ORLANDO, Fla. ― Donald Trump continued riding the lift he received from the FBI’s revisiting of its Hillary Clinton email investigation into Florida Wednesday, where he remains slightly behind in a state he cannot afford to lose.
“In six days, we are going to win the great state of Florida, and we’re going to win back the White House,” the Republican presidential nominee predicted to loud cheers, but then reminded his audience that they had to get out and vote. “We don’t want to blow it. That I can tell you.”
If Democratic nominee Clinton were to win Florida’s 29 electoral votes ― as President Barack Obama did in both 2008 and 2012 ― it would virtually guarantee her the White House. Trump would need to take every other battleground state, and flip at least two historically Democratic states, to win the presidency.
At a lakeside amphitheater at the Central Florida Fairgrounds, Trump projected confidence to his several thousand rally-goers that he would do exactly that.
“We’re winning in Florida,” Trump said to applause, and then claimed great polling numbers in other states, too, including Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Virginia. “But we are seriously up in Florida. That’s very important.”
In fact, HuffPost Pollster shows Trump 2.5 points behind in Florida, and trailing even further in Pennsylvania and Virginia. He does hold a slight lead in Iowa, but was losing in Ohio by a small margin.
In his half-hour speech, Trump hit his usual themes when reading prepared scripts off his teleprompter: renegotiating trade agreements, instituting ethics reforms, and providing statistics about crime and lost jobs in Florida.
He did, though, frequently go off script to attack Clinton over FBI Director James Comey’s announcement last week that he had asked agents to look through a cache of emails from the laptop of former congressman Anthony Weiner to see if any related to the earlier investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server. Weiner is the estranged husband of Huma Abedin, a top Clinton aide, whose emails were found among the 650,000 messages on the computer.
Trump suggested to his audience, though, that all 650,000 emails somehow belonged to Clinton, and that many of them contained sensitive government information.
“I would say classified, confidential, I think they’re probably all over the place. I think they’re going to find the treasure trove,” Trump said. “You know, when they deleted 33,000 I thought that was a lot. They have 650,000?”
Trump also hit another off-script favorite, attacking the media covering his event for not showing the size of crowds ― yet again revealing his non-traditional view of rallies.
Campaign visits are about winning local media coverage, particularly local television newscasts, according to both Democratic and Republican campaign professionals. The more times candidates and their marquee surrogates visit key cities, the more useful “free” media is generated.
And if Trump is feeling outgunned in this area, it’s because he is. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and her former president husband on Tuesday made six Florida appearances in four different media markets.
Even as Trump filled his Wednesday with stops in Miami, Orlando and Pensacola, Vice President Joe Biden was hitting Tampa and West Palm Beach. And Thursday, when Trump goes to the Jacksonville Equestrian Center in the city’s suburbs, he’ll be up against Obama’s visit across the St. John’s River at the University of North Florida.
Trump also faces organizational disadvantages in this key state, largely of his own making. He and his campaign did not bother building a traditional voter targeting and turnout operation for months after locking down the nomination in May. As a result, Clinton’s state operation has several times more paid staffers working to get her supporters to the polls, while Trump is mainly relying on the Republican National Committee and ― ironically ― the Republican Party of Florida’s legacy absentee ballot program built under former Gov. Jeb Bush, Trump’s favorite punching bag during the primaries.
Rick Wilson, a longtime Florida GOP strategist who supported Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in the primaries and is now working on independent Evan McMullin’s campaign, said a candidate with a strong organization might be doing significantly better than tied or a few points behind.
“On Earth 2, GOP nominee Rubio, Senate candidate Lopez-Cantera and the Florida House and Florida Senate committees work together to deploy a broad, multilingual, data-driven army of young, motivated volunteers,” Wilson said.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.