WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump's campaign is defending his eyebrow-raising decision to spend precious campaign time promoting his business in the final days of the long presidential campaign as his poll numbers sink.
With less than two weeks left before Election Day, the Republican candidate is taking a break from campaigning Wednesday morning to formally open his new hotel in Washington. Meanwhile, he is dispatching his running mate, Mike Pence, to play political defense in Utah — which hasn't backed a Democrat for president in 52 years.
Trump's hotel stop follows a visit Tuesday to another of Trump's properties, the Doral golf course outside Miami. The odd travel schedule less than two weeks before the Nov. 8 election illustrates a Republican ticket pulled in two directions while Democrat Hillary Clinton surges.
Trump's campaign manager defended the stops, arguing that rival Hillary 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," she said, on NBC's "Today" show. "He's got the most active campaign sked of the two candidates by far."
The appearance comes amid signs that Trump's controversial presidential campaign has hurt his corporate brand. Rooms at the new $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 claim he denies.
At his Miami golf course, employees, many of them Hispanic women, offered testimonials about how happy they are working for him — touting Trump's job-creating prowess.
Trump also promoted the workers as examples of people affected by rising "Obamacare" premiums, though the golf course's general manager later clarified that most workers receive their insurance through Trump as their employer. The federal government announced this week that premiums for insurance under President Barack Obama's signature health care law would rise sharply next year — news some Republicans heralded as an unexpected political gift.
"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."
After stopping at the hotel not far from the White House, Trump will visit North Carolina for two campaign rallies Wednesday.
Besides Utah, Pence also is stopping in 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.
Spokesman Marc Lotter said Pence's Utah visit is more about favorable logistics than fears the deep Republican state could be slipping away. Pence had already planned a Western swing that included a fundraiser in Utah, he said, adding that a rally was easy.
But Trump undoubtedly can't count on heavily Mormon Utah, last won by a Democrat when President Lyndon B. Johnson carried the state in 1964. Many of the state's top Republicans urged Trump to abandon the race following the release of a 2005 recording on which the billionaire bragged about sexually accosting women.
That's been a boon to independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin, a former CIA agent and graduate of Brigham Young University.
Clinton, meanwhile, holds two events in Florida on Wednesday, both aimed at encouraging voters in the state to cast an early ballot. It's her 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.
Her campaign released two new ads on 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 Clinton and Trump.
"Our children are looking to us. What example will we set?" says actor Morgan Freeman, in one of the ads, as footage of children flashes on the screen.