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U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton answers questions from reporters on her campaign plane enroute to a campaign stop in Moline, Illinois, United States September 5, 2016. (BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS)
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton answers questions from reporters on her campaign plane enroute to a campaign stop in Moline, Illinois, United States September 5, 2016. (BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS)

U.S. ELECTION

Clinton and Trump have a near-encounter in a battle for Ohio Add to ...

Converging on Ohio within miles apart of each other, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton made competing Labor Day pitches in Cleveland on Monday, setting the stage for a critical month in their testy presidential campaign.

Meeting with reporters, Trump appeared to pivot away from his hard-line position on immigration, saying, “I’m all about jobs now.” The Republican real estate mogul said immigrants in the country illegally may not need to return to their countries or origin to obtain legal status, appearing to contradict his past positions.

Any immigrants who want full citizenship must return to their countries of origin and get in line, he told reporters. But of the millions more living in the country illegally, he would not rule out a pathway to legal status.

“We’re going to make that decision into the future,” Trump said in his most extensive comments on immigration since delivering a long-awaited policy speech last week that definitively ruled out a pathway to legal status for people living in the country illegally.

Clinton powered through a coughing fit at a Labor Day festival at a Cleveland park, sharply criticizing Trump’s recent trip to Mexico as “an embarrassing international incident.” Unwilling to allow Trump to modify his immigration stances, she said his address later that night in Arizona amounted to a “doubling down on his absurd plan to send a deportation force to round up 16 million people.”

“He can try to fool voters into thinking somehow he’s not as harsh and inhumane as he seems but it’s too late,” Clinton said.

The two campaigns arrived in Cleveland within hours of each other, underscoring Ohio’s quadrennial role in presidential campaigns. No Republican has won the White House without carrying the state and the airport offered a vivid imagery of that crucial role.

The airplanes of Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence, were parked on the tarmac as Clinton and her vice-presidential pick, Tim Kaine, arrived in separate planes at the city’s airport. It was a near-encounter that even forced the Trump press corps to the side of the road as Clinton’s motorcade whizzed by.

“It’s kind of interesting to have all the planes here on the same tarmac,” Kaine said after he and Clinton greeted supporters on the tarmac. “Just shows you how important Ohio is. We’re going to be here a lot.”

Earlier, Trump and Pence attended a round-table discussion with union members, where Trump warned that America’s manufacturing jobs are “going to hell.”

While Labor Day has traditionally been the kickoff to the fall campaign, both Clinton and Trump have been locked in an intense back-and-forth throughout the summer.

Clinton arrived in Ohio aboard a new blue-and-white Boeing 737 campaign plane emblazoned with her slogan, “Stronger Together.” She has mostly travelled by private jet during the primaries and the summer but was being accompanied on the plane by journalists for the first time. “It’s so exciting,” she told journalists as they boarded her plane.

The Democratic nominee has been pressured by media critics and Republicans alike to hold a news conference for the first time in 2016. She has not held a formal question-and-answer session with reporters since one in Iowa in early December. As he left Cleveland for his next stop in Youngstown, Trump extended a rare invitation to a handful of journalists on his private jet, and said that “on occasion,” he will invite journalists to travel with him.

The start of full-fledged campaigning opens a pivotal month, culminating in the first presidential debate on Sept. 26 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. Polls show Trump trailing Clinton in a series of must-win battleground states, meaning the debates could be his best chance at reorienting the race.

Trump told reporters that he does plan to take part in all three presidential debates, joking that only a “hurricane” or “natural disaster” would prevent him from attending.

Clinton will have millions of dollars at her disposal this fall to air television advertising and power a sophisticated get-out-the vote operation in key states.

The former secretary of state raised a combined $143 million in August for her campaign, the Democratic National Committee and state parties — her best month yet. She began September with more than $68 million in her campaign’s bank account to use against Trump, who has not yet released initial fundraising totals for August. Trump also followed through with his vow to spend some $10 million on commercials in key states over the past week.

Democrats were fanning out across battleground states, dispatching Kaine and Vice-President Joe Biden to Pittsburgh, former President Bill Clinton to Detroit and Cincinnati and one-time Clinton primary rival Bernie Sanders to New Hampshire.

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