WASHINGTON • Republican nominee Donald Trump is struggling to regain his footing with just five weeks to go before the United States' Nov 8 presidential election.
His hopes suffered a punishing new setback on Monday as the authorities clamped down on his charitable foundation and polls showed his opponent, Mrs Hillary Clinton, surging in the aftermath of his dismal performance at the first debate last week.
Already weakened by damaging revelations about his taxes, the real estate billionaire was hit with an order by New York Attorney-General Eric Schneiderman that the Donald J. Trump Foundation must "cease and desist from soliciting contributions" in New York. The notice informed the charity that it had engaged in fund-raising activities not permitted under the law because it had not been registered with the state authorities. Because of that, the foundation had avoided rigorous annual audits that New York requires of charities that seek the public's money. Those audits would have asked, among other things, if the foundation's money had been used to benefit Mr Trump or one of his businesses.
With Team Trump on the defensive after leaked documents suggested he may have paid no income tax for two decades, his Democratic rival rounded on him as a business bully who cares little for his fellow countrymen. "While millions of American families, including mine and yours, were working hard paying our fair share, it seems he was contributing nothing to our nation," Mrs Clinton said in Toledo, Ohio. "He has been 'dissing' America in this whole campaign."
Mr Trump used an appearance before military veterans in Virginia on Monday to pound the former secretary of state again for handling classified information via a "basement" private e-mail server.
But he appeared to stumble when he addressed veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suggesting some were returning from battle ill-equipped to cope.
"When you talk about the mental health problems, when people come back from war and combat, and they see things that maybe a lot of the folks in this room have seen many times over, and you're strong and you can handle it. But a lot of people can't handle it," Mr Trump said.
Mrs Clinton pounced on the comment, posting a fact-checking page on her website muddying Mr Trump's record on veterans. "A person who implies that veterans suffering from PTS are not 'strong' is unfit to be commander- in-chief. Period," she said on Twitter.
During a rally in Pueblo, Colorado, later on Monday, Mr Trump parried the accusations that he declared a loss of US$916 million (S$1.3 billion) on his 1995 tax return, enabling him to legally avoid paying taxes for up to 18 years, saying that he has long railed against the "unfairness" of US tax laws. "Honestly, I have brilliantly used those laws," he said. "As a businessman and real estate developer, I have legally used the tax laws to my benefit, and to the benefit of my company, my investors and my employees."
Ahead of the only debate between vice-presidential picks, Republican Mike Pence and Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, on Tuesday (9am today, Singapore time), polls released by Politico/Morning Consult and CNN/ORC show Mrs Clinton with a six-point and five-point lead, respectively.
A fresh Quinnipiac battlegrounds poll also showed Mrs Clinton leading in the key swing states of Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, but trailing Mr Trump in Ohio.
In Pueblo, when questioned about campaigning there, he insisted that Hispanic voters like him, despite extensive polling data showing he is performing poorly among Latino voters.
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