CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Reuters) - Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign rallies have turned into eruptions of barely contained emotions from his impassioned followers, who urge him to fight on despite a series of gut punches that have put his chances of winning in doubt.
With the Nov. 8 election now only weeks away and polls turning against him, Trump is spending precious time in campaign speeches defending himself from accusations from several women who say he made unwanted sexual advances toward them.
What he would do if elected is covered, but much of his speeches are spent belittling his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. He also accuses the U.S. news media of a plot to bring him down, and charges that the women who have made the accusations against him might be doing it for a taste of fame.
Opinion polls show a gloomy picture for Trump. A week after a video surfaced of him bragging in lewd terms about groping women, the latest Reuters-Ipsos poll on Friday showed Clinton up, with 44 percent to Trump’s 37 percent.
And the crowds have gotten more protective of their hero. One woman at a rally in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Thursday wore a homemade T-shirt that said “Trump Can Grab My,” with an arrow pointing to her crotch.
On Friday in Greensboro, North Carolina, a man wearing a “Gays for Trump” shirt punched a protester who held up an upside down American flag. Both were ejected.
Trump’s message has gotten through to his supporters in a big way about Clinton, who Trump calls a criminal for her handling of classified information as secretary of state. “She would be the most dishonest and corrupt ever elected to high office,” he said.
‘SO JADED ALREADY’
A crowd of young voters had a ready response when he brought up Clinton at an event in Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday.
“Lock her up!” they chanted, mimicking the lines voiced by older voters at other events.
Trump could only smile and shake his head.
“So young and so jaded already,” he said.
The New York businessman feeds off the energy generated by crowds that pack his rallies by the thousands. But he is easily distracted, lurching from topic to topic based on whatever happens to sprint to mind.
On Wednesday in Lakeland, Florida, Trump jumped from bashing the news media as “the most dishonest people you’ll ever see,” to tout his performance at a debate in St. Louis on Sunday - “which I won big league” - to Clinton’s stroll across the stage in front of him at that event.
“And the papers said I invaded her space,” he said. “Believe me, the last space I want to invade is hers.”
There are moments of levity. A woman who recovered from a brief fainting spell in the heat of Lakeland was pointed out by Trump.
“That woman was out cold and now she is recovered -- a little ding to the head,” he said, approvingly.
Trump can form an attack line against Clinton out of pretty much anything that springs to mind.
Venting about Chinese trade practices before a raucous crowd of perhaps 20,000 in Cincinnati on Thursday night, Trump suddenly imagined how China might treat Clinton given her bout of pneumonia a month ago, which had caused her to nearly collapse at an event in New York.
“If she goes down in Tiananmen Square, they’ll just leave her,” he said. “They’re tough people.”
Trump’s crowds sometimes get agitated.
Many of his supporters are upset at the news media, whipped into a frenzy by both Trump and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who in Cincinnati introduced Trump by condemning “the insanity of the media, the insanity of the way they cover him.”
Upon entering the arena, Trump’s traveling press corps was booed by thousands of people who chanted “tell the truth.” Trump boosters near the media work area repeatedly cursed and taunted reporters.
“When are you all going to be ashamed of yourselves?” one man shouted. “Lower than Congress -- that’s what your approval rating is.”
Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Will Dunham