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As Trump Poll Numbers Slip, He Warns Of A Rigged Election


Donald Trump's poll numbers have declined. And NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea is traveling with the Trump campaign and reports the candidate and his supporters have an explanation if he loses the election.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: It's long been a highlight of Donald Trump rallies, the candidate reading aloud his great poll numbers, but now he's doing this instead, as Hillary Clinton has built up a lead nationally and in some key states.


DONALD TRUMP: First of all, it was rigged. And I'm afraid the election's going to be rigged. I have to be honest.

GONYEA: That's from Columbus Monday. Here is Loudoun County, Va., Tuesday.


TRUMP: It's a crooked system. It's a rigged system. We're running against a rigged system. And we're running against a very dishonest media.

GONYEA: Also this week from Daytona Beach...


TRUMP: When we run, we have to make sure that you don't have people voting 10 times.

GONYEA: Meanwhile, his crowds take it all in. Eric Gwisdala grew up near Detroit. He's a former union tool and dye maker who headed south when layoffs hit his plant. He lived a while in Alabama before settling in Florida.

ERIC GWISDALA: I don't know if I agree with the word rigged, but there are absolutely things going on behind the scenes, hands down - political things that are - big interest monies that are buying a lot of things that they shouldn't be. It was never supposed to be about that.

GONYEA: Gwisdala has a small business with his fiance, Tonya Rodgers. She doesn't hesitate.

TONYA RODGERS: I believe it. I do. I believe a lot of things that's going on.

GONYEA: Then, there's 48-year-old Lori Lewis, who lives about an hour away in Orlando. She's retired from an I.T. job.

LORI LEWIS: The thing is is this is already happening. You don't understand.

GONYEA: She says Trump has to win in a landslide. A close election could be stolen from him. Lewis says recent court rulings stopping voter ID laws are the work of Democrats looking for an advantage - and we had this exchange.

How could it be rigged, though? What are you worried about?

LEWIS: Well, like I said - OK, first of all, in Virginia, they just released 260,000 convicts - just right now, OK, not to say that they're all going to go Democrat, but, I mean, it's just weird how a democratic government just - you know how that just works where...

GONYEA: And they'll vote.

LEWIS: Right.

GONYEA: Now, Virginia did not just release hundreds of thousands of convicts as she says. But in April, Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat and close Clinton ally, did restore voting rights for some 200,000 felons who've served their time. Nationally, there are only nine states that do not automatically restore voting rights once a sentence and probation have been completed. At the Daytona Beach rally, I also met 73-year-old retiree Ray Brachelli.

RAY BRACHELLI: I don't know that I'm a Trump supporter, but I know that I'm not a Hillary supporter.

GONYEA: But to be clear, he is voting for Trump. Still, he laughs at the notion of election rigging. Brachelli says it's pure bull. I'm paraphrasing there.

He's saying that because he thinks he might lose and if he does, he's laid the groundwork for it not being legitimate.

BRACHELLI: I don't know. I don't know about that. First of all, I don't think he's going to lose.

GONYEA: Cries of foul in presidential elections are not new. When George W. Bush won in 2000, after that five-week legal battle in Florida and the U.S. Supreme Court stepping in, many Democrats saw that outcome as illegitimate. Four years later, Democrats again question the integrity of voting machines in Ohio after Bush's re-election. But this year, such complaints are coming three months before Election Day. At a news conference this week, President Obama was asked about it.


PRES BARACK OBAMA: I don't even really know where to start on answering this question. Of course the elections will not be rigged. What does that mean?

GONYEA: He then added...


OBAMA: The federal government doesn't run the election process. States and cities and communities all across the country, they are the ones who set up the voting systems and the voting booths. And if Mr. Trump is suggesting that there is a conspiracy theory...

GONYEA: The president said that's, quote, "ridiculous." But at the Trump rallies, it's not so far-fetched. Take Jay White, a military veteran. He's 36 years old. He doesn't really want to talk.

JAY WHITE: I don't know (laughter). Everything in this - everything in this life is rigged (laughter).

GONYEA: That's all he has to say, really, except that this election White is undecided, and he says he may not vote at all. Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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