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Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump focused their campaign fire on Florida, North Carolina and other battleground states on Saturday as a tightening race forced Democrats into a late scramble to defend states previously seen as strongholds. 

Mrs Clinton has held a lead in the polls for most of this year. But surveys have shown the race tightening both nationally and in key battleground states over the past two weeks, particularly after the FBI said it was examining new emails related to its investigation of the former secretary of state’s use of a private server.

A new ABC/Washington Post poll released Sunday gave Mrs Clinton a 48-43 lead nationally but found Mr Trump had a 48-45 advantage in an aggregate of five battleground states.

The close race has led to heightened tensions on both sides. On Saturday night, Mr Trump was rushed offstage by his Secret Service bodyguards at an event in Reno, Nevada, as police wrestled a man to the ground. 

It also has led to a rewriting of campaign scripts in the final days. The Clinton campaign on Saturday announced a big last-minute push in Michigan, which had previously been seen as a safe state by Democrats and last voted for a Republican in 1988.

Bill Clinton will campaign in the state on Sunday, the campaign said, while Mrs Clinton and her two most effective surrogates — President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle — would head there on Monday for get-out-the-vote rallies. 

Mr Trump, meanwhile, announced his own foray into other Democratic strongholds, vowing to campaign in Minnesota, which last voted for a Republican presidential candidate in 1972. His campaign also announced he would hold a rally in Virginia on Sunday, though polls have for months shown Mrs Clinton with a healthy lead there.

“We are just three days away from the change you’ve been waiting for your entire life. You are going to be so happy,” Mr Trump told supporters in Colorado. “Get those ballots in.” In Florida, he said: "We're going into what they used to call Democrat strongholds, where we're now either tied or leading . . . We’re doing well in places that they don’t believe. They’re saying ‘What’s going on?’”

Democrats have been encouraged, however, by signs of heavy turnout among Hispanic voters in Florida and other states such as Nevada, with Mr Trump’s nativist campaign thought to have motivated a higher number to vote than in previous elections.

Florida and its 29 electoral college votes are particularly crucial to Mr Trump, who has faced an uphill battle under the US’s complicated election system despite polls showing a close race for the popular vote nationally. Should he lose that state in Tuesday’s election his path to the 270 votes needed to win the presidency in the 538-vote electoral college would become significantly more complicated.

Mr Trump on Saturday accused the “phoney” media of misleading reporting about such early voting trends. “You see the tremendous lines of people . . . and they have Trump hats on and Trump buttons on,” he said. 

At his Reno event on Saturday night he and other Republicans raised questions about a decision by election officials in Nevada’s Clark County, the state’s most populous, to extend voting hours on Friday to accommodate a heavy turnout in Hispanic areas. 

“Folks, it’s a rigged system,” he told supporters. 

Earlier in the day he rejected polls showing him still lagging nationally and in states like Pennsylvania, albeit narrowly. “I only really acknowledge them if I’m winning. And by the way we’re winning in a lot of polls,” he said. “I think we’re going to win Pennsylvania.”

Mrs Clinton’s own Florida rally on Saturday was cut short by pouring rain — but not before she urged a cheering crowd to get out and vote. 

“Here’s what I want you to remember: I want to be the president for everybody,” she said, stabbing the air with her fingers. “Everybody who agrees with me. People who don’t agree with me. People who vote for me. People who don’t vote for me.”

Mrs Clinton has turned to star power in recent days to try and motivate key constituencies — particularly black, millennial and women voters — to get out and vote. After appearing at a campaign concert with pop star Beyoncé in the swing state of Ohio on Friday night she took to the stage with singer Katy Perry in Philadelphia on Saturday evening. 

That reliance on high-profile surrogates prompted digs from Mr Trump and his campaign. “I hear we set a new record for this building. And by the way I didn’t need to bring J-Lo or Jay Z,” Mr Trump told a rally in central Pennsylvania on Friday. 

But the lack of star surrogates is forcing Mr Trump to do much heavy lifting himself in the final days of the campaign. The New York businessman was due to make appearances in four states across three time zones on Saturday and repeat a similar sprint on Sunday and Monday. 

The final scramble across the battleground states is coming as data show a surge in early voting this year in the 37 states that allow it, with more than 40m people having cast ballots already, according to Michael McDonald, a University of Florida professor. 

An ABC/Washington Post tracking poll released late on Friday showed 30 per cent of likely voters had already cast ballots, with Mrs Clinton holding a 49-44 advantage among those voters. 

According to Mr McDonald this year’s early voting has seen an increase in turnout by women and Hispanic voters compared to 2012, trends that are seen to favour Mrs Clinton and Democrats. In states like Nevada the data point to what could be a convincing victory for Mrs Clinton, he said, despite polls showing a tight race to the finish. 

“Nevada will be a good test of polls [versus] early vote,” Mr McDonald tweeted on Saturday. “Early vote indicating Clinton win, polls say it is toss-up.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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