TAMPA, Florida — Donald Trump took the stage here for one of his final chances to make his case to voters in a state he needs to snatch the White House away from front-runner Hillary Clinton.
But Trump has never been much for message discipline, and he apparently saw no reason to change his approach 72 hours before voters hit the polls. The candidate is taking the same message and same style that fueled his blowout win in the Republican primary, hoping his free-wheeling rallies can galvanize his supporters into delivering him one more win.
Trump veered off-script almost from the moment he stepped to the podium to address the crowd. He reveled in the thousands of supporters who anxiously stood before him here at the Florida State Fairgrounds, but he quickly turned his attention — not to Clinton — but to Jay Z, a rapper who had performed (along with Beyonce, Chance the Rapper and others) at a free get-out-the-vote concert in Cleveland on behalf of the Democratic nominee Friday night.
Trump took issue with his rival using celebrities to boost turnout in the closing days of her campaign, but boasted that even the added star power with Clinton isn’t enough to compete with his massive rallies.
“We don’t need Jay Z to fill up arenas. We do it the old-fashioned way, folks,” Trump said less than 30 seconds after taking the stage. “We fill them up because you love what we’re saying and you wanna make America great again.”
He also hit the rapper over his “language,” and then turned to other people not on the ballot — journalists — to say they would persecute him for using the words contained in Jay Z’s lyrics.
He did, however, also find time to attack Clinton, hitting her over Democratic policies, the ongoing investigation into her private-server email use while leading the State Department, and her inability to draw the type of crowds that he does on a daily basis.
Trump argued that Clinton — whose top surrogates include President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and her husband, former President Bill Clinton — is incapable of campaigning for herself, suggesting she has poor stamina and attracts tiny crowds.
“Nobody shows up to her meetings. The only way she gets them to show up is when she has a star coming,” he said. “That’s the only way. Otherwise she gets 500 people, 400 people. And by the way, the cameras never show that. Can you imagine if I had a small crowd? It would be headlines all over the world.”
“She has these little crowds show up. It’s a big problem,” he continued. “Look, she can’t do more than one or two a day because she has no energy.”
Trump also touted the Texas land commissioner who referred to Clinton as a “c—” in a since-deleted tweet the official’s campaign said was mistakenly sent out. Sid Miller, whose account posted the message, serves on the Trump campaign’s agricultural advisory committee.
Florida was just the first stop for the GOP nominee, who is due to hit at least seven states in the weekend leading into Election Day. Trump trekked north from Tampa before he fans out west, crisscrossing the country into three more crucial battleground states on Saturday alone with rallies in Wilmington, North Carolina; Reno, Nevada; and Denver.
In Wilmington, Trump seemingly answered Clinton’s high-powered campaign event in Cleveland by trotting out his family at the hangar at the airport here.
His wife, Melania Trump, introduced the GOP nominee with a brief five-minute speech. They were joined by their son, Eric Trump, and daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, as well as North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory.
“We are going to win, and we’re gonna win big,” Trump promised in North Carolina. “Hillary Clinton has all of these celebrities and failed politicians out campaigning for her. And she has crowds so much smaller than ours. I just have me, but I have my family. I have my family.”
Indeed, Trump has also dispatched his family among a number of surrogates to fan across the country campaigning on his behalf.
Polls have tightened in the closing weeks of the campaign, but — as POLITICO reported earlier Saturday — Trump’s path to the presidency still remains challenging.
Trump has gained on Hillary Clinton nationally and in some key swing states, but he still trails her by nearly 2 percentage points nationwide and faces an uphill battle in Florida and Colorado, though he leads by nearly 1 point in North Carolina and 2 points in Nevada.
He also leads by a comfortable margin in Ohio, but even if he sweeps its 18 electoral votes, Florida’s 29 and North Carolina’s 15, his pathways to 270 remain meager.
In that scenario, capturing Pennsylvania is his best hope to become president. However, the state hasn’t gone red since 1988, and he lags behind Clinton there by 2.6 percentage points — and her campaign is pulling out all the stops for a home-stretch effort to keep Pennsylvania blue.
Nevertheless, Trump brushed off the “phony” polls at his Florida rally and expressed optimism about his odds to occupy the Oval Office.
“Some of them are great. I only really acknowledge them if I’m winning,” he admitted. “And by the way, we’re winning a lot of them. We don’t have enough time to talk about them now. There’s too many of them.”
With three days until Election Day, Trump hopes to consolidate support among Republicans and independents, as well as disaffected Democrats. The real estate mogul began Saturday trying to project a united front, delivering the Republican National Committee’s weekly address this morning.
In his pre-recorded remarks, Trump hailed his campaign as a once-in-a-lifetime “movement” to “take our government back from the donors and the special interests.”
He outlined his plans to create jobs, slash taxes, rip up trade deals and renegotiate them, repeal and replace Obamacare and strengthen the nation’s borders. And he promised to put an end to government corruption, proclaiming his opponent “the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency.”
“She’s under multiple federal investigations, has committed many crimes, including perjury, and she’s now facing the prospect of a federal indictment,” he charged. “It’s time to close the history books on the Clintons, and to open a bright new chapter focused on the great citizens of our country. I’m asking for your vote and your help on electing a Republican majority in Congress, so that we can finally change this broken system and make America great again.”
Before he went off message to formally kick off his weekend, his Twitter feed was another welcome sign for Republicans. Ahead of his first rally, Trump didn’t decry any “phony” polls or attack “Crooked Hillary” or the media. He simply tweeted, “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
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