FLORIDA: White House rivals Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump staged dueling rallies Tuesday in crucial battleground Florida, with the Republican billionaire zeroing in on the Obamacare health overhaul as a job-killing, wallet-busting “monster.”
With just two weeks before the November 8 election, polls showed Democrat Clinton — who is vying to become America’s first female president — dominating nationally and looking for a resounding mandate to govern the bitterly divided country.
Early voting began in Florida on Monday, an urgent reminder that candidates have little time left to make their case in the country’s third most populous state, one with a wide mix of constituencies, including numerous retirees, Latinos and Bible Belt whites.
The Republican nominee, determined to ride out the controversies hobbling his campaign, made a pitch to Florida’s elderly voters by assailing a sharp rise in health insurance premiums expected next year under President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform.
“It’s just blowing up,” the 70-year-old real estate mogul said at a golf course he owns in Doral, Florida, vowing to “repeal and replace” Obamacare if elected.
“You will have such great health care at a tiny fraction of the cost and it’s going to be so easy,” Trump promised a rally in Sanford, Florida a few hours later.
At a third stop, in Tallahassee, he assailed the “stupid” government officials “who rammed this monster down our throats.”
“Job-killing Obamacare is just one more way that our system is rigged, believe me,” Trump said, and Clinton “wants to keep it.”
Poll averages show that the former secretary of state, who turns 69 Wednesday, is ahead in Florida by 3.1 percentage points, and nationally by 5.4 points, according to RealClearPolitics.
‘Bigger than me’
Rallying supporters at a college in southern Broward County near Fort Lauderdale, Clinton urged Floridians to help propel her to the White House by getting out and voting “right now.”
“This is bigger than me. It’s bigger than any of us. It’s even bigger than Donald Trump if you can believe it,” she told the cheering crowd.
Obama — who will campaign for Clinton Friday in Florida — has said he wants an overwhelming Democratic victory in order to send the message that Americans reject Trump’s divisive rhetoric.
Clinton’s communications director Jennifer Palmieri made clear what a key piece of the election puzzle Florida represents for Democrats.
“We don’t plan to lose Florida. It is the biggest prize,” she told reporters.
No one has forgotten that the 2000 presidential election hinged on Florida, where a virtual tie was decided in favor of George W. Bush by the US Supreme Court.
Obama ‘into the act’
Earlier, Trump acknowledged that the White House will likely elude him if he doesn’t win Florida and its 29 electoral votes.
“I think that’s probably true,” he told Fox News. “I believe Florida is must-win. I think we’re winning it, think we’re winning it big.”
On the stump in Sanford, Trump pointed to what he called “record” lines of early voters in Florida — many, he said, sporting Trump hats and buttons — as a hopeful sign.
He also took direct aim at Obama, alleging based on the WikiLeaks release of hacked Clinton campaign emails that the president knew about his secretary of state’s controversial use of a private email server at the time.
After news broke about Clinton’s private server, her aide Cheryl Mills apparently wrote senior staffer John Podesta, now the candidate’s campaign chairman, on March 7, 2015, to say “we need to clean this up.”
“He (Obama) has emails from her — they do not say state.gov,” Mills wrote, in the email quoted by Trump — which he said contradicted Obama’s claim to have learned about the private server from news reports.
“In other words, they were saying he had to know Hillary was using an illegal server but he claimed otherwise,” Trump told his Tallahassee rally. “That means Obama is now into the act.”
Trump’s standing in polls has been hit hard, particularly among female voters, since this month’s release of a 2005 video on which he boasts that his celebrity allows him to grope women with impunity.
Since then, about a dozen women have come forward with sexual misconduct allegations.
But a more disciplined Trump largely stayed on message in Florida, attacking Clinton over taxes and foreign policy, and jabbing at her email scandal.
“The criminal conduct of Hillary Clinton threatens the foundations of our democracy,” Trump said, after the Tallahassee crowd broke into chants of “Lock her up!”
With his path to victory narrowing, Trump has railed against the “phony” polls and appealed to voters to turn out, calling it a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to reject the political elite.
Clinton, meanwhile, received an endorsement from the latest in a long line of prominent Republicans who refuse to vote for their party’s nominee, as the ex-secretary of state and retired four-star general Colin Powell announced he would vote for her.