KING OF PRUSSIA, Pennsylvania — With just a week to go and the race for the White House tightening, Hillary Clinton — with help from President Barack Obama — unleashed a fresh offensive Tuesday against Donald Trump and his vulgar comments about women. Trump strove to blend a quieter, presidential tone with his usual tough rhetoric, warning that a Clinton victory would “destroy American health care forever.”
The White House contenders clashed from afar —Clinton in battleground Florida and Trump in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — with the sprint to next Tuesday’s finish well underway.
“For my entire life, I’ve been a woman,” Clinton, who would be the nation’s first female president, declared in critical Florida. “And when I think about what we now know about Donald Trump and what he’s been doing for 30 years, he sure has spent a lot of time demeaning, degrading, insulting and assaulting women.”
Trump has faced multiple allegations of sexual misconduct in recent weeks, complicating his efforts to win over women in both parties. He has denied every accusation, but Obama said there was a pattern at work to which voters needed to pay heed.
“This is a lifetime of calling women pigs and dogs and slobs,” Obama said at a rally in Ohio. “The part we’re concerned about is if we start acting like this is normal.”
For Trump, he spent the day relentlessly on message, eschewing wild tangents and political fights in favor of carefully scripted remarks focused on health care and attacks on his opponent. He cautioned that Clinton’s plan to strengthen “Obamacare” would lead to dire consequences, although he offered few specifics about his own plan.
“If we don’t repeal and replace Obamacare, we will destroy American health care forever,” Trump charged in a speech outside Philadelphia.
He also promised, if elected, to call a special session of Congress to replace the law. However, Congress would already be in session when the next president takes office, raising the question of just what he meant.
Clinton worked to ensure voters would not forget Trump’s most damaging moments six days before the election.
Alicia Machado, a former beauty queen who Trump previously described as “Miss Piggy,” introduced the Democratic nominee before her appearance in central Florida.
“He was cruel,” Machado said of Trump’s criticism of her weight. “For years afterward I was sick, fighting back eating disorders.”
Trump spent several days in late September assailing the winner of his 1996 Miss Universe pageant and encouraging his Twitter followers to view her “sex tape,” although none exists. The Machado appearance was in line with Clinton’s broader closing argument against Trump.
“He thinks belittling women makes him a bigger man,” Clinton said. “He doesn’t see us as full human beings.”
Clinton also unveiled a television ad set to run in eight battleground states, including his remark caught in a 2005 video that he kissed women and grabbed their genitals without permission. Obama, amid his pitch to working-class voters in Ohio, tried to boil the choice down to a question of character, saying the Oval Office “amplifies who you are. It magnifies who you are. It shows who you are.”
“If you disrespected women before you were elected, you will disrespect women once you’re president,” Obama said.
And speaking directly to men, Obama said “we have to get over the hump” of electing the first woman president.
“I just want to be honest with you because she’s been out there for so long sometimes in this culture we always want to see the new shiny object,” he said.
Trump, however, did not immediately take the bait. In Wisconsin, he urged early voters there who “are having a bad case of buyer’s remorse” to change their ballots before Thursday’s deadline. Four states — Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania — allow early vote switches but the practice is extremely rare, according to the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College.
Still, frustrated Republicans were encouraged that Trump was focusing on policy prescriptions — for one day, at least — after a roller-coaster campaign marked by self-created controversy and political missteps.
Meanwhile, both sides continued to spar over the recent revelation that FBI investigators are again probing Clinton’s email practices.
A lawyer for Clinton aide Huma Abedin said Tuesday that her client learned from media reports last Friday that a laptop belonging to her estranged husband, Anthony Weiner, might contain some of her emails. The attorney said Abedin has not been contacted by the FBI about the development and she will cooperate if asked.
The revelation has put Democrats on the defensive, at least briefly, and hurt Clinton’s plans to promote a positive message over the campaign’s final week.
“The Trump campaign is on the offensive and we’re expanding our map,” Trump aide David Bossie said, suggesting the campaign now sees opportunities to compete in traditional Democratic states such as New Mexico and Michigan.
Yet few Republican or Democratic operatives view the email news as a game-changer in the race for Senate control. The balance of power in Congress could have profound consequences for the future of health care in America, among other policy debates.
Trump on Tuesday promised to replace the federal health care law with health care savings accounts, while allowing states to craft their own Medicaid programs to cover the poor.
The nonpartisan Center for Health and Economy determined this summer that Trump’s proposal would lower premiums significantly for policies purchased directly by consumers but also make 18 million people uninsured. The nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund predicted that 20 million people would lose coverage under Trump’s plan while Clinton’swould add coverage for 9 million.
Trump on Tuesday seized on projections of sharp health care cost increases as he campaigned in Pennsylvania, a state where some premiums are expected to rise by more than 40 percent. He was introduced by his running mate Mike Pence, who expanded Medicaid coverage as part of Obama’s law as Indiana governor.
Pence called Obamacare “a crushing weight” on the American economy. “We’re going to pull it off the market so it stops burning up our wallets,” he declared.
JONATHAN LEMIRE, Associated Press
STEVE PEOPLES, Associated Press