A week ago, Hillary Clinton sauntered into deep blue Broward County, the heart of Florida’s Democratic country. Sure, she warned of complacency and a close election, but her touch was light, her tone sardonic. Donald Trump trailed in Florida polls, and early voting, Democrats’ strong suit, had just begun.
When Clinton returned Tuesday, there was no sauntering.
Florida, the grande dame of battleground states, plays hard to get.
And so Clinton, in the tell-tale hoarseness of a candidate who’s had to pack her schedule in the last seven days before the election, railed against her rival with renewed urgency.
“I am sick and tired of the negative, dark, divisive, dangerous vision and behavior of people who support Donald Trump,” she said late Tuesday night in Fort Lauderdale, her voice rising over a heckler who called her husband a “rapist.”
It was her third Florida rally of the day, and her second trip to Broward in two days. Scheduled for 8:30 p.m., the rally began 73 minutes late. Some 4,300 people attended, according to Clinton’s campaign. Many of them stood for more than four hours at Reverend Samuel Delevoe Memorial Park, waiting for the delayed Clinton. But they started streaming out — especially, it seemed, if they had young children — 10 minutes into her 18-minute speech.
“You may be angry about something, but anger is not a plan,” Clinton implored supporters on a breezy night, with “VOTE EARLY” spelled out in bright blue behind her. “Don’t be used. Don’t be exploited.”
The park, located in Fort Lauderdale’s historically black northwest corner, was chosen strategically: It’s adjacent to the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center. In 2008, the library drew big crowds during early voting. This year, it’s been one of Broward’s least popular sites as African-American turnout — crucial for Clinton and down-ballot Democrats — has flagged.
“She has always reached out to the community. She doesn’t need to do anything different — she’s doing everything right,” said Kamil Johnson, a 37-year-old independent voter from Fort Lauderdale who said he voted early for Clinton last week. “The reason people are flipping back and forth is because of daily news events. They go away from her — but then they come back.”
“There’s only one choice in this election,” he added.
Clinton, as President Barack Obama did, likes to campaign near voting sites to nudge supporters to the polls. But rally attendees started arriving before 5 p.m., two hours before the polls closed, causing parking headaches for voters. Broward Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes herself was trying to keep order in the parking lot.
“Sometimes we have voters that wait till the last minute to vote,” said Vivian Robinson, a 51-year-old Democrat from Oakland Park who wore a blue “I voted early” sticker from the Clinton campaign and a button showing Clinton and Obama. “But I think we’ll have a lot of people turn out. We have to continue the change that Obama has brought to our country.”
Unlike Trump, Clinton can afford to lose Florida. But the state remains the campaign’s most important, because winning Florida would essentially kill Trump’s chances for victory
With Trump ahead of Clinton by 0.8 percentage points in the state, according to a Real Clear Politics average of polls, both presidential candidates have all but established a Florida residency over the past few weeks. Trump arrived in Miami late Tuesday, ahead of a Wednesday fundraiser in Doral and rally in downtown Miami. President Obama heads to Florida International University and Jacksonville on Thursday — followed by another trip to the Orlando area Sunday.
Earlier Tuesday, former President Bill Clinton addressed a largely African-American throng of supporters in Florida City, a black enclave Democrats depend on to help boost their numbers in deep South Dade. He downplayed the FBI investigation into emails from the private server Hillary Clinton used as secretary of state newly found on a computer belonging to Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
“The real security issue is having somebody who will keep you safe and strong while we can grow our way together,” said Bill Clinton, who later stumped for his wife in Immokalee and St. Petersburg.
Hillary Clinton campaigned earlier Tuesday in Dade City and Sanford, making no mention of the FBI and the emails. Instead, she tried to redirect voters’ attention to Trump.
“If we look at what Trump has been doing for 30 years, he sure has spent a lot of time demeaning and degrading women,” Clinton said in Dade City after being introduced by former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, who became a political celebrity after Clinton dropped her name during the first presidential debate.
Clinton mentioned Machado again in Fort Lauderdale: “I was proud of her. She doesn’t let such a small person let her down .”
In Sanford, Clinton hit Trump for his “legally dubious” maneuvers to avoid paying federal income taxes. The New York Times reported Monday that Trump had pushed the boundaries of tax law in the 1990s.
Her campaign tactic was clear: Stop pounding on the FBI, hammer Trump — and keep Florida within reach.
“You know what happened in 2000, right?” she said, referring to the dreaded recount between George W. Bush and Al Gore.
“It’s really tight,” acknowledged José Picón, a 46-year-old Democrat and registered nurse who said he voted for Clinton last Monday in Hollywood and still thinks she will carry the state. “The country is divided. Donald Trump does not represent the principles of the Republican Party. But they’re going to be with him anyway.”
Miami Herald staff writers Amy Sherman and Jay Weaver, and Tampa Bay Times staff writer Josh Solomon, contributed to this report. Solomon reported from Dade City.