Down to the wire
With two days to go before the US elects its next president, the race is getting tight. City Press spoke to voters on the ground
Tears flowed as Marilyn recounted this week how people jumped from the collapsing World Trade Centre in New York City, where she grew up and witnessed the towers being built. “When it happened, I was here [in Miami], but it was like I was there,” she said of the 9/11 attack, more than 15 years ago. “And then, when I saw people jumping from the windows, that really hit home. Because that could have been a friend of mine. We’re so jam-packed in New York City, it could have been a family member,” she said, sobbing.
“To me, New York is like a different country now. It’s like they attacked my country.”
Days before Tuesday’s presidential election in the US, Marilyn donned a jailbird outfit and a mask of Hillary Clinton at a last-push Donald Trump rally on Thursday in Miami. But the reopened investigation into the Democratic nominee wasn’t the main reason she attended the packed rally in the 2 600-seater amphitheatre of Miami’s downtown Bayfront Park, in a grassy area right by the water.
The retired nurse and child of Paraguayan immigrants – her elderly father came with her – wants to stop people who follow Islam from coming to the US.
The irony appears lost on Marilyn, who joked that her surname was Monroe. She’s Hispanic, a minority group at the sharpest end of Trump-inspired race hate, who supports Trump’s stance on Muslims.
“To me, it’s important that we ban Muslims from this country until we can vet them 100%,” she says.
“In our country, we never had beheadings or honour killings. Okay, so people say we hang, we burn, whatever – but that was for political reasons. That’s not something that your holy book says … but the Qur’an says you can do that.”
Stricter controls on the US’s already draconian immigration and asylum regulations topped the lists of many Trump supporters City Press encountered in the run-up to one of the most contested elections in recent US history.
At a Trump rally in Cleveland, Ohio, this week, estate agent Kim agreed: “I’m not a racist, but when you start to come to our country and start to terrorise...”
At Trump’s Miami rally, supporters chanted “Build a wall!” when Florida attorney-general Pam Bondi, a close Trump ally, took to the podium. She said jobs were moving overseas owing to “bad trade policies” by the Democrats, that fundamentalist group Islamic State was “taking over”, and she was “sick of seeing an influx of coke and heroin” in her town. “Lock her up!” is another favourite chant at Trump rallies. The FBI has recently reopened its investigation into former secretary of state Clinton’s sending of thousands of official emails from a private server in contravention of government regulations, and possibly compromising state security.
During the second presidential debate last month, Trump – who has consistently used the email saga in his campaign against Clinton, partly to counter a flood of reported allegations of sexual harassment against him – threatened to jail Clinton over the scandal should he become president.
“Did you hear about this little event, the FBI reopening the investigation? They’re reopening the investigation into crooked Hillary Clinton,” Trump told the Miami crowd, who were on their feet cheering, waving red posters bearing the slogan on his white cap, “Make America great again”, as well as placards of women, Hispanics and a handful of black supporters declaring allegiance to Trump.
He called the investigation “the biggest scandal since Watergate”.
On Monday, Clinton, dressed in a fighting-red suit, her voice slightly hoarse from addressing up to three rallies a day, opened her week of campaigning by telling a smaller rally of mainly students at Kent University in Ohio: “There is no case here.”
Like Florida, Ohio is a swing state that has historically determined the outcome of presidential elections.
Clinton said she was “not making excuses” for her use of a personal email address, but said the FBI would reach the same conclusion it did earlier this year, when it decided against prosecuting her.
She also wheeled out former nuclear missile launch officer, Bruce Blair, who said Trump would be a dangerous commander in chief.
Clinton supporters in Ohio told City Press the email saga mattered to them less than the threat a possible Trump presidency would pose to the country.
Sydney, a politics and history major, said Trump did not “even have the knowledge [of politics] that I learnt in my undergrad classes”.
“I have looked up to Hillary Clinton my whole life, she is a really strong woman. I think she will do a lot of good things for women, the LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and/or intersex] community, Muslims, black people – everybody who hasn’t been privileged by society and who needs extra support,” she said.
Chetan, a digital sciences student originally from India, said he supported Clinton because of her experience and the threat Trump would pose to immigrants like himself. “Everybody knows America is a land of opportunity. They have good opportunities here. Everybody is considered equal, there shouldn’t be hatred towards one another,” he said.
Polls show very few Hispanics and even fewer black Americans will vote for Trump, but Clinton’s supporters fear a loss of votes in these communities as well.
A day after Trump’s Bayfront rally, in Greater Miami’s more pedestrian suburbs, an emotional Clinton campaigner was in tears too. Fresh out of a rally held by President Barack Obama at Florida International University, the fourth-biggest in the US, former student Cynthia Oladapo feared that black voters were deserting the Democrats for the wrong reasons.
One poll this week even showed that Trump was slightly in the lead in the traditionally Republican Sunshine State, which in the past two elections voted for Obama.
“The black American community are feeling betrayed and angry, and have turned on [Obama] and they are not out there voting. We have been going door to door to get them to vote,” said the 41-year-old African-American woman, dressed in jeans and a feminist T-shirt with a vintage image bearing Clinton’s face.
Oladapo said a Republican-dominated House of Representatives and Senate made things difficult for Obama, and if Democrats didn’t go out to vote, the presidency as well as the bench on the Supreme Court would be dominated by Republicans for the first time in decades.
“Never in 50 years have we had it one-sided. This is not one country with one voice, we have more than one voice. They [the Republicans] want it all one-sided now,” she said.
Early voting figures since the opening of the polls almost two weeks ago show that black voters – most of them Democrat supporters – have not turned out in their numbers like in the previous two elections.
Oladapo was one of the most vocal in the 4 500-strong crowd loudly cheering Obama’s every word, while the outgoing US president appeared to humbly bask in the glory.
Three months before the end of his eight years in office, his approval ratings are at 54%, slightly higher than the 50% before his 2012 re-election. When he asked “Do you know what makes America great?”, the supporters cheekily shouted: “You!”
A day before Trump told voters they were “victims” of a rigged system who should make their voices heard, Obama reminded young people of the power of their vote.
“I know a lot of you are cynical about politics. There’s a lot about this election that gives you reason to be,” he said. “But I’m here to tell you, right now, you have a chance to move history in a better direction.”
Both Clinton and Trump have scheduled events in Manhattan on Tuesday night, at the close of polls. Clinton has labelled hers an occasion to make “remarks to supporters and volunteers”, while Trump’s will be a “victory party”.
Only one of them will celebrate an election win.
RUN THE WORLD US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is joined by artist Beyoncé at a campaign concert in Cleveland, Ohio, on Friday
CONFUSED? Marilyn wears her Hillary Clinton jail costume at a Trump rally in Miami on Thursday