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December 13, 2018

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Hispanics surge to polls as race enters last days

PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. — Hispanic voters in key states surged to cast their ballots in the final days of early voting this weekend, a demonstration of political power that lifted Hillary Clinton’s presidential hopes and threatened to block Donald Trump’s path to the White House.

In Florida, energized by the groundswell of Latino support and hoping to drive even more voters to the polls, Clinton visited a handful of immigrant communities Saturday and rallied Democrats in a town filled with Hispanic and Caribbean migrants.

“We are seeing tremendous momentum, large numbers of people turning out, breaking records,” Clinton said here in Pembroke Pines before cutting her remarks short when torrential afternoon rain began falling on the mixed-race crowd. Before taking the stage, she greeted voters at a heavily Cuban early voting center in West Miami and then stopped in at her storefront field office in Miami’s Little Haiti.

Indeed, even as she fought a rear-guard action to defend a series of more heavily white states that appear to have tightened — making trips to Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire — Clinton appeared to find a growing advantage in the more diverse presidential battlegrounds.

This long, unpredictable and often downright bizarre election was, in other words, ending along the lines it had been contested all along: with Americans sharply divided along demographic lines between the two candidates. But Democrats continued to hold the upper hand, thanks in part to the changing nature of the electorate in the most crucial states: Florida and a cluster of states in the South and West.

Trump also began the day in this state, rallying supporters in Tampa, where he recognized Hispanic supporters in his audience and declared “the Cubans just endorsed me,” citing an award he had been given by a group of Cuban-Americans. Without explaining what he meant, Trump said: “The Hispanic vote is turning out to be much different than people thought.”

He also continued to assail Clinton over her use of a private email server as secretary of state, highlighting the FBI’s apparent discovery of messages on a computer used by Huma Abedin, a longtime Clinton aide, and her estranged husband, former Rep. Anthony D. Weiner. But, continuing a recent pattern, Trump hurled claims at Clinton that were highly speculative.

“Anthony Weiner has probably every classified email ever sent,” said Trump. “And, knowing this guy, he probably studied every single one, in between using his machine for other purposes.”

The FBI is investigating whether Weiner sent sexually explicit text messages to a 15-year-old.

Trump also stopped on Saturday in North Carolina and planned to take advantage of the time-zone differences by flying west for evening rallies in Colorado and Nevada.

By holding events in those four increasingly diverse states, he was signaling a refusal to concede any ground to Clinton and rejecting the strategy of past presidential candidates who have fought within the confines of a narrower electoral map in the campaign’s final hours.

He even announced Saturday morning that he planned to add a stop in Minnesota, long a Democratic bulwark and a state he had not been contesting.

But the evidence from polling and the early voting turnout seemed to indicate he was facing the possibility of sweeping losses in states with sizable Hispanic populations, most likely affected by the racially tinged language he has used since beginning his campaign more than 16 months ago, when he claimed the ranks of Mexican migrants were filled with rapists and drug dealers.

“The story of this election may be the mobilization of the Hispanic vote,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, an anti-Trump Republican who has pleaded with his party to do more to win over Latinos. “So Trump deserves the award for Hispanic turnout. He did more to get them out than any Democrat has ever done.”

The question for Republicans, just 12 years after President George W. Bush carried at least a third of the Hispanic vote, is how long the Trump-inflicted damage with Latinos will haunt them.

Raising the specter of how difficult it has been for California Republicans since former Gov. Pete Wilson’s hard line toward undocumented migrants there, Graham said, “If we don’t come to grips with the demographic challenges we have with Hispanics in presidential politics, we’ll never right the ship.”

In Florida, at least 200,000 more Hispanics had voted early as of Friday than did during the entire early voting period four years ago, according to an analysis by Steve Schale, a Democratic strategist who helped run President Barack Obama’s two campaigns in the state.

The turnout has been particularly explosive in South Florida and in Central Florida, where thousands from Puerto Rico and other regions of Latin America have migrated in recent years. And 24 percent of the Hispanics casting early ballots were first-time voters, the analysis showed.

In Orlando, voters waited for as long as 90 minutes at one early voting location at a library, some spending the time taking pictures of one another in front of candidates’ signs. Parking lots for a quarter-mile surrounding the area were packed.

Clinton clearly carried the day there. Jon-Carlos Perez, 30, an independent voter and a concrete worker originally from Puerto Rico, said he cast his vote for Clinton in part because “she’s not an idiot like Trump.”

Alyssa Perez, 23, a doctoral student at the University of Central Florida who voted at another busy location in Orlando, said she considered Trump to be “anti-women, anti-Hispanic, anti-Muslim” and said, “I don’t want to live in a country where there is a president who has those kinds of views.”

Canvassing on Saturday morning in North Miami, Mary Kay Henry, the president of the Service Employees International Union, and a handful of local members focused on households, many of them Haitian or Hispanic, with an infrequent voting history. But nearly every resident who answered their door assured her they had already voted.

“The word is out,” said Henry, as roosters scooted between yards.

But it was not just Florida where Hispanics were poised to send a powerful message. In Nevada, which has the fastest-growing Latino population in the West, Democrats appeared to have built a fearsome advantage in Las Vegas’ Clark County at the end of early voting Friday, largely because of a surge of votes from Mexican-Americans. The early voting period was extended to 10 p.m. at one Hispanic grocery store in Las Vegas, where the images of hundreds of voters waiting in line ricocheted across the internet.

Hispanic turnout also soared during the early voting period in Arizona, which has voted for a Democrat for president only once since 1952 and where Clinton’s campaign made a late push with television advertising and rallies to snatch the state from the Republicans.

The same study found that as of the end of early voting on Thursday, five states with surging Hispanic populations — Arizona, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Nevada — had already cast ballots equivalent to more than 50 percent of their total turnout from 2012.

While the changing face of the U.S. electorate seemed to offer Clinton a political cushion, the FBI’s decision to continue investigating her use of a private email server as secretary of state appeared to push some loosely committed white voters away. Trump has seized on the issue in virtually every speech, repeatedly insinuating that Clinton was on the verge of being charged despite no evidence to support the claim.

“She’s under multiple federal investigations, has committed many crimes, including perjury, and she’s now facing the prospect of a federal indictment,” Trump said as he delivered the Republican Party’s weekly radio address.

And Trump has been trying to take advantage of Clinton’s slippage in mostly white states by making a late incursion into Michigan and Wisconsin.

Acknowledging that Trump is threatening the grip Democrats have had on Michigan in presidential races since 1988, Clinton appeared Friday in Detroit and planned an event in Grand Rapids for Monday while announcing that Obama would visit Ann Arbor the same day.

She appeared Saturday night in Philadelphia, before heading Sunday to New Hampshire and then returning to Ohio, where she was to appear with Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James in a state Obama twice captured but has proved elusive for her.

Clinton was trying to rally African-Americans, who have not been participating in early voting at the levels of Hispanics, but she was also looking to win back white voters who have been drifting from her during the past week.

She also dispatched her running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine, to Wisconsin and onetime rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, to Iowa over the weekend to blunt Trump’s white support.

But Clinton can afford to lose Ohio and Iowa and even Michigan and still easily amass the 270 electoral votes needed for victory if she is able to secure the Southern and Western states that have tilted away from Republicans as they lost ground with nonwhites over the past decade: Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, as well as New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada.

And while she may not win every one of these diverse states, capturing most of them would be enough to deny Trump any path to the White House.

“You can credit him for that,” said Karl Rove, the Republican strategist. “Not her.”

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