TAMPA, Fla. — Thousands stood for two hours in 80-degree heat in Florida on Monday to show Republican Donald Trump that he can still count on his fervent base despite weeks of accusations of sexual harassment, his own statements that drove many Republican leaders away and his slide in the polls.
Polls back up the continued zeal for the Manhattan developer among his base of mostly white, male conservatives with little or no college education, even as Democrat Hillary Clinton takes her biggest leads of the unpredictable campaign.
“My support is stronger for him now, more than ever,” said Clarice Henderson, 58, a retiree from Valrico, Florida. “None of us are perfect.”
Henderson and her friend Mary Bell, 58, of Tampa, each held pink “Women for Trump” signs. They said Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, makes the ticket much stronger and should help the Republicans appeal to voters beyond Trump’s base.
Henderson and Bell dismissed allegations that Trump sexually assaulted or inappropriately touched several women years ago. They said the claims are far less important than what they see as Clinton’s transgressions in being, as the FBI put it, “extremely careless” in handling sensitive information while she was secretary of state by using a private email server.
“The nation is rising” in outrage, Bell said, at Clinton’s conduct, which the FBI criticized but decided not to recommend prosecution.
Mark Proctor has long associated himself with the Republican establishment that Trump overwhelmed by taking his case directly to the voters in rallies like the one in Tampa Monday night.
“I am a traditionalist,” said Proctor, 65, of Tampa, who was attending his first Trump rally.
“I was for Jeb Bush and that’s who I supported,” said Proctor, who works in real estate. “When he dropped out, I looked at the field. I’ve been a Bush supporter for a number of years, but maybe it’s time for a change . . . doing things a little bit different, rather than the status quo.”
RealClearPolitics’ monitoring of national polls showed Clinton with leads of 1 percentage point to 6 percentage points, with two polls tied and Trump leading by 2 percentage points in the Rasmussen Report poll.