PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — With the turbulent White House race scrambled in new directions, Donald Trump is campaigning with rare discipline like his presidential campaign hinges on one all-too-familiar swing state: Florida.
“‘Stay on point, Donald, stay on point,”‘ the Republican nominee, in Pensacola, teasingly quoted his staff as saying. “No sidetracks, Donald. Nice and easy. Nice and easy.”‘
There was late action Wednesday in such unlikely arenas as Arizona and Michigan, too — and in North Carolina, where President Barack Obama tried to energize black support for Hillary Clinton. But Trump marched ahead in his third multi-day visit to the Sunshine State in recent weeks.
The Republican nominee 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 secretary of state’s email practices. But Trump did not take the bait dangled by the Clinton campaign about his treatment of women.
Conceding nothing in the state, Clinton has also been a frequent visitor. She posed for pictures and shook hands during a surprise visit to a South Florida Caribbean-American neighborhood 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. 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’s given Trump an enthusiasm boost in Florida and across Midwestern battlegrounds long considered reliably blue territory.
“I’m definitely nervous,” said former Pennsylvania Gov. 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 Rendell’s warning, Clinton’s team is devoting new resources to states like Michigan, which hasn’t supported a Republican presidential nominee in nearly three decades.
Former President Bill Clinton was making an unannounced appearance in Detroit Wednesday night to meet privately with black ministers, the city’s mayor and other local leaders. While Hillary Clinton had two appearances Wednesday in Republican-leaning Arizona, she planned to spend part of Friday in Detroit as well.
At the same time, a pro-Clinton super PAC was spending more than $1 million on Michigan airwaves along with at least $1 million more in Colorado, another state where 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 5 percentage point drop in ballots from black voters from 2012.
Obama, the nation’s first black president, offered an urgent message to North Carolina voters on Wednesday: “The fate of the Republic rests on your shoulders.”
He also criticized Trump’s history of sexist comments and his initial reluctance to disavow white supremacists. They continue to rally behind the Republican nominee, though he rejects that support.
“If you accept the support of Klan sympathizers,” 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 Obama warning that voters would lose “everything” if Trump wins.
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 Clinton a narrow lead. The New York businessman campaigned in three Florida cities Wednesday — Miami, Orlando and Pensacola — and will follow up with a stop in Jacksonville on Thursday.
“We don’t want to blow this,” he told rowdy supporters in Miami. “We gotta win. We gotta win big.”
While Trump has devoted perhaps his most valuable resource — his time — to Florida, Clinton has built a powerful ground game, backed by a dominant media presence, that dwarfs her opponent’s. The Democratic nominee has more than doubled Trump’s investment in Florida television ads. Overall, the state has been deluged with $125 million in general election advertising — by far the most of any state.
Clinton, unlike Trump, can also afford to lose here.
Even with national polls narrowing, the Democratic contender has many more paths to 270 electoral votes. One example: Clinton campaigned Wednesday in Arizona, a state that has voted for Republican presidential candidates all but once since 1952.
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