Hillary Clinton in Orlando: ‘It is still dangerous to be LGBT in America’

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton leaves a bouquet of flowers as she visits a memorial Friday outside of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the site of a June 12th shooting that killed 49 people.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton leaves a bouquet of flowers as she visits a memorial Friday outside of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the site of a June 12th shooting that killed 49 people. AP

A somber Hillary Clinton met privately on Friday with family members of victims of last month's Pulse nightclub killings in Orlando and later held a roundtable with community leaders.

Three days before the start of the Democratic National Convention, Clinton said the massacre of 49 innocent patrons at a popular gay club by an ISIS loyalist underscores the need for gun control and of the dangers faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

"It is still dangerous to be LGBT in America," Clinton said. "We have to stand against hate and bigotry ... We have a lot of work ahead of us." She added: "We have to take on the epidemic of gun violence ... and demand changes."

Her Orlando visit was part of a two-day tour of Florida, where she will visit Tampa later on Friday and Miami on Saturday.

Media outlets were reporting that she would announce, via text, her selection for VP before her Tampa visit.

U.S. Sen. Timothy Kaine of Virginia had emerged as the leading contender. Others in the hunt were Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

Her first stop was Orlando, which has become more of a Democratic stronghold in recent years thanks to a booming Puerto Rican population.

Her roundtable meeting in Orlando included Mayor Buddy Dyer; Orlando SWAT team commander Mark Canty; Carlos Guillermo Smith, a leader of Equality Florida and Democratic state House candidate; and Imam Muhhamad Musri, a pastor, senior imam and chairman of the board of the Islamic Society of Central Florida.

A large campaign rally is planned in Tampa at the Florida State Fairgrounds at 4:30 p.m.

The fairgrounds might have spilled the beansthat Clinton plans to announce her VP pick in Tampa.

On Saturday, Clinton will hold a noon rally in Miami at Florida International University.

Clinton's two Florida appearances Friday, in Orlando and at the state fairgrounds in Tampa, were both in the heart of one of America's pivotal electoral battlegrounds, the I-4 corridor that slices across the state's midsection from Tampa to Daytona Beach and as the gateway to Disney World, a highway that's familiar to tourists everywhere.

"The I-4 corridor has been important in every campaign when you look at Florida," said Amanda Renteria, Clinton's national political director. "You look at key battlegrounds and where campaigns are won and lost and the I-4 corridor is certainly one of those places."

The two most populous counties in the corridor, Hillsborough and Orange, have been trending Democratic for years. Both counties were critical to President Barack Obama's two Florida victories in 2008 and 2012. Other counties along I-4 — Polk, Seminole and Volusia — lean Republican. Pinellas, though technically not in the I-4 corridor, matters because it's part of the Tampa television market, and is the large county with the most competitive balance between the two major parties. Pinellas is the state's sixth most populous county, and on Friday there were 800 more Republicans than Democrats in a pool of more than 600,000 voters.

Like much of the rest of the state, the I-4 corridor is getting more populous, younger and more diverse, with a steady influx of new Hispanic residents, especially in Orange and its neighbor, Osceola, home to increasing numbers of Puerto Rican voters.

The Florida politician with the longest political connection to the I-4 corridor is Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who was first elected as a state representative from Brevard County in 1972 and has won a half-dozen statewide elections as a Cabinet member and senator.

As the only Democrat who currently holds statewide office, Nelson thinks not just in terms of counties, but TV markets.

He said the combination of the Orlando and the Tampa-St. Petersburg markets (the state's largest TV market) account for 46 percent of the vote in a general election in Florida.

"It is the swing part of the state," Nelson said. "The person who carries the I-4 corridor will win the state."