GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton made their final pitches to an anxious nation Monday, with Clinton seeking to strike a conciliatory, positive tone – and Trump, the underdog, warning of “disaster” if he loses.
On the last day of the presidential campaign, Clinton seemed to be a clear but not overwhelming favorite. She held a small lead in national polls and in key battleground states.
Both candidates were hoping that these polls had missed something: Trump hoping for a surge in white voters that would allow him to win the White House; Clinton hoping for a surge in Latino voters that would put the race away.
In Grand Rapids, Clinton talked about bringing the country together after the election was over.
“We’ve got to heal our country, or, as the Bible says, ‘repair the breach,’ because we have so much divisiveness right now,” she said. “We’ve got to start listening to each other, respecting each other.”
Trump, on his final day, offered a starkly different message, full of dark warnings about what it would mean if he didn’t win. He said the country was on a downward slope, hampered by a favor-trading political elite and a mismanaged economy. His opponent was corrupt. The system was rigged in her favor.
And – if Trump could not win on Tuesday – he said his long and surprising campaign had been worthless for everyone involved.
“If we don’t win, I will consider this the single greatest waste of time, energy . . . and money,” Trump said during a campaign stop in Raleigh. “If we don’t win, honestly, we’ve all wasted our time.”
Trump was scheduled to make stops in five states Monday: Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Michigan. He returned to themes familiar from his run to victory in the Republican primaries, attacking the news media as corrupt and protective of Clinton.
These were the last rallies for Trump, the last gatherings of an unexpected movement that had begun with his ride down the escalator at Trump Tower in summer last year. The last crowds of Trump’s campaign were boisterous, reflecting the GOP nominee’s anger and magnifying it. They broke into shouts aimed at Clinton: “Lock her up!”
In Raleigh, when Trump mentioned President Barack Obama, some yelled out the same for the president: “Lock him up!” The atmosphere grew especially rowdy at a late afternoon stop in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where shouts of “She’s a demon!” and “She’s a witch!” could be heard as Trump lambasted Clinton.
Clinton was scheduled to be in several states, making two stops in Pennsylvania and a stop here in Michigan, before planning to end the day with a midnight rally in Raleigh, N.C.
President Obama also made four stops – events that ended a chapter in his political career. Obama had begun his rise to the White House by defeating Clinton, the clear favorite, in the 2008 Democratic primaries.
In making his last campaign appearances as president, he tried to help Clinton win the office he’d denied her eight years before. “I am asking you to trust me on this one,” Obama said at a stop in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Later in the day, in the college town of Durham, New Hampshire, Obama grew reflective, noting it was his final solo rally as president.
He recounted the story of Edith Childs, the Greenwood, South Carolina, city councilwoman who coined the 2008 Obama campaign slogan, “Fired Up! Ready to Go!” – the same story he told at his last rally on the eve of his first election.
“It’s not often you have a chance to shape history. The world is watching us,” the president told thousands of cheering supporters who filled an arena at the University of New Hampshire.
“This is one of those moments,” Obama added. “Don’t let it slip away.”
Later in the evening, Clinton held a massive rally with more than 33,000 supporters outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia, featuring a performance by rock-and-roll icon Bruce Springsteen. Clinton told that crowd that “every issue that you care about is at stake.”
Joined by former president Bill Clinton, their daughter, Chelsea, President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, the Democratic nominee pivoted away from the email controversy that dogged much of her campaign, casting the election as a choice “between division and unity.”
“We choose to believe in a hopeful, inclusive, big-hearted America,” she said.
Michelle Obama, widely regarded as Clinton’s most effective surrogate, spoke emotionally about the prospect of electing the first female president.
“Speaking here tonight is the last and most important thing I can do for my country as first lady,” she said.
Warning that presidential campaigns are “breathtakingly close,” Obama declared that the election “is in our hands.”
“If we get out and vote tomorrow, Hillary Clinton will win,” she said. “But if we stay home or we play around with a protest vote, then Hillary’s opponent will win. Period, end of story.”
At the same time, Trump held a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire – scene of his first primary victory – in which he returned to themes of his aggressive primary campaign. He attacked the media. He called Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic senator from nearby Massachusetts, “Pocahontas.” He talked up his crowd size: “Hillary can’t fill a room. Look at this, look at this, this is called filling a stadium,” Trump said, in an arena that seats less than 12,000. He then told the crowd he had received support from New England Patriots star Tom Brady and the team’s coach, Bill Belichick.
