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Trump drifts off message

Donald Trump is ending his campaign the way it began: off script.

The Republican presidential nominee repeatedly blew off the teleprompter Monday in the closing hours of his campaign, grabbing credit for the pre-election disclosure of Obamacare premium hikes and depressed NFL viewership ratings and falling victim to stage props.

Trump falsely claimed responsibility for the federal government’s announcement of the premium hikes, which are routinely made available ahead of open enrollment (which began Nov. 1 this year). Even so, he told supporters at a Sarasota, Florida, rally, “I worked very hard to force those numbers out.”

In Raleigh, North Carolina, he attributed diminishing NFL viewership to his campaign, according to, he said, “a lot of people.”

“The NFL ratings are way down. You know why?” Trump asked. “Because everybody’s watching this.”

Whether the reality TV star’s political rise is the reason for lower viewership is open for discussion, but it is true that millions around the world are watching the U.S. presidential election.

While seemingly all eyes are on who will be elected president Tuesday, Hillary Clinton was sharply on message at her first two campaign rallies, asking supporters to reject a divisive vision of America in favor of a hopeful, inclusive country. Trump’s focus, however, was whatever his eyes could see — including a rubber mask of his face and a fireman’s hat.

Indeed, in one of his final rallies before Election Day, Trump stood on stage posing with a caricature of himself and told the crowd he nearly put on a fireman’s hat until he clasped it in his hand and saw “it’s about 20 years old, and this sucker has been used.”

“No way I’m putting that on,” he said.

For her part, Clinton told supporters in Allendale, Michigan, the choice for president couldn’t be clearer.

“This election is basically between division and unity in our country,” she said. “It’s between strong and steady leadership or a loose cannon who could put everything at risk.”

When Trump was on message, his closing argument was this: A Hillary Clinton presidency is unthinkable.

“Can you imagine having Hillary for four years? Ugh,” said Trump, who contended that Clinton is still guilty of criminal wrongdoing despite FBI Director James Comey telling Congress on Sunday that after reviewing additional emails, the bureau’s conclusion about Clinton remains the same — no prosecution is warranted.

“The FBI, the director, was obviously under tremendous pressure,” Trump suggested.

“She still deleted them after getting a subpoena from Congress. I mean, that’s a crime!” he added. “What happened? That’s a crime! You don’t even need the new stuff. She shouldn’t be allowed to run.”

Both candidates crisscrossed the country on Monday, making one last push to get out the vote and secure an election night result that will be historic, one way or another. And while both candidates delivered stump lines in their rallies, it was Trump who characteristically included some out-of-left-field riffs.

“Is there any place more fun to be than a Trump rally?” he asked after tossing the “beautiful” mask of himself off stage.

He even complained that Clinton faced little criticism for her campaign stop Friday that featured performances by musical power couple Jay Z and Beyoncé. He said their songs, some of which include sexual, violent and drug-fueled language, did not match with the values of American voters and that his oft-criticized rhetoric pales in comparison.

“The language — the language was so bad. And as they were singing — singing, right? Singing? Talking? Was it talking or singing? I don’t know,” he said. “But the language — by both — but the language was so bad that many of the people left, right? By the time Hillary got up there was nobody there.”

Trump’s asides were peppered into what was otherwise his regular stump speech, a closing argument that reiterated his pledge to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, make better trade deals and “drain the swamp” of Washington corruption.

Like Trump, Clinton’s camp hewed closely to its regular talking points. And while the Democratic nominee pitched herself to Pennsylvania voters as the optimistic choice for America’s future, President Barack Obama took to the stump in Michigan to do the same.

“After all of the noise, after the negative ads, after all the campaigning, all the rallies, it now just comes down to you,” the president said at a rally at the University of Michigan, where his celebrity was nearly matched by that of another attendee, Wolverines football coach Jim Harbaugh. “It’s out of Hillary’s hands now. It’s out of Michelle’s hands. It’s out of my hands. It’s in your hands. The fate of our democracy depends on what you do when you step into that voting booth tomorrow.”

Speaking directly to Michigan’s long-battered automotive workers, Obama talked up his bona fides as their ally. He rehashed the work he did early in his administration to help bail out the industry, comparing that to Trump’s past remark that car makers should have been allowed to go bankrupt. The crowd interrupted the president multiple times to boo, prompting Obama to trot out a favorite line, telling the crowd “don’t boo” to which it responded in unison, “vote!”

“He can’t hear your boos but he’ll hear your votes tomorrow,” the president told the crowd. “I think we’ve earned some credibility here. So when I tell you that Donald Trump is not the guy who’s going to look out for you, you need to listen. Do not be bamboozled.”

Trump’s campaign has sought to put Michigan, a state that last went for a Republican in 1988, in play with his populist message that rails against the trade deals that have damaged American manufacturing. The Manhattan billionaire’s fifth and final campaign stop of the day, scheduled for 11 p.m. Monday, is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he will appear with running mate Mike Pence.

His campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said the Trump camp’s move to push Michigan into play has put Clinton on the defensive in the election’s waning days. She said the real estate mogul’s aggressive play had “rescrambled the map and they followed us,” citing Obama’s election eve rally in Michigan as well as Clinton’s stops both there and in Pennsylvania as proof that the Democratic ticket has been forced to defend its blue turf. Picking off one of those two states, she said, would be crucial to a Trump win on Tuesday.

Trump’s team sees six Electoral College paths to victory on Election Day, Conway said Monday, a wider avenue to the White House than had existed in previous weeks. Colorado and New Hampshire are also possibilities, she said. Conway admitted that strong early voter turnout in Nevada also presents a challenge for Trump, who she said must win there by 5 or 6 percentage points on Election Day to offset early ballots cast in Clinton’s favor.

Still, Conway said enthusiasm is on Trump’s side as voters go to the polls and she told “CBS This Morning” that she is certain of a victory for her boss on Election night.

“We just know we’re going to win. I changed the invitation to tomorrow night’s party from election night to victory party,” Conway said when asked if Trump would be gracious in defeat if the election turns out that way. “We’ve been feeling that momentum and that enthusiasm in the closing days. She definitely has been on defense. They’ve been visiting blue-blue states.”

Conway’s Clinton-campaign counterpart Robby Mook was just as confident in his own CBS interview, telling his interviewers that momentum and enthusiasm are “subjective terms” and that “we think we have those on our side as well.” But he said his confidence was buoyed more by “record turnout,” especially among Asian-American and Latino voters in North Carolina and Florida, both states that are essential to nearly every path Trump has to the White House.

“It’s so important that all of our supporters turn out,” Mook said. “But we think across the country, through our efforts to build that ground game, register people to vote and turn them out, that we have established a lead in some states that Donald Trump can’t overcome.”

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