LEESBURG, United States: White House rivals Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were due to duel Monday for a handful of must-win states in an end-game election frenzy capping a historically divisive campaign.
With less than 48 hours until voting day, it was unclear whether the Democrat could convert into electoral gain the announcement Sunday that the FBI had cleared her again of wrongdoing over her email use.
Clinton’s popularity had dipped after FBI Director James Comey dropped a campaign bombshell eight days earlier with a reopened inquiry into whether she exposed US secrets by using a private email server while serving as secretary of state.
Opinion polls had tightened as Trump began to recover ground lost while battling accusations of sexual assault, and the race looked headed for a photo finish.
The billionaire Republican contender, who has whipped up a populist grassroots movement among largely white male voters, landed in Sarasota, Florida early Monday and was met by an enthusiastic crowd.
After a stop there, the 70-year-old is due to fly to rallies in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, before ending with a late event in Michigan.
In Virginia Sunday, he stoked supporters at a post-midnight rally with stock attacks on his rival, branding her the “most corrupt candidate ever to seek the office of the presidency.”
Clinton, the former secretary of state running to become America’s first female president, had events planned through midnight Monday to take her into polling day itself.
The Democrat spent the last eight days of campaigning under a renewed FBI inquiry into whether she had exposed US secrets by using a private email server at the State Department.
That burden was finally lifted on Sunday, when the FBI confirmed it would not seek criminal charges, but at the cost of another cycle of headlines about an issue that has hurt her.
She tried to end Sunday’s round of rallies on a note of optimism about the United States, albeit couched as a warning that her supporters need to rise to counter the Trump threat.
“I really want each and every one of us to think for a moment about how we would feel on November 9, if we were not successful,” she said in Manchester, New Hampshire
“When your kids and grandkids ask you what you did in 2016, when everything was on the line, I hope you’ll be able to say you voted for a better, stronger, fairer America.”
The world has looked on agog during the campaign, as Trump’s once mocked reality television shtick became a plausible vehicle for victory in a divided and suspicious country.
World markets were rocked last month when the renewed FBI probe threatened to sink Clinton’s chances, and Asian exchanges opened higher after that threat was lifted.
But Trump came back fighting, and experts said the renewed scandal had already damaged the Democratic former first lady’s chance of succeeding President Barack Obama.
Clinton’s lead dropped from 5.7 to 2.9 percentage points in the week since the scandal returned, according to influential data journalist Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com.
Trump is predicting a ballot upset on a par with Britain’s shock vote this year to quit the European Union, or what on Sunday he called: “Brexit plus, plus, plus.”
“The rank and file special agents of the FBI won’t let her get away with her terrible crimes,” Trump told a rally in Michigan, a state won comfortably by Obama in 2012.
“Right now she’s being protected by a rigged system. It’s a totally rigged system. I’ve been saying it for a long time,” he declared, as his supporters chanted “Lock her up!”
Opinion polls tightened as Trump began to recover ground he lost after several women accused him of sexual assault, and the race looked headed for a photo finish.
Clinton made no direct reference to her reprieve during her Sunday campaign stops.
Instead, she hammered her opponent over his sometimes ugly rhetoric and, implicitly, the alleged covert Russian interference that have poisoned the race.