CINCINNATI - Allegations that Donald Trump inappropriately touched women are "lies, corruption and false accusations of the Crooked Hillary (Clinton) campaign and the mainstream media," Trump told thousands in Downtown Cincinnati Thursday, his second stop of the evening in Ohio.
Trump entered the swing state and left behind his angry and dark defense from earlier Thursday. Instead, he promised to focus on "real issues," accusing Clinton and political journalists of neglecting substantive discussions. Notwithstanding his controversial campaign, this Trump would not get dragged down into controversy, he implied.
At U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, he unloaded a 47-minute speech targeted at blue-collar Ohioans affected by the state's loss of industry – but not without pointing a finger at the news media and the Clinton campaign.
"They want to distract us from Wikileaks," Trump said, referencing hacks of emails from Clinton's campaign, including some that apparently speak negatively about Catholicism or raise questions about the campaign's relationship with the Justice Department. "They want to keep us from talking about the real issues,” Trump said, rattling off conservatives' top concerns, including the treatment of veterans, gun rights, Obamacare and the appointment of Supreme Court justices.
“Every day between now and the election, we’re going to be talking about our plans to make America great again," the Republican nominee said. “In 26 days, we are going to defeat the establishment, and we are going to save the United States of America."
Over and over, the crowd of thousands roared, waving a sea of red and blue Trump signs.
Trump was visiting Ohio in an effort to pull ahead in the ultimate purple state for his party: No Republican has reached the White House without winning Ohio.
Two polls out Thursday showed Trump and Clinton in a dead heat in the Buckeye State. Trump benefits from the state's demographics – a smaller-than-average Latino population and a higher proportion of working-class whites – though he faces headwinds from some of the state's top Republicans. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who challenged Trump for the Republican nomination, announced this weekend he wouldn't vote for Trump; Sen. Rob Portman retracted his endorsement soon after.
In Cincinnati, Trump poured it on for those working-class supporters – some of whom have supported union-backed Democrats in previous years. He painted a dire picture of the state’s manufacturing outlook, saying Ohio companies were negotiating to take manufacturing out of the state and employees didn’t even know it.
In reality, Ohio has lost manufacturing jobs – though it's regained some in recent years. More than 1 million Ohioans worked in manufacturing in 2000. The figure hit 600,000 in 2009 and now stands at close to 700,000. Other industries have picked up much of the slack: Around 5.5 million Ohioans now work, down only 2 percent from the state's employment peak in 2000. But some new jobs are lower-paying.
“I’m going to bring back your jobs,” Trump vowed. “You’re going to have big expansion of your existing jobs, and no company is going to leave the state of Ohio without there being serious economic consequences for that company.”
Then, he namedropped.
“We are going to have Apple, and many companies like Apple, start making their products in the United States,” Trump said.
The talk of trade might and blue-collar job loss may have made more sense elsewhere in Ohio. But Trump's larger point – the economy isn't humming the way it should be – resonated with his audience.
"The government in general, Republicans and Democrats, have over-regulated us to death," said Jimmy Dwertman, 37. "It killed small businesses in return."
"I would make it a more competitive type of system," he said.
Ted Polczynski, 69 of Tennessee, compared immigration to waiting in line and compared undocumented immigrants to line-jumpers.
“You’ve been standing in a line for 2 hours, and they just come straight past you. It’s not fair.”
Earlier Thursday, in Columbus, more than 400 college Republicans who gathered to see Trump – a majority of them young men – collectively shrugged at the allegations from multiple women who told news outlets he touched or kissed them without their consent. And 2005 his comments unearthed Friday, in which he boasted of kissing women without consent and grabbing them?
"That was 10 years ago. It was unsavory, but it was his private conversation," said Jalil Dini, 23, a Michigan native who is studying economics at Ohio State University.
Dini, like some students, hadn't heard about the allegations that broke Wednesday night. The students who were familiar with the stories, such as Columbus' Eid Al-Rabadi, a 19-year-old computer science major at Ohio State, doubted there was evidence to prove them true.
"Innocent until proven guilty," said Al-Rabadi, a native of Jordan and a U.S. citizen.
In any case, Trump and Clinton, his Democratic rival, have both done objectionable things in their pasts, said college Republicans gathered to see him in the capital of swing-state Ohio.
All people have "skeletons in their closets," said Emily Mayes, a 23-year-old from Columbus studying strategic communication at Ohio State. She and her fellow students cited Clinton's email server, the state department's role in the 2012 attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, and allegations that Clinton bullied women who accused her husband of sexual misdeeds.
“With all of these things going on, it’s about the policies and what you’re going to do for America. No one has a clean slate," Mayes said. "This election has been more focused on attacks rather than policies." She'll vote for Trump because of his ideas, she said, echoing sentiments expressed by several students.
Trump had opened his travels Thursday with an angry defense against the allegations against him. Without providing evidence, he said he is the victim of a "concerted effort" from the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and its patrons in the "corporate media." "They're pure fiction and they're outright lies," Trump told supporters during a rally in West Palm Beach, Fla.
The New York Times on Wednesday night reported two women had said Trump forced himself upon them, one on an airplane more than three decades ago and another at Trump Tower in 2005.
Then, People magazine published an account from a former writer, who said Trump shoved her against a wall and tried to kiss her during a break in an interview about the first anniversary of his marriage to Melania Trump.
"During the presidential debate, Donald Trump lied about kissing women without their consent," Natasha Stoynoff wrote. "I should know. His actions made me feel bad for a very long time. They still do."
Trump's visit to Ohio is the latest in a flurry that coincides with the start of early voting Wednesday. Hillary Clinton held one of the biggest rallies of her campaign Monday in Columbus; President Barack Obama is scheduled to hold events in Columbus Thursday and Cleveland Friday; and former President Bill Clinton is holding rallies Friday in Delaware and Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.
The politicians' opponents are out in force, too. About 75 protesters gathered outside the U.S. Bank Arena before the Cincinnati rally. The group brought together a dozen demonstrators from Planned Parenthood, Black Lives Matter, pro-immigration activists and Muslims.
Randi Gregory, a field organizer with a Columbus-based pro-choice organization, held a pink sign that read, "Make Misogyny Great Again."
"I don't believe Trump is going to win, but I am worried about what could happen after the election if he says it was rigged against him," she said.
Thurman Wenzl, 75, of Oakley, held a sign that said, "Immigrants pay taxes. Trump does not."
"I want to make it clear there is a broad coalition that opposes his kind of hate," Wenzl said.
Contributing: David Jackson and Eliza Collins of USA Today