PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. >> Hispanic voters in key states surged to cast their ballots as early voting concluded in much of the country 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 more voters to the polls, Clinton visited a handful of immigrant communities today 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 visited 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 that until now he has not bothered even 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 over 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. “And they didn’t come out for anybody as much as they came out against what they saw as racism. So Trump deserves the award for Hispanic turnout. He did more to get them out than any Democrat has ever done.”
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 here.
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.
But it was not just Florida where Hispanics were poised to send a powerful message. In Nevada, which has long had 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 until 10 p.m. at one Hispanic grocery store in Las Vegas, where the images of hundreds of Latinos 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 Latino share of the early vote was 3 percent higher in Arizona than what it was four years ago, according to an analysis by Catalist, a Democratic data firm.
The same study found that as of the end of early voting Thursday, five states with surging Hispanic populations — Arizona, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Nevada — had already cast ballots equivalent to over 50 percent of their total turnout from 2012.
While the changing face of the American 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.
And Trump has been trying to take advantage of this slippage by making a late incursion into Michigan and Wisconsin, states he was weighing returning to Sunday.
Acknowledging that Trump is threatening the grip Democrats have had on Michigan in presidential races since 1988, Clinton rallied supporters in Detroit on Friday, before heading to Ohio for an evening concert with Jay Z and Beyoncé.
She planned to be in Philadelphia on Saturday night for another campaign concert, featuring Katy Perry and Stevie Wonder, before heading Sunday to New Hampshire, and then again 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 near the levels of Hispanics, but she was also looking to win back white voters who have been drifting from her over the past week.
She also dispatched her running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, to Wisconsin and onetime rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, to Iowa over the weekend to blunt Trump’s white support.
“What do all those states she’s going back to hold in common: they’re all older and whiter than the country,” said Karl Rove, the Republican strategist, about Clinton’s attempt to lock down Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.
But Clinton can afford to lose Ohio and Iowa, another heavily white state that Obama won twice, 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 last 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,” Rove said. “Not her.”