Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief urged Florida on Thursday to extend its voter-registration deadline due to Hurricane Matthew.
Tuesday is last day for new voters to sign up ahead of the Nov. 8 presidential election. The storm has forced political groups, many of them Democratic-leaning, to cancel planned registration drives in the last, frenzied days ahead of the deadline.
“The one thing that we are hoping and expecting is that officials in Florida will adapt deadlines to account for the storm,” campaign manager Robby Mook told reporters. “Our hope would be that a little bit more time would be given for people that were expecting to get registered before the election.”
Elections supervisors typically see a surge in voter interest immediately before the registration closes.
“Right at the end, people feel the urgency to do something,” said Gihan Perera, head of Florida New Majority, which called off its sign-up events at schools, churches and football games in South Florida and the Jacksonville area.
Cancellations began Wednesday: When President Barack Obama called into Miami's 99 Jamz radio station, host Felisha Monet told him they'd called off a registration drive.
Engage Miami Civic Fund had intended to register students at Florida International University and Miami Dade College, as well as at several high schools, on Thursday and Friday. The group is trying to reschedule for Monday and Tuesday but acknowledged the busy weekend events will be lost.
“This was one of our most scheduled weeks and weekends of the fall for voter registration,” executive director Rob Biskupic-Knight said in an email to the Miami Herald.
In Orlando, NCLR, the National Council of La Raza, suspended canvassing Thursday, according to Jared Nordlund, the group’s Florida senior strategist for civic engagement.
The state seems unlikely to take action before Matthew has cleared Florida and administrators can assess the extent of the damage. State offices were closed Thursday and Friday.
“For any political party to ask this in the middle of a storm is political,” said Jackie Schutz, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott. “Our No. 1 focus is protecting life. There’ll be another day for politics.”
Under the existing statute, voter applications postmarked by Tuesday will still be accepted.
The storm, arriving 33 days before an election, posed a tricky set of challenges for all candidates on the ballot, but especially for Clinton and Donald Trump, who are fiercely contesting Florida, the nation’s largest battleground state.
“I urge everyone to follow emergency instructions and evacuate if you’re told to,” Clinton posted on Twitter. “Stay safe Florida.”
Trump, who had tweeted Wednesday night that he hoped the hurricane would “dissipate,” issued a statement Thursday also imploring Florida, Georgia and South and North Carolina residents to heed evacuation warnings. He also sent “personal condolences to those families in Haiti who lost loved ones as this storm tore through their island.”
Clinton came under political fire after Politico reported Wednesday that her campaign bought $63,000 in ads on the Weather Channel, which gets a ratings boost during natural disasters.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who managed the state through several hurricanes, wrote late Wednesday on Twitter: “I encourage both presidential campaigns to be sensitive to all affected by Hurricane #Matthew in the coming days.”
“Couldn’t let this crisis go to waste?” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted Thursday. “Shameful @HillaryClinton's campaign even considered exploiting Hurricane Matthew for political gain.”
On Thursday, the Clinton team said it asked the Weather Channel to delay airing the spots. Her campaign said it had bought the ads as part of a larger, national buy, and “less than 1 percent” of it involved the Weather Channel.
“Our first priority on Hurricane Matthew is that people our safe,” Mook said. “We don’t think that the voters of Florida need this election to get mixed up with their efforts to get information on this storm.”
Hurricane Matthew forced the postponement of two big-name campaign events that had been planned for Wednesday: a Clinton rally with President Barack Obama in Miami Gardens, and a fundraiser for Donald Trump with Ivanka Trump at Trump National Doral golf resort.
A big-dollar fundraiser for Clinton — featuring former President Bill Clinton — at the Coral Gables home of Republican Mike Fernandez had been scheduled for Saturday but was also pushed back.
“Everyone is waiting for the storm to see what’s going to happen,” said Chris Korge, a prominent Democratic donor.
Miami Herald staff writers Kristen M. Clark and Amy Sherman contributed to this report.