LEESBURG, United States, Nov 7 – Five campaign stops in five states in a single frenzied day. An FBI bombshell announcement. Painful delays. And supporters both jittery and exuberant about Election Day, desperate to hear from their outsider hero.
Republican Donald Trump careened into the final 48 hours of a toxic and bruising US presidential campaign Sunday, shifting into overdrive his effort to flip Democratic states as he battles Hillary Clinton for the White House.
With the entire 18-month race boiling down to the last two days, Trump covered nearly 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) as he hop-scotched from Denver to Sioux City to Minneapolis to Sterling Heights near Detroit to Pittsburgh, and finally stopping in a chilly barn in a county fairgrounds in Leesburg before heading to Florida.
Of the states in which those cities are located Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia only Iowa is currently leaning Republican, a clear sign Trump is making a last-gasp play for blue territory that could help score a historic upset.
The heart of his populist message at each rally Sunday was the same: it’s now or never to reject America’s “corrupt” establishment.
“She’s with them. I’m with you,” he boomed in Minneapolis, where his jet rolled up to a hangar packed with thousands of supporters.
When Trump was later driven toward supporters he stood on the vehicle’s running board and triumphantly raised a clenched fist.
Minutes later his jet roared down the tarmac, bound for Michigan and beyond.
‘Justice at the ballot’
US presidential campaigns become frantic affairs in the final week of the race. Secret Service agents are stretched to the limit as they protect multiple sites per day, and travel in and outside of the official motorcades can get harried.
While Clinton’s campaign operation has expanded to include a separate press plane in addition to the three dozen journalists who travel on her “Stronger Together” jet, it still managed a sense of order Sunday as she campaigned in Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Hampshire.
Controlled chaos marked Trump’s campaign, whose press bus sideswiped a sedan as it left the Sioux City.
The press following Trump do not fly with him. Instead they are herded onto a “chase plane,” which usually has no senior Trump aides or surrogates aboard.
In the middle of Trump’s Sunday marathon, FBI director James Comey sent shockwaves through the campaign just 36 hours before the election.
He told lawmakers that after the FBI reviewed thousands of recently discovered Clinton emails, he decided not to change his July recommendation that Clinton not be prosecuted for putting US secrets at risk while serving as secretary of state.
Trump was determined to not let Clinton off the hook.
“The rank and file special agents of the FBI won’t let her get away with her terrible crimes,” Trump told supporters in Michigan, a state won by President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Later, in a rally near Pittsburgh, he suggested the scandal could inspire his supporters to vote.
“Now it’s up to the American people to deliver justice at the ballot,” he said.
During the endless day schedules frayed, and by midnight about 2,000 supporters were still awaiting Trump in Leesburg, where he had been scheduled to speak at 9:30 pm.
Finally, with Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr — son of the famed evangelist of the same name — introducing him as “America’s blue-collar billionaire,” Trump took the stage at 12:20 am (0520 GMT Monday).
“This is a marathon today,” Trump told the crowd. “We’ll call this the midnight special speech.”
Virginia appears to be safely in Clinton’s column, but Trump predicted an upset.
“You have to get everyone you know to the polls,” he said. “We are going to have one of the great victories of all time. This is going to be Brexit times 50.”
Not everyone was so sure.
Artie Battles said he was anxious, even frightened, about the culmination of the campaign.
“You’re coming to the realization that within the next couple days this whole thing’s coming to an end… and your hope for change may not necessarily come to fruition,” the 29-year-old mechanic said as he held his toddler son.
“I’ve got two kids, and their future rides on this.”
Jim Kiefer, a retired insurance professional with 16 grandchildren, said he was impressed by Trump’s stamina.
“High energy for an old guy, huh?” Kiefer said.
But he turned serious when he contemplated a Trump loss.
“If the Democrats get elected… I think America will become Sodom and Gomorrah.”