The national anthem fades away just as a beaming Donald Trump reaches the podium in Orlando. “In six days we will win the great state of Florida and we will win back the White House. That will happen,” he says.
The speech that follows is quite enthusiastic considering Trump’s circumstances. There is no mention of alleged voter fraud. Instead, Mr. Trump talks about rising costs due to Obamacare — as if tackling the problem would soon be his responsibility. When he starts talking about his opponent Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, some in the crowd begin to shout “Lock her up.” But they are quickly drowned out by the Trump campaign’s new, more civil slogan: “Drain the swamp.”
In less than a week, the United States will elect a new president — and the man who was long considered an outsider without a chance is catching up on the homestretch. The electoral map by political poll aggregator “Real Clear Politics” shows a blue state disappearing almost daily. Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado: Pollsters now see states that were just recently counted as “leaning Clinton” turn into unknowns.
Whether it’s the FBI’s investigation into her emails, black voters’ lack of enthusiasm for her or increasingly close polls, there seems to be no end to the bad news for the Democrats.
Even Mr. Trump's own consultants are asking themselves if speeches in front of his employees and half-heartedly wooing already disgruntled voter groups is the most sensible use of his time one week before the election.
And though Ms. Clinton has an edge in electoral college votes, the trend favors Mr. Trump. In mid-October, renowned data journalist Nate Silver gave Republicans a 10 percent chance of winning the White House, based on aggregated surveys of competitive swing states, meanwhile Mr. Trump’s chances stand at 30 percent. Though that doesn’t sound like much, a high-ranking adviser to the U.S. government outlines it for Europeans as follows: “In a penalty shootout, around 25 percent of the players miss. That means the shooter usually will score, but you wouldn’t bet your house on it.” A Trump presidency is beginning to look like a real possibility.
Florida, with its 29 electoral votes is the third most important state in this election, and there Mr. Trump leads with a polling average of 46 to 45 percent against Ms. Clinton. This brings back bad memories for the Democrats. The “Sunshine State” is their Waterloo: During the 2000 election, George W. Bush beat Al Gore by a few hundred doubtfully counted votes and thus gained the electoral votes necessary to win — by a margin of one. The Democrats couldn’t believe it: Bush, supposedly a fool from Texas, defeated the highly intelligent, politically experienced former Vice President Gore. Is history repeating itself?
Ms. Clinton is working hard to turn the trend around, though. On Tuesday she made two stops in Florida. It’s clear which voters she’s courting there: Hispanics and women disgusted by Mr. Trump’s misogyny. In the tourist town of Dade City, Alicia Machado took to the stage with Ms. Clinton. Ms. Machado, born in Venezuela, was mocked by Mr. Trump about her weight and insulted as “Miss Housekeeping” for her Hispanic origins after she won the “Miss Universe” contest that he organized. When Ms. Clinton brought up the beauty queen during the first televised presidential debate, she threw Mr. Trump off for days. Ms. Machado has become one of Ms. Clinton’s most effective campaigners.
On Tuesday, Alicia Machado is on a makeshift stage in Dade City, surrounded by the Clinton campaign’s bright blue “Stronger Together” banners. She is now a U.S.-citizen, but has never voted, she tells hundreds of Clinton fans. “I could not be more proud to vote for Hillary Clinton in my first presidential election,” she says. Then Ms. Machado grows serious and talks about the Republican candidate’s “cruel” comments and about the eating disorders she suffered from after Mr. Trump called her “Miss Piggy.” Then she switches to Spanish: “Our vote is our power. That’s why we all have to vote early,” she says.
Donald Trump is speaking a four-hour drive south, on his golf resort in Doral, which is also in Florida. The entrepreneur turns to his staff: “80 percent are Hispanic” cooks, cleaners and gardeners, he says. “We love you,” they shout at him. “Say something nice, otherwise you’re fired,” a smiling Mr. Trump shouts to someone who doesn’t join in spontaneously. Later, speaking in Miami, he promises to take care of African-American and Latino communities as president. But many Republicans, such as Ernesto Gil, groan when they hear the name Trump. Mr. Gil is planning to vote for Marco Rubio, the conservative who lost to Mr. Trump in the primaries but is now again hoping to represent Florida in the Senate. “Anyone but Trump,” says Mr. Gil, who like so many here is of Cuban descent.
Mr. Trump must win Florida to have a shot at the White House. Nevertheless, even his own consultants are asking themselves if speeches in front of his employees and half-heartedly wooing already disgruntled voter groups is the most sensible use of his time just one week before the election. Ms. Clinton’s hunt for undecided voters looks more professional and more targeted than Mr. Trump’s operation. Nevertheless, the billionaire has overtaken her in Florida. But why?
Their strategies are completely different. While the Democrats want to pull in new voters and drive up the turnout among Hispanic and black voters, the Republicans’ strategy is aimed almost exclusively at its own base: white men without higher education. These are ostensibly the losers of free trade and globalization, who find Mr. Trump’s racist and sexist outbursts amusing. That’s why he’s touring through blue collar states such as Michigan and Wisconsin, which Republicans haven’t won since 1988. This time, both are considered hard-fought “battleground states.”
The second pillar of Mr. Trump’s Operation White House: Keeping Democratic voters away from the polls. “We are currently performing three major operations to suppress turnout,” a leading Trump campaign manager recently told “Bloomberg Businessweek.” In the predominantly black neighborhood of “Little Haiti” in Miami, for example, Mr. Trump’s people are trying to cast doubt on the commitment of the charitable Clinton Foundation after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010. A commercial with an old statement of Clinton’s about black “super-predators” is superimposed on young, black voters’ Facebook pages. Mr. Trump’s campaign team has no illusions that African-Americans will come running into their camp. But if this strategy makes only a few stay at home, Mr. Trump has gained a lot.
In the gridlocked state of North Carolina, this is apparently succeeding. African-American enthusiasm for Clinton is crumbling. “The trend is changing,” says Michael Bitzer, a political analyst from Catawba College. “Compared to the last election in 2012, the participation of African-Americans in early voting is much lower this time.” Ms. Clinton is finding it harder to mobilize black voters who elected Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. She can hardly match the elation that came with the election of the first African American president, even if he does back her candidacy.
Still, speaking in Chapel Hill, a liberal university town in North Carolina, Barack Obama gets out his big guns: “If my presidency really means something to you, go vote,” the president pleads with his audience. At the end of his tenure, the former purveyor of hope has to fight his what many see as its antithesis – the possibility that Donald Trump might be his successor.
Mathias Brüggmann is the head of Handelsblatt’s foreign affairs desk. Alexander Demling is a Handelsblatt correspondent based in Frankfurt. