Wednesday 13 December 2017

Trump's 'catch and kill' plan revealed as Clinton looks secure in Nevada

Star power: Beyonce, Hillary Clinton and Jay Z campaigning Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Star power: Beyonce, Hillary Clinton and Jay Z campaigning Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

David Lawler

Donald Trump appeared to suffer a blow to his bid for the White House yesterday, as early voting in Nevada showed Hillary Clinton with a near-insurmountable lead.

Clark County, a heavily Democratic district which includes Las Vegas, had a record turnout on Friday, the last day of early voting, with 73,000 more Democrats than Republicans voting early.

Approximately 70pc of Nevada voters cast their ballots early, meaning the state is now all but certain to belong to Clinton.

Nevada had been seen - along with North Carolina, Florida and Ohio - as one of four toss-up races, a sweep of which could have propelled Trump to the presidency. Without it, Trump's path to the White House becomes much more difficult. He will have to break down Clinton's "firewall" of Democrat-leaning states, including New Hampshire, Michigan and Pennsylvania, in order to prevail.

Despite Friday's results, the billionaire made a stop in the state during a whirlwind tour yesterday that spanned both coasts, as he made a bid for every last vote before Tuesday's election.

The Republican nominee has been buoyed by having sliced into Hillary Clinton's once-formidable lead - yesterday at 1.8 points in an aggregate of polls - and seems determined to bridge the gap by sheer force of will.

By the close of day he was to have logged nearly 5,000 miles and held rallies in four battleground states - Florida and North Carolina in the south-east, Nevada and Colorado in the west - over the course of 16 gruelling hours.

Clinton, meanwhile, scheduled just one event, in Florida. She was to travel to Philadelphia afterward to join the pop singer Katy Perry at a get-out-the-vote concert.

The disparity was not lost on Trump, who also has six events planned for the final two days of the campaign. "She has no energy," he said at his first stop in Florida. "You know you need energy to help this country.

"I'm going to be doing five or six of these every day," he continued, with a dash of hyperbole. "She goes home and she goes to sleep." Trump also took a swipe at Clinton for the comparatively sparse attendance at her rallies, claiming she could only turn out large crowds if she brought along a celebrity. "We don't need Jay Z to fill up arenas, we do it the old fashioned way," he said.

There was a sense of cautious optimism among the thousands who turned out to see Trump at an air hangar in Wilmington. As they waited in a queue that seemed to snake to the horizon, some speculated that millions of voters across the country secretly supported the billionaire candidate and would help him surge to a clear victory. Others were certain Clinton was limiting her public appearances because she was secretly ill.

John Ledo used just one word to explain Trump's relentless campaign schedule.

"Testosterone," he said. "It's about testosterone and she don't have any." Ledo worked as a steelworker in Ohio before moving to North Carolina in search of work.

"Who do you know that's working?" he said in explaining his support for Trump. "Who do you know that's got a job? Who do you know around this country that's saying, 'this is the best year I ever had?' Ain't nobody saying that."

If Donald Trump has lost Nevada, he will need gains in Democrat-leaning states such as New Hampshire and Colorado, leaving the election to come down to Ohio, Florida and North Carolina, where the two nominees remain virtually deadlocked.

North Carolina is not a traditional swing state. Other than Barack Obama's upset victory over John McCain in 2008 the southern state has voted Republican in every election since 1976, but expanding suburbs and a growing Hispanic population have seen the Tarheel State drift toward the Democrats.

Lagging early turnout among black voters seemed to portend a Trump victory, leading Clinton to dispatch President Obama to the state three times in the past week. Robby Mook, Clinton's campaign manager, said the overall voting trends left the campaign confident of picking up North Carolina's 15 electoral votes.

Donald Trump disagrees. He predicted a "great victory" on Tuesday while bemoaning the negative coverage of his campaign in the media, claiming to be the victim of "the greatest pile-on in the history of politics".

Reports emerged yesterday that a supermarket tabloid had paid €135,000 to shield Trump from allegations that he had an affair with a former Playboy model in 2006 while married to his wife Melania.

Karen McDougal, the 1998 Playmate of the year, sold her account to the National Enquirer but the allegations were never published, according to the Wall Street Journal, which reported that the purchase appeared to be part of so-called "catch and kill" strategy.

American Media Inc (AMI), which owns the Enquirer, released a statement admitting it had paid McDougal the sum - but not for her story, but to feature her in the magazine and for exclusive rights to any future affair allegations.

"AMI has not paid people to kill damaging stories about Mr Trump," the statement said. Donald Trump and David Pecker, AMI's chief executive, are long-time friends.

The Enquirer posted multiple dubious articles during the primary elections about Ted Cruz - then Trump's chief rival - including allegations he had several mistresses and that his father had links to Lee Harvey Oswald, John F Kennedy's assassin.

Meanwhile, Melania Trump was accused of working illegally in the US when she first arrived in the Nineties. Reports said she received $20,056 for modelling jobs before she had legal permission to work in America.

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