Donald Trump warned on Thursday that a cloud of investigation would follow Hillary Clinton into the White House, evoking the bitter impeachment battle of the 1990s in a closing campaign argument meant to bring wayward Republicans home. Clinton and her allies, led by President Barack Obama, told voters to get serious about the alternative.
Fiercely negative exchanges between the Republican businessman and his Democratic rival signaled the long-slog campaign was likely to end on a low note, as polls show Trump closing in on Clinton in key battleground states. Clinton's shrinking lead has given Trump's campaign a glimmer of hope, one he's trying to broaden into breakthrough before time runs out.
That means courting the moderate Republicans and independents who have been the holdouts of his campaign, voters turned off by Trump's controversies but equally repelled by the possible return of the Clintons. Trump directed his message at those voters at a rally in Jacksonville, where he zeroed in on questions of Clinton's trustworthiness and a new FBI review of an aide's emails.
"Here we go again with the Clintons — you remember the impeachment and the problems." Trump said. "That's not what we need in our country, folks. We need someone who is ready to go to work."
Obama and allies, meanwhile, are seeking to keep the spotlight on Trump, charging that his disparaging comments about women and minorities make him unfit for office. The stakes are higher than a typical election and Americans need to get serious about the choice, Obama told students at Florida International University in Miami.
"This isn't a joke. This isn't 'Survivor.' This isn't 'The Bachelorette.'" Obama said. "This counts.
Obama openly taunted the former reality-TV star, zig-zagging from mockery to dire warnings to boasting about his own record in office. And he repeatedly returned to his new campaign catchphrase capturing his disbelief in the unpredictable race to replace him.
"C'mon, man," he said, to cheers.
The president's mission in the final push before Tuesday is to fire up the Democratic base — and bait the Republican into veering off message. Democrats are counting on Trump not to have the discipline or the ground game to capitalize on a late surge.
But the famously unconventional Trump has so far hewed closer to convention, running some upbeat ads, bringing out his wife for a rare campaign appearance and even talking publicly about trying not to get distracted.
"We don't want to blow it on Nov. 8," Trump said Thursday in Jacksonville.
Trump's path to victory remains narrow. He must win Florida to win the White House, no easy feat. Still, his campaign has been buoyed by tightening polls there and in other key battlegrounds, as well as by signs that African-American turnout for Clinton may be lagging.
Clinton's team will try to drive up enthusiasm in the final weekend, capping its efforts by bringing Clinton and Obama together, along with their spouses, for a final pre-election rally in Philadelphia on Monday evening.
Trump's wife, Melania Trump, campaigned in a suburb of Philadelphia on Thursday, her first turn on the trail since the Republican convention in July. The former model is trying to counter the Clinton campaign's pounding attacks on her husband as anti-woman.
Mrs. Trump said that, if she becomes first lady, she'd focus on combatting online bullying as part of her work as an advocate for women and children.
"Our culture has gotten too mean and too rough, especially to children and teenagers," she said.
She said that it's "absolutely unacceptable" when children are mocked, bullied and attacked online anonymously.
Mrs. Trump's goals may seem at odds with her husband, who has a long history of using Twitter to insult people.
Mrs Trump said: "We have to find a better way to talk to each other, to disagree with each other, to respect each other."
Late Thursday, Trump delivered a defense-themed speech in battleground North Carolina, saying he can't picture Hillary Clinton being commander in chief.
Trump saluted a dozen veterans on stage with him in Selma and asked of Clinton, "to think of her being their boss?"
Trump answered himself, saying: "I don't think so."
He also praised the veterans by saying they are "so much more brave than me. I'm brave in other ways. I'm financially brave, big deal!"
The Republican nominee also vowed to outfit the military with the best equipment and to modernize the armed forces. Trump is trying to court the sizeable military vote in North Carolina, one of the most hotly contested battleground states.
Trump isn't the first Republican to raise warnings of a new cycle of scandal and investigation. Republicans lawmakers have recently threatened to block Clinton's Supreme Court nominees, investigate her endlessly or even impeach her over her use of private emails as secretary of state.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday hit back, saying any effort to impeach Clinton "would be a brazen attempt to nullify the vote of the American people" and would be a waste of time and taxpayers' money. Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine said he was "really despaired" by the talk.