The final get-out-the-vote push ratcheted up the intensity of a highly unusual campaign that’s already exhausted many Americans and threatens to leave a deeply divided nation separated even more.
As both campaigns raced to the finish, Republican Trump was hit with a distraction when two former aides to New Jersey governor Chris Christie were convicted on Friday of creating a traffic jam for what prosecutors say was political revenge.
Christie, who had been scheduled to campaign on Trump’s behalf this weekend, is serving as the head of transition planning for a potential Trump administration and the convictions brought corruption talk uncomfortably close to the nominee.
A former Republican presidential candidate himself, Christie continued to say he had no knowledge of the plot to punish a mayor for refusing to endorse his re-election bid by closing access lanes to the George Washington Bridge. During the trial, however, jurors were told Christie was aware of the scheme and he was painted as a bully who punished dissenters.
The convictions offered Clinton, a Democrat, a fresh line of attack, using Trump’s own slogan about cleaning up Washington against him. “He might start by draining his own swamp and asking Mr. Christie to resign as the head of his transition,’’ John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman, told reporters aboard her plane.
Trump continued to strike at Clinton for her use of a private e-mail server during her time as secretary of state and made no mention of Christie, as he sought to project momentum for his unconventional bid. “Those polls are like rocket ships," he said Friday in Wilmington, Ohio.
The candidates are chasing each other through the most competitive states, as national and state-level data suggest Clinton has an edge in the quest for the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House.
Clinton on Friday tended to what she hopes will be a Midwest firewall, logging stops in Pennsylvania and Michigan, states where Trump is making a late play with his appeal to white, working-class voters. She also attended a “get-out-the-vote performance’’ with Beyonce and the rapper Jay Z and other performers in Cleveland, trying to spur black turnout in a state Trump can’t afford to lose.
“Look how far we’ve come from having no voice,’’ Beyonce said. “But we have to vote.’’
Clinton is also returning to Cleveland on Sunday, the final day of early voting in the state, for a rally with LeBron James, the native Ohioan who brought the National Basketball Association championship to Cleveland with the Cavaliers last season and who has endorsed Clinton.
Trump spoke to a crowd of about 12,000 people in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Friday and took a dig at Clinton’s celebrity surrogates. “I hear we set a new record for this building," He said. “And by the way, I didn’t have to bring J. Lo or Jay Z. I’m here all by myself. I am here all by myself. Just me. No guitar. No piano. No nothing."
The Democratic nominee added a stop in Detroit and her campaign is pouring more money into advertising in Michigan amid concerns that her lead is softening as the race tightens in the final days, especially after Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey’s announcement 11 days before the election that the agency was examining newly discovered e-mails that might pertain to the earlier investigation of her use of the e-mail server.
In a Friday interview broadcast by MSNBC, President Barack Obama stopped short of any direct criticism of Comey, while implicitly acknowledging complaints by Democrats that the FBI director needlessly roiled the final days of a presidential campaign.
“Historically, both under Democratic and Republican administrations, our goal has been — and should be — that our investigators and our prosecutors are independent of politics," Obama said. “They’re not politicized. They’re not used as a weapon to advantage either side in partisan arguments. And I want to make sure we continue with that tradition and that norm."
During a speech in Pittsburgh, Clinton used a jobs report released Friday that showed employers added 161,000 workers last month to help contrast her position on the economy with Trump.
“I believe that our economy is poised to really take off and thrive,’’ she said. In a statement, Trump called the report “disastrous."
The Democratic nominee called on her supporters to help her win a mandate, saying that they would then have “a big wind behind our backs going in."
As she has throughout the campaign, Clinton argued Trump is unqualified and unfit to be president and asked her audiences to picture him in the Oval Office.
“Sometimes the fate of the greatest nations comes down to single moments in time," she said in Pittsburgh. “This is one of those make-or-break moments for the United States. It is in your hands."
Although her campaign put resources into traditionally Republican states such as Arizona, Podesta told reporters that the focus in the final days will be on the battleground states where the campaign was built to compete most aggressively.
“We’re crisscrossing the states that we still feel very good about, that we believe will produce the 270 votes or plus that she’s going to need to be elected president of the United States,’’ he said. “We’re feeling confident that we’re still in an excellent shape to do that."
During an appearance on Friday in North Carolina, Obama sought to boost the black vote during a rally in Fayetteville where he revisited themes from his 2008 campaign. Speaking to a university crowd of more than 4,000, Obama sparked chants of “yes we can’’ and called on voters to “choose hope.’’
The president also appealed to members of his coalition to vote, using imagery of the Civil Rights era and saying Trump had accepted support from sympathizers of the Ku Klux Klan.
“It wasn’t that long ago when folks were beaten trying to register voters in Mississippi," he said. “So the idea that you would give your vote away? That you would sit there and not even take the 15 minutes to walk across the street to vote?" Bloomberg