Polls will open across the country Tuesday morning, and the first polls will begin to close at 6 p.m. Eastern time. Although millions of Americans voted before Election Day, there were still some key states – notably Pennsylvania and New Hampshire – where nearly all voting will take place on Tuesday. Those states got special focus from both camps on Monday.
For Trump, his message Monday was heavily influenced by the big news from the day before, when FBI Director James Comey said the bureau had completed its examination of newly discovered emails belonging to a Clinton aide – an examination that had roiled the presidential race when it was first revealed last month. He said there was nothing in the emails to change the bureau’s months-old decision not to seek charges against Clinton, the former secretary of state, for using a private email server to conduct government business.
Trump, who had been trailing badly in many polls when the new emails were revealed, has since narrowed the gap, leaning on a message that Clinton was “crooked” and likely to be charged. On Monday, Trump changed his message about the emails, but only slightly – adding Comey to his target list for criticism.
At a midafternoon rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, where a supporter held up a sign reading, “Comey You’re Fired,” Trump said the FBI director was “obviously under tremendous pressure” to conclude the inquiry.
At the same rally, Trump painted a bleak picture of an America under Clinton, warning of imminent “disaster,” a hobbled economy and politics dominated by special interests.
“It’s up to the American people to deliver the justice that we deserve at the ballot box tomorrow,” he declared. “We’re going to win.”
“Drain the swamp!” his supporters chanted moments later.
In the last few days of the campaign, Trump has invested time and resources in blue-leaning states, including Minnesota, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Most recent opinion polls show Clinton leading in all three, but Trump is hoping for a surge among white voters who lack college degrees.
“The miners are going to come out. The steelworkers who lost their jobs are going to come out,” Trump said Monday. He said that polls showing him behind were simply rigged. “The women are going to come out big. It is all a phony deal. They are telling you a lot of phony stuff.”
Trump also claimed – without presenting any evidence – that he was doing better than expected among African Americans and Hispanics.
In fact, there are signs that strong Hispanic turnout could provide a big boost to Clinton. Polls have shown black and Hispanic voters overwhelmingly favor Clinton, and Clinton’s campaign has touted heavy turnout among Hispanic and Asian Americans in early voting in Florida, Nevada and North Carolina.
More than 6.4 million voters in Florida have voted early, up nearly 35 percent over 2012, according to the Clinton campaign, with big early surges in majority-Hispanic Miami-Dade County.
“We are on the path to see more Americans vote than we have ever seen in our history,” Clinton said in Pittsburgh. “If the lines are long tomorrow, please wait.”
Clinton made no mention of the conclusion of the FBI’s email investigation during her campaign appearances.
In a TV interview, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook criticized Comey’s handling of the probe as “bizarre.”
“We were glad obviously that this was resolved,” Mook told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I don’t understand why he couldn’t have just looked into the matter and resolved it and not created such a ruckus in the campaign, but we’re just glad in this last day Hillary can get back on the road.”
At her events, Clinton assailed Trump, ticking through the groups of people she said the businessman and reality TV star had targeted or offended. Clinton also criticized Trump for apparently paying no federal income taxes for several years and for refusing to release copies of his tax returns.
“There must be something really terrible in there,” she said in a mocking tone.
This election – more than usual – has been a slugfest between unpopular candidates, with each hoping that the other’s flaws will get more attention. On the last day, Clinton sought to cast herself as the opposite of Trump and to offer some hope for the country that the winner of this election will lead.
“We don’t have to accept a dark and divisive vision for America,” Clinton said in Pittsburgh. “Tomorrow you can vote for a hopeful, inclusive, big-hearted America.”
The Justice Department said Monday that it would deploy more than 500 poll watchers from its Civil Rights Division to monitor voting in 67 jurisdictions in 28 states, including at least three in each of the swing states. Many of the jurisdictions have large Native American, black, Latino and Muslim populations.
The department said its lawyers would be working to enforce federal voting rights laws “to ensure that every eligible person that wants to do so is able to cast a ballot.” It also has a hotline (toll free at 1-800-253-3931 or 202-307-3931) to register complaints.
Sullivan reported from Raleigh. David Nakamura, in Durham, N.H., and Matea Gold and Scott Clement in Washington contributed to this report.
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