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Thursday, October 19, 2017

By Amanda Becker and Emily Stephenson

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.,/RALEIGH, N.C. (Reuters) – The U.S. presidential campaigns neared their end on Monday in the same angry tone they began, with Republican Donald Trump calling Hillary Clinton a “phony” and the Democrat accusing him of splitting the country, as a new Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll pointed to a strong chance of her winning.

Clinton and Trump raced through several battleground states in a last-ditch attempt to encourage their respective supporters to show up at polling places on Tuesday.

Clinton sought to capture more support from Latinos, African-Americans and young people, while Trump was looking to rev up disaffected middle class he said has been sidelined by the political establishment.

A Reuters/Ipsos States of the Nation poll gave Clinton a 90 percent chance of defeating Trump and said she was on track to win 303 Electoral College votes out of 270 needed, to Trump’s 235.

With surveys indicating a tight race in Michigan, which Democrats had long counted on winning, both candidates made campaign appearances there. Pennsylvania, another vote-rich state, was also seen as fertile ground in the closing hours of the two campaigns.

Clinton was bolstered on the campaign trail by President Barack Obama, who spoke at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, urging young people who supported him in 2008 and 2012 to do the same for Clinton.

Obama, ending his second term in office with strong approval ratings, reiterated his charge that Trump is “temperamentally unfit to be commander in chief,” and cast the wealthy New York real estate developer as out of touch with most Americans.

“In his 70 years on Earth, the Donald has never shown any regard for working folks. I don’t think he knows working people, except for the folks who clean up in his hotels and the folks who mow the fairway on his golf course,” Obama said.

With only hours left before Election Day, the Clinton campaign was boosted by Sunday’s unexpected announcement by FBI Director James Comey that the agency stood by its July decision not to press any criminal charges in an investigation of Clinton’s email practices while she was secretary of state.

The latest opinion polls tapping into popular support for each candidate rather than Electoral College support, showed former Secretary of State Clinton narrowly ahead: a 5 percentage point lead over Trump nationally – with 44 percent to 39 percent support, according to latest Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Races in Florida and North Carolina were shifting, however, from favoring Clinton to being too close to call.

Clinton who is trying to become the first woman elected to the White House, had a 4 percentage point lead over Trump in separate polls by Fox News and CBS News that were released on Monday.

Financial markets brightened in reaction to the latest twists in what has been a volatile presidential campaign. Global stock markets surged, as did the U.S. dollar, putting them on track for their biggest gains in weeks, as investors saw Sunday’s announcement by Comey as boosting Clinton’s chances of winning.

Clinton’s comfortable lead had eroded since late last month and investors had been unnerved by the tightening race, preferring what is seen as a known quantity in Clinton, over the political wild card, Trump.

While opinion polls show a close race, but tilting toward Clinton, major bookmakers and online exchanges were more confident of a Clinton victory. PredictIt put her chances of capturing the White House at 81 percent.

Victory is earned not by winning the popular vote, but by coming first in the Electoral College system which awards the White House on the basis of state-by-state wins, meaning a handful of states where the race is close assume an outsized importance.

‘LED BY STUPID PEOPLE’

Trump, a former reality TV star who had never previously run for public office, began his last day of campaigning in Sarasota, Florida, where he and Clinton have been locked in a tough battle in a state with a large Hispanic-American voting population.

Trump gave no ground to Clinton or to polls showing her with a narrow lead. Predicting he would win, he told supporters in Sarasota that Clinton “is such a phony” and, “We’re tired of being led by stupid people.”

Trump also had stops in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Michigan, closing with a late-night rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Clinton was to make two stops in Pennsylvania and visit Michigan before wrapping up with a midnight rally in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her day includes an evening event in Philadelphia with Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and rock star Bruce Springsteen.

Speaking briefly to reporters in Pittsburgh, Clinton pressed her commitment to bringing the country together.

“I think that these splits, these divides that have been not only exposed but exacerbated by the campaign on the other side are ones that we really do have to … bring the country together,” Clinton said.

COMEY SURPRISE

The FBI’s Comey sent shockwaves through the race when he told Congress on Sunday that investigators had reviewed recently discovered emails and found no reason to change their July finding that there was no criminal wrongdoing in Clinton’s use of a private email server, rather than a government system, while she was the top U.S. diplomat from 2009-2013.

Trump, who drew wide criticism last month when he said the election was rigged against him and that he would not yet commit to respecting the outcome, questioned the thoroughness of the FBI review and said the issue would not go away.

Tammy Regis, 42, a disabled Army veteran who served in Iraq and now lives in Palmetto, Florida, said she would not trust the outcome if Clinton wins.

“If she wins, no I won’t. I just think it’s really shady,” Regis said, adding that she did not know why Comey “flip-flopped” on Clinton’s emails.

Since entering the race in 2015 and then seeing off 16 Republican rivals to win the party nomination, Trump has challenged political norms with bombast, personal attacks and unorthodox policies, including proposals to bar Muslims from entering the United States and build a wall on the southern border to keep immigrants from entering illegally.

In October, his campaign was rocked by the circulation of a 2005 video in which he boasted about groping women.

While such controversies have given Clinton the edge among women and minorities, Trump enjoys solid support among non-college educated whites. For both candidates, turning that support into actual votes is critical to building the 270 electoral votes needed to win.

The make-up of Congress is also at stake on Tuesday and as candidates running for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives wrapped up their campaigns Republicans were seen as making some gains in their quest to hold majority control of both chambers.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Ann Arbor; Alana Wise, Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey in Washington; Chuck Mikolajczak in New York; Writing by Richard Cowan; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Alistair Bell)

IMAGE: U.S. presidential nominees Hillary Clinton (top) and Donald Trump speak at campaign rallies in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, U.S. October 28, 2016 and Delaware, Ohio October 20, 2016 in a combination of file photos. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/Jonathan Ernst/Files