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The Latest: Pence blames media, Clinton, for Trump ‘slander’

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on the U.S. presidential race (all times EDT):

7:15 p.m.

Mike Pence is blaming the media and Hillary Clinton for what he characterizes as “a discussion of slander and lies” targeting his running mate Donald Trump.

Pence’s remarks Thursday evening were the first time the Republican vice presidential candidate addressed multiple allegations of sexual assault leveled at Trump.

Pence told attendees at a GOP dinner in Orefield, Pennsylvania, that Trump denies accusations that he groped or forcefully kissed women against their will. He says the claims are “unsubstantiated.”

Pence blames Clinton for pushing the story. He says Democrats are trying to draw attention away from hacked emails that are unflattering to her campaign.

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7:12 p.m.

None of Wisconsin’s top Republicans will be appearing with Donald Trump when he campaigns in the state on Monday.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson’s spokesman on Thursday said “prior engagements” will keep him from attending. Both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Gov. Scott Walker will be out of state. Ryan is campaigning for House Republicans in Texas and Walker is the keynote speaker at a previously scheduled GOP candidate training event in New Jersey.

Trump plans to campaign Monday in both Green Bay and West Allis near Milwaukee. His state spokesman Matt Schuck says the schedule of who will be appearing with him is still being finalized.

Ryan had said Monday he would not defend or campaign with Trump. But he, Walker and Johnson have not revoked their support.

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5:33 p.m.

Donald Trump is saying he “never met” some of the women who have accused him of sexual assault and unwanted advances.

Trump told supporters Thursday in Ohio the accusations were “false claims,” and said that media has “slandered and lied about me with false accusations.”

He said he, “never met these people” and added he doesn’t “know who they are.” Trump said his accusers have “made up stories.”

Trump has threatened to sue the New York Times for printing the claims of two women. Earlier Thursday in Florida, he accused the press of coordinating with Hillary Clinton’s campaign to “conspire” against his White House bid.

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4:52 p.m.

Hillary Clinton says she doesn’t care if Donald Trump “goes after” her, adding “I signed up for this.”

But she adds a fund raiser in San Francisco that she will defend every person or group that he insults.

The Democratic presidential nominee says “disturbing stories” about Trump “just keep on coming” and there is hardly any part of America that “he has not targeted.”

She jokes that it’s enough to make you want to “turn off the news” or “unplug the Internet or just look at cat GIFs.” She says in the past few weeks she has “watched a lot of cats do a lot of weird and interesting things.”

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4:25 p.m.

Advance voting shows positive signs for Hillary Clinton in North Carolina and Florida, two states that could help her lock up the presidency.

There are encouraging signs for Donald Trump in Ohio. That’s a vital state for the Republican nominee, but a victory there would be one of many steps needed to win the presidency.

The latest data represent at least 756,000 ballots cast and millions more requested.

Even if Trump can capture two states he’s targeted — Pennsylvania and Ohio — he would need to pull off major upsets in multiple Democratic-leaning states.

Democrats are stepping up outreach in North Carolina and will launch “souls to the polls” programs in a bid to boost black turnout after in-person voting begins next week.

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3:05 p.m.

Donald Trump’s all-out effort to drag Hillary Clinton down by focusing on her husband’s sexual misconduct may be a relatively new strategy for him, but it’s not for the advisers whispering in his ear.

Four of Trump’s top advisers have waited a quarter-century to more deeply explore accusations that the former president assaulted women. Roger Stone, David Bossie, Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon comprise much of Trump’s brain trust outside his family.

The right has long harbored a grudge that the Clintons have built a political dynasty in spite of the allegations. Now, Republican operatives are seizing the moment, using Trump as their megaphone.

___

Bill Clinton says that even Donald Trump occasionally gets something right.

The former president campaigned for wife Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign at a college in Mt. Vernon, Iowa Thursday. He avoided naming her opponent, but recalled the moment in the last debate when the candidates had to praise each other.

“He committed a fact,” Bill Clinton said. “He said she is not a quitter and that is true.”

Bill Clinton decried the division and rhetoric in the race. He said social division may win votes, “but it’s a lousy way to run the country.”

No protesters came to the event, but Bill Clinton said he had a message for them when they show up. He likes to say “don’t boo them give them a hand, they’re having a bad week.”

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3:01 p.m.

Mike Pence is making campaign stops in Pennsylvania after ditching reporters who regularly travel with him.

The move by the Republican vice presidential candidate’s campaign comes as several women have accused Donald Trump of sexual assault.

Pence has yet to comment on the allegations. His campaign told reporters Thursday morning that Pence was attending two fundraisers that were closed to the press.

But Pence’s official Twitter account has since shown him meeting with faith leaders and stopping at a restaurant.

One tweet from the account shows Pence’s tour bus accompanied by the caption: “We’re glad to be back in Pennsylvania on the campaign trail!” Pence spokesman Marc Lotter could not be reached for comment.

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3:00 p.m.

