ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Standing on Atlantic City’s famed Boardwalk, Hillary Clinton ripped Donald Trump as a “shameful” businessman who contributed to the decline of the oceanfront resort town and would be just as disastrous for America’s workers as president.
“What he did here in Atlantic City is exactly what he’ll do if he wins in November,” Clinton warned Wednesday, the faded facade of Trump Plaza, a shuttered hotel formerly owned by the presumptive Republican nominee, just over her shoulder.
Clinton’s remarks were part of a growing effort by her campaign to undercut Trump’s business reputation, which Democrats believe is greatly overhyped and based more on his ability to attract publicity than actual private sector skills. In the coming weeks, she is expected to highlight “victims” of Trump’s business ventures, including contractors who went unpaid — echoing a strategy Democrats employed successfully against 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
Clinton made no mention of the FBI’s withering criticism Tuesday accompanied its recommendation that she not face actual charges for her email practices as secretary of state. She ignored reporters’ shouted questions about the matter later in the day as she greeted striking workers at the Trump Taj Mahal, another property previously owned by her GOP opponent.
In clearing Clinton of breaking the law, FBI Director James Comey was scorching in his criticism of the Democratic nominee, saying she was “extremely careless” in handling classified information on a private email account and personal internet server.
Even with Comey’s tough rhetoric, Clinton aides were relieved to have the investigation closed so they can fully turn their attention to the fall faceoff with Trump. Campaign aides say that while Trump’s comments about minorities and women weaken his prospects of winning the White House, he is still viewed favourably as a businessman by many Americans.
For Clinton, Atlantic City provided a picture-perfect backdrop to try to undermine that reputation.
Once a casino-lined coastal jewel, the city has struggled in recent years, losing more than half of its gambling revenue during the past nine years. The casinos’ struggles have led to job losses and credit downgrades.
A quarter-century after Trump sought to build a casino empire, he owns not a single hotel here. His name is still atop the Taj Mahal, but the property belongs to his friend Carl Icahn, the billionaire businessman magnate.
Trump has defended his record in the gambling town, saying he “created thousands of jobs and made a lot of money in Atlantic City, which was what, as a businessman, I am supposed to do for my company and my family.” Earlier Wednesday, he blamed Atlantic City’s troubles on politicians’ “big mistakes.”
Even in the years when other Atlantic City casinos were growing, those carrying the Trump name weren’t. When his publicly traded company, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc., went bust in 2004, Atlantic City’s casino revenues were on their way to an all-time high. In fact, two of his casinos’ three bankruptcies occurred in years when overall Atlantic City gambling revenue was rising.
“Isn’t he supposed to be some kind of amazing businessman?” Clinton said. “So it’s fair to ask, since he is applying for a job, what in the world happened here?”
She also placed blame for Atlantic City’s troubles on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, one of Trump’s biggest supporters and a possible vice-presidential pick.
“If your governor would start doing his job instead of following Donald Trump around holding his coat, maybe we could really get New Jersey’s economy moving again,” she said.
After a months-long fight over Atlantic City’s future that included threats of a state takeover, Christie signed legislation in May that kept the city solvent and staved off immediate bankruptcy. The city now has until the end of October to formulate a plan for balancing its budget in order to avoid being taken over by the state.
Christie, meanwhile, has blamed the city’s issues on Democrats as well as larger structural forces, including increased competition from new gambling centres and the city’s failure to rebrand itself and expand its attractions.
As Clinton campaigned in New Jersey, Democrats on Capitol Hill were pushing her primary rival Bernie Sanders to join them in backing the former secretary of state. Sanders challenged Clinton vigorously in the Democratic primary and has yet to endorse her — although there were reports that he may do so at an joint event next week.
A Democrat familiar with the discussions said Wednesday if the two campaigns continue to make progress, Clinton and Sanders would appear at the event Tuesday in New Hampshire. The Democrat spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the plans.
During their private meeting, House Democrats voiced frustration with Sanders’ slow-moving support for Clinton, shouting “timeline, timeline” at the Vermont senator. Sanders never clarified when he would endorse Clinton, though at one point he said, “Our goal is not to win elections,” then paused. During that pause, Sanders was booed, according to a Democrat who attended the session and spoke on condition of anonymity to freely discuss the discussion.
AP writers Ken Thomas, Jill Colvin, Jeff Horwitz, Chad Day, Alan Fram and Erica Werner contributed to this report from Washington.
Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC