Tuesday 21 January 2020

Matthew trumps Florida election campaigns

Donald Trump at town hall campaign event in Sandown, New Hampshire (AP)
Donald Trump at town hall campaign event in Sandown, New Hampshire (AP)

US presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have joined thousands of their countrymen in abruptly cancelling their plans in Florida, where Hurricane Matthew threatened to wreak havoc on their final-stretch campaigning in the critical swing state.

The campaigns rushed to move staff and volunteers, close offices and cancel events in the path of the storm. And as many Floridians heeded calls to evacuate, both candidates began the delicate and difficult task of pursuing votes during a crisis.

"Even if you want to do politics, no one is there to listen," said Steve Schale, a Democratic consultant who directed or advised Barack Obama's campaigns in Florida in 2008 and 2012.

Mrs Clinton's campaign asked the state for more time to register voters - a request Florida governor Rick Scott rejected - and the Trump team pulled its negative TV ads.

"It looks like it's a big one and it's going to be a bad one," said Mr Trump at a town hall in New Hampshire.

"Please know that we are praying for you and everyone in the path: You've got to take care of yourself, you've got to get out of the area, you've got to listen."

The hurricane is expected to hit billionaire property tycoon Mr Trump's prized Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach. Campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said: "Mr Trump spoke with employees yesterday to ensure they are safe and following instructions from local officials."

Mrs Clinton tweeted: "Hurricane Matthew is a major storm. Stay safe Florida."

Both candidates stayed far away, preparing for their second debate, a town hall-style face-off on Sunday in St Louis, Missouri.

Mr Trump was holding a dry-run event in Sandown, New Hampshire, while Mrs Clinton was speaking at fund raisers in New York.

Along the south east coast, Matthew was expected to bring dangerous conditions to Georgia, South Carolina and possibly North Carolina. But it was the impact on vote-rich Florida, a must-win state for Mr Trump, that had the campaigns on high alert.

The hurricane closed in just as both sides ramped up their early-vote push and just days before a voter registration deadline.

Vote-by-mail ballots are being sent to voters across the state this week, leaving the potential for ballots to arrive just as voters temporarily abandon their homes.

So far, a record 2.5 million people - nearly one-third of those who voted in 2012 - have made requests for the early ballots.

Mr Scott said on Thursday night that he would not consider extending the October 11 voter registration deadline. "Everyone has had a lot of time to register," he said, adding: "I don't intend to make any changes."

Republican Mr Scott is a strong supporter of Mr Trump and chairman of a Super PAC running Clinton-bashing television ads.

Officials said they were hoping that any disruption to voting would be less severe than with Superstorm Sandy, which struck New Jersey and New York just before the 2012 presidential election and kept many voters away from polls.

At least half of Florida voters typically cast ballots early, either by mail or in person, compared with just a fraction in New York and New Jersey.


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