Politics & Government

In Miami, Bill Clinton tries to explain the whys of the wild presidential race

Former President Bill Clinton speaks at the Fountain of New Life Church on Sunday in Miami Gardens.
Former President Bill Clinton speaks at the Fountain of New Life Church on Sunday in Miami Gardens. jlnphotography.com

Four years later, Bill Clinton, now 70, is a little hoarser, a little skinnier and a little mellower. But he’s still, as President Barack Obama put it in 2012, explaining stuff.

Sunday in South Florida, making three announced stops to campaign for his wife, Clinton provided his account of how the presidential race got here.

“The anger is being fueled in America by people whose dreams have been dashed: ‘I can’t do anything to make it better, so I’m going to be mad,’” he told more than a thousand people worshiping at the New Birth Baptist Church near Opa-locka. “And, look, I’m a white southerner. I know what ‘Make America Great Again’ means.

“I grieve to think the campaign is being fueled by people I grew up around with. They’re mostly great people,” Clinton continued. “If your home caught on fire, you’d be glad they were your neighbors. But they have always been able to be distracted, divided and be open to demonizing other people. And now that’s what’s happened.”

Don’t let it be “us-versus-them,” the former president urged more than 100 people at Century Pines Jewish Center at Century Village in Pembroke Pines.

Clinton, who wrapped up a two-day bus tour of Central and North Florida on Saturday night in Pensacola, was in town ahead of early voting, which begins Monday in Miami-Dade, Broward and other large Florida counties. He also visited The Fountain of New Life, a nondenominational black church in Miami Gardens, where more than 300 people were gathered.

His trip was part of a larger, coordinated Hillary Clinton effort to push voters in Florida and across the country to cast early ballots — and support not just the nominee, but also other Democrats who could help the party control the U.S. Senate and perhaps whittle away at Republican majorities in the U.S. House and state legislatures.

On Saturday, Obama took the rare step of endorsing 150 candidates in competitive state legislative races throughout the nation, including 13 in Florida. That came two days after Obama roasted Florida Sen. Marco Rubio during a Clinton rally in Miami Gardens last week.

Hillary Clinton and her top surrogates will be inescapable in Florida over the coming days. Her running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, campaigned in Orlando and Gainesville on Sunday and will hit Florida International University in Miami and West Palm Beach on Monday. Clinton herself plans to hold a rally Tuesday in Coconut Creek, and to campaign elsewhere in Florida on Wednesday. Obama returns Friday for an Orlando rally, and pop singer Jennifer Lopez will headline a concert for Clinton on Saturday in downtown Miami’s Bayfront Park.

Trump, who doesn’t have nearly as many high-profile stand-ins, will be in Florida too, starting with a Sunday evening rally in Naples and followed by two days of events in St. Augustine, Tampa, Sanford and Tallahassee.

Though Trump awoke at Trump National Doral golf resort on Sunday, he didn’t schedule any daytime events, eschewing the political opportunity to reach likely voters congregated to worship at church services.

Hillary Clinton visited churches in North Carolina. Kaine did so in Pennsylvania.

And in South Florida, Bill Clinton appealed to traditionally Democratic constituencies — black and Jewish voters — with the plea that they go vote. Unsaid: Even if they’re not as excited about his wife as they were about Obama. Or even if it looks like Hillary Clinton might win in a rout.

A CBS News/YouGov poll released Sunday showed Clinton leading Trump in Florida by 46-43 percent.

To black voters, Bill Clinton quoted scripture. To Jewish ones, he mentioned tikkun olam, the idea of doing good in the world through acts of kindness.

“If there are any group of people in this country that should understand the threat to the fundamental character of the nation and the future of our children and grandchildren posed by the choice in this election, it should be members of the Jewish community,” Clinton said. “No one should sit it out.”