Donald Trump's chances of pulling off a comeback in the presidential race depend on him winning one of his two home states.
The New York businessman — and proprietor of the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach — is devoting a three-day campaign swing to Florida, a state that is essential to any Republican's hopes for winning the White House, especially this year.
"I have so many friends here," Trump said in kicking off his tour of the Sunshine State on Sunday in Naples. "I'm here a lot — it's a great place."
Speaking with farmers at a roundtable event Monday in Boynton Beach, Fla., Trump said, "I believe we are actually winning. If you read The New York Times and if you read some of these phony papers — these are phony, disgusting, dishonest papers — but if you read the stuff, it's like what are we doing?"
As polls show him slightly behind Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in Florida, Trump stumps Monday in St. Augustine and Tampa. The Republican candidate, who usually likes to campaign in different states on consecutive days, wraps up his extended trip to Florida on Tuesday with appearances in Sanford and Tallahassee.
Trump is using his Florida swing to attack the ethics of "Crooked Hillary" and pledge to "drain the swamp" of corruption in Washington, D.C. — and also rally legions of conservative loyalists who may be the key to his success.
"It's definitely a turnout battle, which it always is, but this time especially," said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida.
Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, failed to mobilize enough voters in Florida, losing the state's 29 electoral votes to President Obama.
Florida is also central to Trump's hopes of winning the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the presidency, just as it was in 2000 when George W. Bush prevailed after a disputed recount with Democrat Al Gore.
Step one for Trump is to hold the states — and the 206 electoral votes — that Romney won four years ago. Clinton, however, is challenging Trump in some of those Romney states, notably North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia and Utah.
Beyond the red states from 2012, Trump is hoping to capture three battlegrounds that went Democratic last time: Florida (29 electoral votes), Pennsylvania (20) and Ohio (18). If he holds the Romney states, those three would give Trump 273 electoral votes, enough to win the presidency.
While polls are close in Florida and Ohio, Clinton enjoys a clear lead in surveys out of Pennsylvania.
In Florida, Clinton leads Trump by around 4 points, according to the RealClearPolitics rolling average of polls.
In his travels across the state, Trump has accused the Democrats of making up "phony" polls to suppress his voter turnout, a major part of his campaign efforts. He has also accused the Clinton campaign and the news media of working together to "rig" the election against him.
Trump is spending much of his time in rural, more conservative areas of Florida. He and aides say they have brought new voters into their "movement," enough to provide the margin of victory in states like Florida (and to confound the polls).
Clinton and Democrats, meanwhile, are focused more on traditionally Democratic areas, including the state's big cities, as well as African-American and Hispanic communities.
MacManus said the polls currently give Clinton the edge, but Trump's complaints about media bias seem to be resonating. She also cited a general dislike of politicians and "politics as usual," attitudes that could benefit a novice candidate making his first election bid of any kind.
While Trump can conceivably claim success on attracting new voters, MacManus said that "getting the expanded base to turn out is often more challenging."
During his kickoff event Sunday in Naples, Trump told his supporters that it's up to them to determine whether his presidential bid has been worth it.
"Are we glad that I started? Are we happy?” Trump asked the crowd. “Well, I’ll let you know on the evening of Nov. 8 whether I’m glad.”
Copyright 2016 KING