- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2016

BERWYN, Pa. — In a last-ditch bid to build support among female voters, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump sent his glamorous wife, Melania, onto the campaign trail Thursday to vouch for his respect for women and to tout the family values she would bring to the White House.

Mrs. Trump, a former fashion model, said that if she becomes first lady, she will champion women’s causes and combat cyberbullying, which inflicts deep wounds on children and teenagers.

“We cannot call ourselves a fully developed or advanced nation when 15 percent of our women live in poverty, when 16 million are without health insurance, when too many are choosing between basic needs like rent, food and health care,” she told a crowd of about 1,000 people at the rally inside a sports center in the Philadelphia suburbs.

“This cannot be,” said Mrs. Trump, who is from Slovenia and speaks with a thick Eastern European accent. “We cannot afford to have more of the same.”

Mrs. Trump has stayed in the background of her billionaire businessman husband’s campaign since she suffered the embarrassment of being caught plagiarizing a portion of her speech at the Republican National Convention from a speech by first lady Michelle Obama, which the campaign said was an inadvertent error by a staffer.

Now it seems that desperate times call for desperate measures and Mr. Trump needs his wife more than ever.

With four days until the election, Mr. Trump is laboring to repair his damaged image and build support among female voters, a majority of whom view him as crude, sexist and misogynistic.

His campaign has surged in recent days against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who has been hobbled by a renewed FBI investigation into her secret email setup as secretary of state.

Mrs. Clinton is battling hard and repeatedly hitting Mr. Trump in his vulnerable spot with women. She campaigns with Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe who says she was shamed into developing an eating disorder by Mr. Trump when he called her “Miss Piggy.” Mr. Trump owned the pageant at the time and said she gained too much weight after winning the crown, she said.

On the stump and in TV ads, Mrs. Clinton relentlessly hammers Mr. Trump with accusations that he is a male chauvinist and a poor role model for children. She also claimed that he ogled girls as young as 15 getting dressed backstage at the Miss Teen USA when he owned the pageant.

Polls have shown Mr. Trump cutting into Mrs. Clinton’s lead in Pennsylvania, giving his campaign confidence in the final stretch of the race.

He trails the former secretary of state by 3 points, 46 percent to 43 percent, in the Real Clear Politics rolling average of polls in the state.

Still, Mr. Trump needs support from more women to push his come-from-behind surge over the top in several battleground states. That is especially crucial in the densely populated blue-collar counties surrounding Philadelphia, which could decide the race in the Keystone State.

At the sports center, a long hall carpeted with AstroTurf more accustomed to youth indoor soccer games than campaign rallies, Mrs. Trump said she has the same concerns as most other mothers in raising her and Mr. Trump’s 10-year-old son, Barron.

She also spoke of her pride in becoming a U.S. citizen and her love of the country.

“This is the greatest privilege in the world,” she said of becoming a citizen. “I am an immigrant. And let me tell you, no one values the freedom and opportunity of America more than me, both as an independent woman and as someone who emigrated to America.”

Mrs. Trump ran the risk of being dismissed as a trophy wife with nothing of substance to add to the campaign, but her message resonated with many at the rally.

Anita Celli, an undecided voter who lives in Chester County, said she is more likely to support Mr. Trump after hearing from his wife.

“She seems like a woman of conviction, and I don’t think she’d stand behind a man who wasn’t true,” said Mrs. Celli, a registered Republican who doesn’t like Mrs. Clinton but isn’t ready to vote for Mr. Trump.

She was repulsed by the recently surfaced 2005 tape that caught Mr. Trump on a hot mic boasting in vulgar terms about how his celebrity status let him kiss and grope women he meets casually.

About a dozen women later came forward to say he made sexual advances toward them.

“You certainly don’t want someone representing your country who is capable of that kind of behavior,” said Mrs. Celli, adding that Mrs. Trump’s speech eased those concerns.

Gaye Jablonski left with a similar impression.

“I like him more because of her,” said Ms. Jablonski, a science industry headhunter. “I think she softens him a little bit. Clearly, he is a family man. Maybe she’ll bring a little class and sophistication back to the White House.”

Mrs. Trump offered herself as a character witness on behalf of the Republican presidential nominee, saying that after 18 years with Mr. Trump, she knows how deeply he cares about the country and every American.

“Do we want a country where everybody gets a fair shot,” Mrs. Trump called out.

“Yes!” roared the crowd, which was enthusiastic but often hushed to listen carefully to Mrs. Trump.

“Do we want a country who respects women and provides them with equal opportunity?” she asked.

The crowd responded: “Yes!”

Outlining what she would do if she becomes first lady, Mrs. Trump pledged to focus her efforts on women and children, a common agenda for first ladies.

Mrs. Clinton, a former first lady, routinely says she has dedicated her life to fighting for women and children.

Mrs. Trump also said that fighting cyberbullying would be a top priority for her as first lady. “Our culture has grown too mean and too rough, especially for children and teens,” said Mrs. Trump. “We have to find a better way.”

Her stand against bullying raised some eyebrows because Mr. Trump has been criticized for bullying his opponents and for nasty tirades on Twitter.

“We have to find a better way to talk to each other, to disagree with each other, to respect each other,” said Mrs. Trump. “We must find better ways to honor and support the basic goodness of our children, especially in social media.”

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