‘D​on’t get distracted, don’t get diverted’: Hillary Clinton pulls out all the stops in Florida

Hillary Clinton is throwing everything she has got at Florida to try to change the national conversation.

It was gone 10.30pm when she finally finished the third rally of a gruelling flying visit on Tuesday, the fifth day spent here in the last week alone. The skies over the sunshine state are filling with campaign charter jets as Democrats desperately try to shift attention away from an email scandal and back to the subject they think will win them the election: Donald Trump.

Bill Clinton made three stops of his own here on the same day, dotting the I-4 corridor that divides the middle of the state politically as well as geographically. On Thursday, Barack Obama returns to Florida as well. On Friday, Clinton’s vice presidential running mate, Tim Kaine, will head back here for two days. Trump himself lands on Wednesday.

Many states matter in the jumbled up electoral map of 2016, but few more than this. Democratic campaign staff regard it as their biggest firewall. Without securing its 29 electoral college votes, it is almost impossible for Trump to assemble the 269 votes he needs to become president.

They also think it is going to be tight. Florida senator Bill Nelson reminds Clinton’s supporters of the hanging chad debacle of 2000 and implores them not to let it happen again. A senior campaign aide told reporters on her plane “there is no state that is more important”.

They also think it is going to be tight. Florida senator Bill Nelson reminds Clinton’s supporters of the hanging chad debacle of 2000 and implores them not to let it happen again. A senior campaign aide told reporters on her plane “there is no state that is more important”.

So at each spot, Clinton tries a different approach to fire up disgust about her opponent. First up, in Dade City, the now famous former Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado appears on stage to remind voters of Trump’s treatment of her and his attitude towards§ women in general.

“I would frankly rather be up here talking about nearly anything else,” explains Clinton. “But I can’t just talk about all of the good things we want to do, because people are making up their minds. This is a consequential choice, so we’ve got to talk about something that, frankly, is painful, because it matters. We can’t just wish it away.”

In Sanford, near Orlando, she switches the focus of her attack to fresh allegationsthat her opponent bent the rules to avoid paying tax. “I believe that most of us here have paid a lot more federal income tax than Donald Trump,” she tells them. “And he claims he’s worth $10bn.”

The speech goes on to attack Trump for not paying contractors and swindling students. “Donald Trump is the poster boy for everything that is wrong with our economy. I think we deserve a president who stands up for you, not somebody who stiffs you,” says Clinton.

But there is a lingering fear among Democrats that the barbs are not sticking; that months of shocking behaviour from Trump has left some voters deadened by his actions and immune to more allegations. Opinion polls pointing to a much tighter race in recent days have been blamed for falling US share prices as investors take fright at the possibility that he might yet defy the odds and win next week.

By the end of a tiring day, frustration is mounting. Arriving late to a floodlit park in Fort Lauderdale, Clinton delivers a heavily truncated version of her stump speech, urging a mostly enthusiastic crowd: “Don’t get distracted, don’t get diverted.”

Yet when a protester starts waving a sign saying: “Bill Clinton is a rapist,” his wife appears to do just that. “I am sick and tired of the negative, dark, divisive and dangerous vision and behaviour of the people who support Donald Trump,” Clinton angrily snaps at the protester before he is led away with the sign ripped. “We are not going backwards; we are going forward,” she says pointing at him.

“They’re not doing enough in the black community,” local Democratic congresswoman Alcee Hastings warned on Tuesday. “I have been screaming for months about this and nothing changed and now look what’s happening.”

Clinton makes a point of appealing to the diverse crowd in Fort Lauderdale, pointing out how much she enjoyed a visit to a soul food cafe on a recent visit. They are more visibly cheered by the surprise appearance of the civil rights veteran John Lewis.

The campaign is also acutely aware of the danger of appearing too negative, and not doing enough to rally its core supporters with a message of its own.

“I see these last days as an opportunity to tell you what I might do because I want to give you something to vote for as well as against,” Clinton tells the crowd in Sanford, who are kept waiting as she slips an hour and a half behind schedule. “But I also want to keep drawing the contrast with my opponent because we have never had a candidate who is so unfit.”

Every last dollar of Clinton’s well-stocked campaign coffers will be shaken out this coming week in a last-minute blitz of television advertising too.

But there are also mistakes creeping into this otherwise slick campaign. While Trump gave an unusually disciplined speech on Tuesday in Wisconsin, Clinton slipped up by claiming erroneously that she had been in New York on the day of the September 11 attacks.

Her voice growing slightly hoarse, the message instead is an increasingly emotional appeal for America to pull back from the brink.

“I know you know some people who are going to vote for Trump,” she tells supporters. “Well I want you to talk to them – stage an intervention.” (The Guardian)

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