Can’t com­pete with Matthew: Can­di­dates cut Fla. cam­paigns

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - WEATHER -

TALLAHASSEE, FLA. >> Like thou­sands of other Amer­i­cans, Don­ald Trump and Hil­lary Clin­ton abruptly up­ended their plans Thurs­day in Florida, where Hur­ri­cane Matthew threat­ened to wreak havoc on fi­nal-stretch pres­i­den­tial cam­paign­ing in a 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.

Clin­ton’s cam­paign asked the state for more time to reg­is­ter vot­ers — a re­quest Florida Gov. 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 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 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.”

Clin­ton tweeted: “Hur­ri­cane Matthew is a ma­jor storm . ... Stay safe Florida.”

Both stayed far away, pre­par­ing for their sec­ond de­bate, a town hall-style face­off on Sun­day in St. Louis. Trump was hold­ing a dry run town hall in Sandown, New Hamp­shire, while Clin­ton was speak­ing at fundrais­ers in New York.

Along the South­east 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 must­win state for 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.

Scott said Thurs­day evening that he would not con­sider ex­tend­ing the Oct. 11 voter reg­is­tra­tion dead­line.

“Ev­ery­one has had a lot of time to reg­is­ter,” Scott said, adding, “I don’t in­tend to make any changes.”

Scott, a Repub­li­can, is a strong sup­porter of GOP nom­i­nee Don­ald 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.

Still, dis­rup­tions in Florida cam­paign­ing were im­me­di­ate.

In Palm Beach County, lo­cal Repub­li­can Chair­man Michael Bar­nett said Matthew al­ready had forced can­cel­la­tions, in­clud­ing phonebank­ing op­er­a­tions and an event where Ivanka Trump was the head­liner. Lo­cal GOP of­fi­cials also will miss an op­por­tu­nity for out­reach to Latino lead­ers, be­cause an an­nual gala of a lo­cal His­panic civic group was can­celed.

“There is no good time, but this is just the worst time,” Bar­nett said. “What­ever hap­pens, I think we can make up for the lost time, as long as we are not clean­ing our­selves out from un­der a cat­a­strophic mess.”

Democrats, too, pre­pared for high-power cam­paign­ing to grind to a halt in af­fected ar­eas. Tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tis­ing of­ten fails to reach vot­ers pre­oc­cu­pied by an im­pend­ing storm and the af­ter­math.

How and where to ad­ver­tise be­came an im­me­di­ate flash­point be­tween the cam­paigns. Af­ter Clin­ton ads were spot­ted on the Weather Chan­nel, the Trump cam­paign ac­cused her of a “tone deaf” at­tempt to cap­i­tal­ize on the sit­u­a­tion.

A Clin­ton spokesman said ads had been sched­uled on lo­cal Weather Chan­nel sta­tions in Florida and other states. But the storm’s po­ten­tial sever­ity prompted the cam­paign to can­cel the Florida por­tion.

The storm posed un­usual chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties for the can­di­dates, par­tic­u­larly Trump, who is try­ing to prove his lead­er­ship.

The New York busi­ness­man has some­times ap­peared clumsy in his re­sponse to crises — in­clud­ing send­ing out tweets in which he seemed to pat him­self on the back for pre­dict­ing ter­ror at­tacks.

In the af­ter­math of the flood­ing in Louisiana ear­lier this year, Trump and his run­ning mate, Mike Pence, rushed to the Ba­ton Rouge area to tour the dam­age. Dur­ing the trip, Trump crit­i­cized the pres­i­dent and later Hil­lary Clin­ton for fail­ing to do the same, de­spite re­quest from lo­cal of­fi­cials to steer clear.

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