PUEBLO, Colo. (AP) — Hillary Clinton turned up the heat Wednesday on Republican candidates who are facing both tight election races and tough decisions on what to do about Donald Trump. She’s now seeking to spread her new momentum to fellow Democrats on November ballots.
The move came on a day that ended with new allegations — piling onto already damaging revelations of Trump’s aggressive sexual comments about women.
Two newspapers reported late Wednesday that Trump’s actions went beyond words. The New York Times published interviews with two women who say they were touched inappropriately by the billionaire without their permission. The Times said Jessica Leeds, 74, of New York, told the newspaper she encountered Trump on an airline flight three decades ago. Leeds said Trump grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt.
“He was like an octopus,” she told the newspaper. “His hands were everywhere.”
Rachel Crooks, of Ohio, said she met Trump at Trump Tower in 2005. Age 22 at the time, Crooks says Trump kissed her “directly on the mouth” against her will.
Trump denied the accusations, telling the Times, “None of this ever took place.” His campaign spokesman, Jason Miller, called the story “a completely false, coordinated character assassination.”
Separately, The Palm Beach Post in Florida, reported Wednesday night that Mindy McGillivray, 36, told the newspaper that Trump groped her at his Mar-a-Lago estate 13 years ago. Trump’s campaign said her allegation “lacks any merit or veracity.”
The reports came as two GOP senators and two House members who called for Trump to step aside over the weekend climbed back aboard. Their basic case: They’re voting for a Republican next month, and if Trump isn’t leaving then he’s got to be the one.
John Thune of South Dakota, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate told the Rapid City Journal he had “reservations about the way (Trump) has conducted his campaign and himself.” However, he said, “I’m certainly not going to vote for Hillary Clinton.”
Also back on board after calling on Trump to resign: Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Reps. Scott Garrett of New Jersey and Bradley Byrne of Alabama. There still are some three dozen GOP lawmakers who have withdrawn their support or are calling for Trump to step aside.
At a rally in Colorado, Clinton declared that Trump is “desperate” and running “scorched earth strategy.”
“That’s all they have left — pure negativity, pessimism,” she said.
Indeed, Trump kept up his unrelenting denunciations of Clinton at a rally in Florida. It’s not enough for voters to elect him instead of her, he declared, “She has got to go to jail.”
Later Wednesday, Clinton was campaigning in Las Vegas, where she planned to call out Rep. Joe Heck, a Republican in a tough Senate fight who revoked his support for Trump after hearing his caught-on-video boasts about groping women.
The focus on Republican congressional candidates is the latest sign the Clinton campaign is moving past a narrow focus on winning the White House, and now is aiming to win big — by delivering the Senate to Democrats, making deep cuts into the Republicans’ majority in the House and, possibly, winning states long considered Republican territory.
“If you’ve got friends in Utah or Arizona, make sure they vote, too,” Clinton told a raucous crowd in Pueblo.
“We are competing everywhere. … I think Americans want to turn out in as big a number as possible” to reject Trump’s message, Clinton said.
She had sympathetic words — serious or not — for Trump supporters who have begun to interrupt her events.
As security escorted one man out in Pueblo, Clinton said: “You have to feel a little sorry for them; they’ve had a really bad couple of weeks.”
Clinton’s new swagger and expanded ambitions come as Trump declares he feels unshackled to launch the sort of hard-edged, personal campaign his most ardent supporters love.
In Florida, he highlighted a new batch of hacked emails from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s account, published by WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group. He asserted that the emails show ever more clearly that the former secretary of state and her family are corrupt.
“It never ends with these people,” he said.
Clinton aide Glen Caplin said Wednesday that Trump’s campaign needs to explain its “possible ties to foreign espionage.” The campaign has accused Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser, of having advance warning about the leak.
Stone has confirmed he had “back-channel communications” with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but he denies knowing about the group’s plans to release the trove of damaging correspondence.
WikiLeaks, which U.S. officials have said has ties to Russian intelligence, released a fourth installment of private correspondence between top Clinton campaign officials on Wednesday.
Podesta says the FBI is investigating Russia’s possible involvement, raising the extraordinary prospect of a link between Russia and the U.S. presidential election. The FBI said anew that it is investigating possible Russian hacking involving U.S. politics but made no comment on Podesta.
Late Wednesday, Podesta was hacked again, this time via his Twitter account. The campaign would not comment on whether the second hack was related to the email breach.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday in Moscow that “hysterics have been whipped up to distract the attention of the American people from the essence of what the hackers released. … They talk about who did it. Is it really that important?”
With polls showing Clinton pulling ahead in the presidential race and Trump digging in, Republican candidates for the House and Senate are tied in knots. If they revoke their support for their party’s nominee, they risk losing his voters and losing their races. If they stand by him, they not only risk turning off moderate Republicans but also being branded for years as aligned with the Republican who sparked a crisis for the party.
As party leaders step away from him, Trump is vowing to win the election his own way.
He is striking particularly hard at House Speaker Paul Ryan, who told Republicans Monday he’ll no longer campaign for Trump.
Trump said in Florida there is a “whole sinister deal going on” that has prevented Ryan and other Republican leaders from fully backing his campaign. “We’re going to figure it out,” he said. “I always figure it out.”
He said, “I wouldn’t want to be in a foxhole with a lot of these people, that I can tell you, including Ryan. By the way, including Ryan, especially Ryan.”
Associated Press writers Steve Peoples, Jonathan Lemire and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.