Hillary Clinton stumped in Broward County for the first time in nearly a year Friday, as Florida polls showed her barely edging Donald Trump and as fearful Democrats openly worried about the status of her campaign, particularly when it comes to reaching black voters.
But Clinton appeared to still be savoring her successful debate performance against Trump.
“Did any of you see the debate Monday night?” she said soon after taking the stage at the packed Coral Springs Gymnasium.
There was a strategic reason for bringing it up: On Monday, Clinton mentioned Alicia Machado, the Venezuelan-born former beauty queen Trump once called “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping.”
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On Friday morning, it was still bothering Trump. He went on an early-morning Twitter rant beginning at 3:20 a.m. and, between 5:14 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. posted about the 1996 Miss Universe’s weight gain and debunked “sex tape.”
Clinton was only too happy to keep talking about Machado, who lives at least part-time in Miami Beach and has campaigned for Clinton in Doral and Miami.
“Really, who gets up at 3 o’clock in the morning to engage in a Twitter attack against a former Miss Universe?” Clinton asked. “I mean, he hurled as many insults as he could. Really, why does he do things like that?”
“I mean, his latest Twitter meltdown is unhinged, even for him,” she continued, adding that it “proves yet again that he is temperamentally unfit to be president and commander-in-chief.”
Her campaign said Clinton spoke to Machado by phone Friday to thank her for her “courage.”
“These attacks are cheap lies with bad intentions,” Machado said in a statement.
In his tweets, Trump had suggested Clinton might have helped Machado obtain her U.S. citizenship to deploy her story in the campaign —a charge her team denied.
“Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia M become a U.S. citizen so she could use her in the debate?” Trump wrote.
Later in the day, he defended his posts: “For those few people knocking me for tweeting at three o’clock in the morning, at least you know I will be there, awake, to answer the call!”
Trump, Clinton said in Coral Springs, “finds it a lot easier to insult women than he does talking to the president of Mexico about building a wall.”
Polls show Clinton already winning over women, and her message resonated among the heavily female crowd in Coral Springs. Pepper Thompson, a 56-year-old retired school librarian from Coconut Creek, wore a symbolic “Miss Piggy” T-shirt.
“I wanted to show Donald he can throw insults around, but he is the one who is sexist, racist,” said Thompson, who added she’s volunteered to register voters for Clinton. “I’ve been dying to see her.”
Kathryn Kvech, 39, pulled her four children, ages 5 to 12, out of school early to see Clinton.
“I am raising my children to be kind people,” said Kvech, of Coral Springs. “Hillary promotes kindness.”
Rukhsana Ayyub, 62, emigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan when she was 23 years old.
“I have a message for Trump,” said Ayyub, a nonprofit organization worker from Coconut Creek. “I am an immigrant. I am Muslim. I am proud to pay my taxes.”
Nearly 2,400 people cheered Clinton, with more than 1,000 others sent to a neighboring overflow hall, according to her campaign. That’s a big audience — her supporters lined outside as a thunderstorm broke out — but nowhere near the thousands more Trump drew last month at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.
In her speech, Clinton promised to work to raise the minimum wage, make college affordable, provide families child care and tackle climate change.
“Climate change is real. Florida knows that,” Clinton said. “My opponent thinks it is a hoax created by the Chinese.”
Clinton urged supporters to register to vote — at their current addresses — and vote by mail “starting Oct. 24.” That’s the day early voting will begin in Miami-Dade and Broward counties; mail-in ballots will start going out earlier, on Oct. 4.
“I’ll be in Florida so much you’ll get sick of me,” Clinton promised.
Next week, it’s President Barack Obama who will be advocating for her: He will make his first Florida campaign stop for Clinton on Wednesday in Miami. He will be in Tampa earlier the same day, giving a speech on Obamacare, and later will fundraise in Miami Beach for Democratic governors. Vice President Joe Biden will stump for Clinton on Monday in Orlando and Sarasota.
Clinton wrapped the evening Friday at a fundraiser hosted in Miami Beach by Sprint chief executive Marcelo Claure and his wife, Jordan.
Earlier Friday in Port St. Lucie, Clinton proposed a new national service program for people under 30 to have more opportunities to volunteer. Her campaign hasn’t generated the sort of excitement among young voters as Obama in 2008 and 2012, or as her Democratic primary rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
She’s also lagging behind Obama’s numbers among Hispanic and black voters, two key Democratic demographics.
“I see people are not as excited as they were for previous campaigns,” said Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness, who backs Clinton and represents a black-majority district. Her local supporters need to make inroads in churches and neighborhoods, he said.
“Republicans have done a heck of a job beating her up with these things that at the end of the day are not going to change their lives much,” Holness said, referring to State Department emails stored in Clinton’s private servers. Black voters need to hear about policies she backed, like the Children’s Health Insurance Program, he said.
“If we don’t turn the vote out there in the black community, she is going to have a tough time winning the state of Florida.”
Monday’s debate has given Clinton a boost in battleground-state polls, though it’s too early to know whether the trend will extend into the longer term. The Florida race remains neck and neck; a Real Clear Politics average gives Clinton an advantage of 1.2 percentage points.
A new Florida poll released Friday showed Clinton with a slight bump. The survey by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research showed Clinton leading Trump by 46-42 percent — a 2-point increase for Clinton since the polling firm’s previous survey a month ago. Its error margin is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Friday in Michigan, a supporter told Trump he was concerned about the new poll.
“Are we as stable in Florida as I believe we are?” she asked him.
“We seem to be, yes,” Trump responded.