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DAYTONA BEACH – Hillary Clinton’s last-minute Oct. 29 whirlwind visit to Daytona Beach, the self-proclaimed “World’s Most Famous Beach” located at the eastern end of Florida’s critical I-4 voting corridor, gives some idea of how important the Black vote is in Florida to the presidency.
Coincidentally, Clinton’s stop also came just before Donald Trump releasing a 10-point plan he calls “a new deal” for Black America.
“Nobody needs to tell African-Americans in this country that the old new deal from the Democratic Party isn’t working for them,” Trump said in a statement issued Oct. 31.
“In election after election, Democratic party leaders take African-American voters for granted and year after year the condition of Black America gets worse. The conditions in our inner cities today are unacceptable. Too many African-Americans have been left behind.”
Trump’s 10 points include school choice, “saving communities,” equal justice under law, tax reforms to create job expansion, attractive credit policies for small businesses loans, less free trade, “protection from illegal immigration,” new infrastructure investment, “protecting the African-American church,” and establishing an “America first” foreign policy.
Shaking up the race
Last week, only 10 days before the election, the Clinton campaign was hit by an announcement from FBI Director James Comey, saying the FBI is now investigating newly discovered emails that may or may not affect their closed investigation into whether Clinton sent classified emails from a personal computer server.
The new emails are not Clinton’s. They apparently belong to her former aide and longtime confidant Huma Abedin, the wife of former Congressman Anthony Weiner, who is under FBI investigation for allegedly sexting with an underage girl.
Where the votes are
The Daytona stop was the first opportunity for Clinton to directly address FBI Director Comey’s letter.
But first things first. The Clinton campaign caravan headed to where the votes were: at Bethune-Cookman University’s annual homecoming football game.
After surprising a crowd of thousands of delighted football fans, students, and tailgaters, she made a short speech, was escorted into the stadium, stood at attention as the national anthem was played, and headed out under Secret Service escort.
Her next stop: the gymnasium located at the John H. Dickerson Center, a facility on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., in the heart of Daytona Beach’s Black community.
The gym is named after the late Ralph Robinson, a youth coach and mentor who worked in the building as a custodian when it was known as Campbell Elementary, an all-Black neighborhood school.
The building itself is named after the late John H. Dickerson, one of the Black principals of Campbell Elementary before it was shut down as a consequence of the court-ordered racial desegregation of Volusia County’s public school system.
Around the state
After a quick speech given to enthusiastic supporters, it was on to Miami for another rally that evening.
In less than a week before Election Day, vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine will have been in Melbourne, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and President Obama in Orlando, Hillary Clinton in Miami, Daytona Beach and Dade City, Vice President Joe Biden in Tampa and Palm Beach Gardens, and Congressman John Lewis in Daytona Beach.
The campaign is correct not to take any chances, as reports of Black voters’ enthusiasm are contradictory.
Some Black voting experts say they see strong and steady voter participation and voter enthusiasm among African-Americans, the constituency that votes most faithfully for the Democratic ticket.
“I think it’s going to be high,” says Melanie Campbell, president/CEO of the National Coalition for Black Civic Participation, the leading organization for voter turnout in national Black communities.
“There’s definitely been an enthusiasm in showing up and I think there are various reasons for it.”
The early vote so far shows Florida could be headed to yet another extremely close result, cementing its status as the nation’s most closely divided battleground.
Close to 30 percent of the state’s more than 12.8 million eligible voters have already cast ballots for the Nov. 8 general election, with registered Republicans holding a slight edge over Democrats.
Nearly 1.8 million Floridian took advantage of early-voting sites across the state in the first of the two weeks the voting option was available, according to numbers posted early Monday by the state Division of Elections. Almost 2 million other Floridians have submitted vote-by-mail ballots.
Voters from both major parties have returned more than 1.5 million ballots each, with Republicans ahead by almost 65,000 among vote-by-mail ballots as of early Monday.
Democrats were up in early voting numbers by just over 55,000. Independents have returned more than 325,000 vote-by-mail ballots and cast over 300,000 early votes.
Floridians registered with third parties have accounted for nearly 50,000 vote-by-mail ballots and more than 40,000 early votes.
Black Floridians lagging?
“It’s close here. I could make an argument for either one of them here right now, very easily,” said Democratic strategist Steve Schale, who ran Obama’s campaign in Florida in 2008.
As in other states, early voting by Black voters in Florida has lagged behind their 2012 share of the electorate, which is why Obama will be traveling this week to Miami and Jacksonville to campaign for Clinton.
“We need the number to go up,” Schale said; “having the president here helps.”
No foolproof method
There is no method by which to scientifically document the number of Black voters who have cast their ballots, The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies has given an indicator of Black participation by conducting a recent “Poll on Black Voter Enthusiasm.”
The poll results range from Black voter enthusiasm as high as 90 percent in the Midwest to the lowest of 75 percent in the West – still relatively high.
Despite her observation of high voter turnout, Campbell says she remains concerned about Black millennials, many of whom strongly supported the Democratic candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Sanders is campaigning strongly for Clinton this week, but millennial voters, even according to the Joint Center survey, still appear sluggish in their enthusiasm for Clinton. Some question whether they vote at all.
“We still have a concern whether the millennials will turn out and vote in the numbers that they have. But a lot of millennial groups are working hard,” Campbell said.
Those groups include Black Youth Vote among other youth organizing groups. Color of Change, an online national activist organization is also doing special outreach to Black youth.
Though the economy and jobs run high among the issues that concern older Black voters, criminal justice issues are foremost on the minds of young voters with affordable education close behind.
The Black Lives Matter movement has raised the issue of disparate police killings of Black people to the level of a presidential political issue.
Latinos up, Blacks down?
So far, Latino voters appear to be turning out at levels above 2012 – far greater in some states. But African-American voters in other states have also lagged behind.
That puts Clinton in a stronger position in states where Latinos play a key role, notably Arizona and Nevada. It could indicate trouble in industrial-belt states where a big turnout by Black voters was critical to Obama’s victories.
Obama won in Ohio in 2012 because of “tremendous performance out of Cuyahoga County and Franklin County” by African-American voters, said Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher, referring to the counties that include Cleveland and Cincinnati.
“But 2012 was an amazing year for African-American voters,” he added. The question for Democrats will be how much of a decline they suffer.
That decline in Black turnout is part of the reason public polls show Trump well-positioned to capture Ohio. His strong support from blue-collar White voters has also given him a potential edge in Iowa, another archetypal swing state that Obama won twice.
For the final stretch of the presidential race, the GOP nominee has embarked on a strategy of long-shot bids, holding rallies and airing ads in states that were reliably Democratic in recent elections. Trump’s gambit sacrifices face time in battleground states, but if successful, would upend the political map and likely hand him the White House.
“The Trump campaign is on the offensive and expanding our presence in battleground states into blue states,” David Bossie, Trump’s deputy campaign manager, told reporters Tuesday.
Trump’s campaign believes it can flip states by relying on his populist rhetoric that connects with White working-class voters hurt by the Rust Belt’s decline in manufacturing.
Michigan was among 13 states where the Trump campaign placed a $25 million ad buy for the final week of the race, digital director Brad Parscale announced.
Hazel Trice Edney of the Trice Edney News Wire; Melanie Mason and Michael A. Memoli of the Tribune Washington Bureau; and David Goldstein of McClatchy Washington Bureau /TNS all contributed to this report. Information from the News Service of Florida was also used.