and New Mexico were the result of Clinton’s cash glut rather than a real concern about Trump’s push there — further evidence that the campaign is eager to be seen as mounting an offensive.
After all, Clinton entered the closing stretch of the campaign with more cash on hand than any other candidate in history — over $153 million by Oct. 20 — and the campaign said on Tuesday that it had raised $11.3 million just online in the previous 72 hours — roughly since the FBI news broke. That total is the most her campaign brought in online at any point since she became the nominee in July.
“We knew for the people who have swung back and forth between Clinton and Trump that, in the last week, we were going to want to sharpen the choice, since the debates have been our most important avenue for communicating,” added the aide. “It’s been about 2 ½ weeks since the last debate, and we wanted to make sure we could go back this week reframing the choice for people at the end of the race.”
Shane Goldmacher contributed to this report.
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