On-message Trump tries to woo vital votes

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Orlando, Florida. Picture by Loren Elliott, Tampa Bay Times via Associated Press
Steve Peoples and Jonathan Lemire

DONALD Trump has displayed rare discipline as he campaigns in vital US election swing state Florida.

"Stay on point, Donald, stay on point," the Republican White House nominee teasingly quoted his staff as saying. "No sidetracks, Donald. Nice and easy. Nice and easy."

There was late action in such unlikely arenas as Arizona and Michigan, too – and in North Carolina, where President Barack Obama tried to energise black support for Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton.

But Mr Trump marched ahead in his third multi-day visit to the Sunshine State in recent weeks.

He lashed out at "crooked Hillary" in Miami, predicting that a Clinton victory would trigger an "unprecedented and protracted constitutional crisis" as federal investigators probe the former US secretary of state's email practices. But he did not take the bait dangled by the Clinton campaign about his treatment of women.

Conceding nothing in the state, Mrs Clinton has also been a frequent visitor. She posed for pictures and shook hands during a surprise visit to a South Florida Caribbean-American neighbourhood on Wednesday morning.

Both sides agree the New York businessman has virtually no chance to win the presidency without Florida's trove of 29 electoral votes.

Mrs Clinton has been ahead there in opinion polls, but Democrats acknowledge that the FBI's renewed attention to her has helped rally reluctant Republicans behind their nominee. That has given Mr Trump an enthusiasm boost in Florida and across Midwestern battlegrounds long considered reliably blue territory.

"I'm definitely nervous," said former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat. "Democrats in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, if you heard it was over, if you thought those states were in the bag, don't believe it."

Perhaps heeding Mr Rendell's warning, Mrs Clinton's team is devoting new resources to states like Michigan, which has not supported a Republican presidential nominee in nearly 30 years.

Former president Bill Clinton made an unannounced appearance in Detroit to meet privately with black ministers, the city's mayor and other local leaders. While his wife had two appearances in Republican-leaning Arizona, she also planned to spend part of Friday in Detroit as well.

At the same time, a pro-Clinton super PAC – political action committee – is spending more than a million dollars on Michigan airwaves along with at least a million more in Colorado, another state where Mrs Clinton has enjoyed a significant polling advantage for much of the fall.

Early voting numbers in some states suggest that her challenge stems, at least in part, from underwhelming support from African-American voters. Weak minority support could complicate her path in other states, too, including North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Early voting in North Carolina shows a five-percentage point drop in ballots from black voters from 2012.

Mt Obama, the nation's first black president, offered an urgent message to North Carolina voters, saying: "The fate of the republic rests on your shoulders."

He also criticised Mr Trump's history of sexist comments and his initial reluctance to disavow white supremacists who continue to rally behind the Republican nominee, though he rejects that support.

"If you accept the support of Klan sympathisers," Mr Obama said, "then you'll tolerate that support when you're in office."

At the same time, Clinton allies are speaking directly to black voters in a new advertising campaign running in Ohio, North Carolina and Florida. The ad from the pro-Clinton Priorities USA shows white Trump supporters screaming at and pushing black protesters, along with Mr Obama warning that voters would lose "everything" if Mr Trump won.

As the final-days scramble for votes intensifies, Florida remains perhaps the nation's most critical swing state.

The Trump campaign knows there is no realistic path to the White House without Florida, where polls give Mrs Clinton a narrow lead. The New York businessman campaigned in three Florida cities on Wednesday – Miami, Orlando and Pensacola – and followed up with a stop in Jacksonville on Thursday.

"We don't want to blow this," Mr Trump told rowdy supporters in Miami. "We gotta win. We gotta win big."

While Mr Trump has devoted perhaps his most valuable resource – his time – to Florida, Mrs Clinton has built a powerful ground game, backed by a dominant media presence, that dwarfs her opponent's.

She has more than doubled Mr Trump's investment in Florida television ads. Overall, the state has been deluged with 125 million dollars in general election advertising – by far the most of any state.

Unlike Mr Trump, Mrs Clinton can afford to lose there. Even with national polls narrowing, she has many more paths to the 270 electoral votes needed - she campaigned on Wednesday in Arizona, a state that has voted for Republican presidential candidates all but once since 1952.

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