- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump launched campaign blitzes across Florida in the final week of the race, as the Sunshine State emerged as the front line in an increasingly close battle for the White House.

What’s at stake in Florida for the two candidates cannot be overstated. It would be next to impossible for Mr. Trump, the Republican nominee, to win without Florida’s 29 electoral votes. For Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic nominee, a Florida victory would all but assure her a return trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Florida prize is still up for grabs six days before the election, although the race has been tilting toward Mr. Trump, who burst into the lead in recent polls.

Mrs. Clinton barnstormed across the state Tuesday, unleashing fierce attacks on Mr. Trump aimed at breaking his momentum. She was joined on the stump by Alicia Machado, the 1996 Miss Universe who says Mr. Trump called her “Miss Piggy” when she gained weight after winning the pageant, which the billionaire businessman owned at the time.

“It is really clear he does not respect women. He just judges us on our looks. He thinks he can do whatever he wants and get away with it,” Ms. Machado said.

She delivered the message in both English and Spanish. Her appeal targeted women and Hispanic voters, two demographics key to the coalition Mrs. Clinton is attempting to assemble.

Mrs. Clinton hammered Mr. Trump with accusations that he threatens nuclear war, would break up families through mass deportations of illegal immigrants and mistreats women. She alleged that Mr. Trump would seek peeks at undressed underage girls when he owned the Miss Teen USA pageant.

“Contestants say that Donald Trump came in to look at them when they were changing. Some of them were just 15 years old,” she told a rally in Dade City, Florida. “We cannot hide from this. We’ve got to be willing to face it. This man wants to be president of the United States of America.”

Schedules for both candidates underscored the campaigns’ keen focus on Florida.

Mrs. Clinton made three campaign stops Tuesday, while her husband, former President Bill Clinton, made his own three-stop swing. Mr. Trump has four events slated for Wednesday, blanketing the state from Miami to Jacksonville.

“Florida is definitely living up to its reputation as the most important battleground state,” said University of Central Florida political science professor Aubrey Jewett, an expert on Florida politics. “The polls have basically gone back and forth.”

The candidates have traded the lead five times in the Real Clear Politics running average of Florida polls since they clinched the nominations this summer. Mr. Trump retook the lead this past weekend after the FBI reopened an investigation of Mrs. Clinton for using a secret email setup as secretary of state, potentially criminally mishandling government secrets.

Mr. Trump took a 4-point lead over Mrs. Clinton in two recent polls: a New York Times/Siena survey conducted before the announcement of the renewed FBI investigation and a GOP-leaning Remington Research poll conducted after the announcement.

The Real Clear Politics average of recent polls in Florida, which included The New York Times/Siena and the Remington Research surveys, gave Mr. Trump a 1-point lead.

Mr. Jewett said the volatility was a product of the state’s evenly split electorate, which has made Florida a nail-biter in every presidential race for the last 30 years. He noted that Florida Democrats currently have a thin 2.5 percentage point advantage in voter registration, and nonaffiliated voters make up 27 percent of the electorate.

“The bottom line is we are just closely divided,” he said.

Both candidates have built-in strengths in Florida.

Mr. Trump, a New York billionaire, calls the Sunshine State his second home. He owns the landmark Mar-a-Largo Club in Palm Beach, Florida, and often stays there.

Mrs. Clinton has enjoyed a substantial lead among Hispanic voters, who make up nearly a quarter of the population in Florida.

Hispanic voters have turned out at about the same level for early voting in Florida as they did in 2012, when President Obama beat Republican Mitt Romney in the state by less than a 1 percent margin. However, Florida’s black voters so far haven’t been there for Mrs. Clinton as they were for Mr. Obama four years ago.

“There’s one very obvious data point that should concern Democrats and bolster Republicans: Black turnout is down,” said Geoffrey Skelley, associate editor of the political journal Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

He noted that black voters formed just 15 percent of early in-person votes after a week of early voting, compared to 25 percent in 2012.

“The trend has to be a big worry for Democrats at this point. Relatedly, Republicans still hold a very slight overall edge of 0.4 percentage points in party ID among those who have cast a ballot so far. In 2012 Democrats held a 3.8-point party ID advantage among those who cast a ballot before Election Day,” he said.

“Taken as a whole, I think there’s more good news for Trump than Clinton in Florida,” said Mr. Skelley.

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