Hillary Clinton made a surprise appearance at a San Francisco campaign office that serves as a call center for the campaign. Clinton was presented with a home-made picture of herself by 7-year-old Bella Pelosi Kaufman, the granddaughter of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

Clinton noted, “We have 26 days left. I don’t think there has ever been a more important 26 days in American history.”

Clinton said, “This is such an election between two very different visions, views and sets of values.”

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2:55 p.m.

Many GOP officeholders and candidates are sticking with Donald Trump despite new allegations that he sexually assaulted women.

Several of these officials say Trump would still be better on key issues than Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson adds that although both candidates are flawed, he’s focusing on the economy, fighting terrorism and the Supreme Court.

Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, who is running for re-election, says Trump has a better chance of fixing health care, “out of control regulators or our terrible foreign policy.”

And West Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Cole says he won’t excuse what Trump says, but, “You have one candidate who wants to be there for our coal and our natural gas industry, and another one that wants to destroy them.”

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2:39 p.m.

Hillary Clinton says at a surprise appearance at a San Francisco campaign office that the nation has “already learned who Donald Trump is.” She says the election is about “who we are and what we stand for.”

Clinton is pointing to First Lady Michelle Obama’s remarks in New Hampshire earlier in the day, saying she “not only made a compelling and strong case about the stakes in the election but about who we are as Americans.”

Clinton tells volunteers at a call center that “we cannot let this pessimism, this dark and divisive and dangerous vision for America take hold in anybody’s heart.”

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2:38 p.m.

The White House says the latest reports about women claiming that Donald Trump sexually assaulted them are just more evidence that the Republican nominee is unqualified to be president.

Spokesman Eric Schultz says Trump’s lack of fitness for the office didn’t become evident within the past 24 hours, when The New York Times, the Palm Beach Post and People magazine published reports by several women that had been sexually inappropriate toward them. Trump denies the charges.

Schultz says he expects Obama will amplify his views about Trump’s temperament, character and judgment when he speaks later Thursday at a dinner benefiting Ohio Democrats and Gov. Ted Strickland. Strickland is running to oust incumbent Republican Sen. Rob Portman.

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2:32 p.m.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has declared Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump a threat to press freedom.

In a statement issued Thursday, the media watchdog said that it issued the statement, unprecedented in the organization’s 35 year history, because Trump has consistently betrayed First Amendment values.

“A Trump presidency would represent a threat to press freedom in the United States, but the consequences for the rights of journalists around the world could be far more serious,” CPJ Board Chairman Sandra Mims Rowe wrote in the statement. “Any failure of the United States to uphold its own standards emboldens dictators and despots to restrict the media in their own country.”

The group said it was not picking sides in the election but rather, “recognizing that a Trump presidency represents a threat to press freedom unknown in modern history.”

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2:15 p.m.

House Speaker Paul Ryan is not taking questions from a friendly audience of Wisconsin business leaders even though his office originally said he would.

Ryan on Thursday gave a speech at the Waukesha County Business Alliance. He got a standing ovation as he entered, but left immediately after his remarks. His office had said in the original notice that he would take 30 minutes of questions. Ryan’s campaign spokesman Zack Roday says he had to leave due to a tight schedule.

Ryan did not refer to Donald Trump by name during the speech, but bemoaned the lack of focus on issues Republicans want to talk about. He says, “Guess what? We are actually running on ideas in this election.”

Ryan has endorsed Trump, but said last week he wouldn’t campaign for him.

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2:05 p.m.

Donald Trump is saying the attacks on him are “a conspiracy against the American people” by the political and media establishment.

Trump, speaking Thursday in Florida after being rocked by sexual assault allegations, said the press “will seek to destroy your career and your family.”

The Republican nominee said: “They will seek to destroy everything about you including your reputation.”

But he said that he would “take the slings and arrows” in order to protect his supporters and vowed that America would have a “new Independence Day” on Election Day.

Trump denied the allegations made by several women that he touched and kissed them without their consent.

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1:55 p.m.

The New York Times is responding to Donald Trump’s lawsuit threat by saying it welcomes the challenge.

The response came from David E. McCraw, vice president and assistant general counsel for the New York Times Company. He said in a letter Thursday that the public has a right to hear from women who say the Republican presidential nominee sexually assaulted them.

The Times published a story Wednesday quoting two women who said Trump had touched or kissed them without their consent. Trump denies the allegations.

Trump has threatened to sue the newspaper. McCraw wrote to a lawyer for Trump that if Trump believes the law protects him from critics, “we welcome an opportunity to have a court set him straight.”

___

1:45 p.m.

The questions about Donald Trump are clearly starting to get old for U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri.

The Republican is in a tight re-election campaign with Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander. Blunt supports Trump, but has distanced himself from the Republican presidential candidate.

Asked after a campaign appearance in suburban St. Louis on Thursday about new allegations by women accusing Trump of inappropriate behavior, Blunt said the issue “is not what we ought to be talking about.”

Asked if he is reconsidering his support, Blunt said the question has been “asked and answered like 10 times in the last week, and the answer’s still the same.”

Blunt said he wants a president who can change the Affordable Care Act, reduce regulation, and improve foreign policy.

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