WASHINGTON — With his White House dreams increasingly in question, Donald Trump is spending precious campaign time promoting his business in the final week of the long presidential race.
Less than two weeks before Election Day — and with Hillary Clinton optimistically reaching out to contest normally Republican states — Trump took a break from campaigning Wednesday morning to formally open his new hotel in Washington. His remarks at the hotel, which has struggled to fill rooms amid the controversy surrounding his presidential bid, followed a visit Tuesday to another of his properties, the Doral golf course outside Miami.
“Under budget and ahead of schedule. So important. We don’t hear those words so often, but you will,” said Trump, linking the hotel redevelopment to his promised performance as president. “Today is a metaphor for what we can accomplish for this country.”
Though the GOP nominee focused his remarks on his political message, the event was heavy with marketing, too. Standing under glittering chandeliers, top company executives, including his daughter, touted the hotel and company successes. After delivering brief political remarks, Trump and his family headed to the hotel’s grand lobby where they cut a wide red ribbon with golden scissors before flying to North Carolina for what his campaign billed as an urban policy speech.
“This is now the largest luxury ballroom in Washington,” he boasted, before leaving.
The odd travel schedule comes amid signs that his campaign has hurt his corporate brand, and it fuels GOP concerns that Trump has begun to turn some of his focus to postelection business plans. Rooms at the overhauled $212 million hotel that bears his name at Washington’s Old Post Office Pavilion have been heavily discounted and smartphone data suggest fewer people are visiting his properties compared to rival venues nearby. A new Facebook live show produced by his campaign has heightened speculation that Trump may try and offset any losses with advertising revenue by starting a media network — a plan he denies.
Trump’s campaign manager defended the stops, arguing that Clinton took time off to prepare for the debates and that stops at Trump’s hotels highlight his business experience.
“Hillary Clinton took five days off to prepare for one debate and everyone looked at that as some kind of noble exercise,” Kellyanne Conway said, on NBC’s “Today” show. “He’s got the most active campaign sked of the two candidates by far.”
But his hotel visits dominated the campaign news Wednesday, distracting from reports of sharply rising “Obamacare” premiums and the hacked email of a Clinton campaign staffer that many Republicans see as far more potent political arguments.
“He could make this race for the last two weeks a referendum on Obamacare. But of course he won’t do that,” said former Ted Cruz strategist Chris Wilson. “It’s just a matter of him swatting at flies instead of having a coherent and consistent message.”
Clinton, too, has turned some of her focus to what happens after Nov. 8, though her efforts assume she wins. Deep in transition planning, people familiar with her effort say she plans to impose strict ethics rules on how lobbyists may participate on her team. In recent days, she’s begun expanding the scope of her campaign to help down-ballot Democrats — her party sees an opportunity to win control of the Senate and reduce its deficit in the House — and retool her campaign message to emphasize unifying the country after a divisive race.
“What Trump has done is to make it possible for people who had racist, sexist, and all kinds of prejudices and bigotry to put them right out there,” Clinton said on the “Breakfast Club,” a syndicated radio show based in New York City. “I’m not going to be able to wave a magic wand and change everybody’s thoughts.”
Later, in Lake Worth, Florida, she encouraged voters to cast early ballots.
“We can’t take our foot off the gas for even a short time,” she told several hundred voters. “It may be my name on the ballot, but it really is about all of you.”
Wednesday was the candidate’s 69th birthday, a milestone she celebrated a day early on Univision’s entertainment news show “El Gordo y La Flaca,” where she was feted with a bottle of tequila and a large cake featuring her face and the White House. In her appearance on “The Breakfast Club,” singer Stevie Wonder serenaded the woman he called “Madam President Clinton.”
Her campaign also released two new ads Wednesday billed as laying out her closing argument. The spots, scheduled to run in seven battleground states, feature her plans to help families if elected and draw a contrast between her and Trump.
Trump, meanwhile, dispatched his running mate, Mike Pence, to play political defense in Utah — underscoring his declining prospects in the presidential race. The state hasn’t backed a Democrat for president in 52 years.
Besides Utah, Pence also was stopping in the swing states of Nevada and Colorado before he heads on Thursday to solidly Republican Nebraska, a state that awards some of its electoral votes by congressional district. His rally in Omaha may be aimed at shoring up support in the one district that Clinton could potentially win.
Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in Washington and Ken Thomas in Lake Worth, Florida, contributed.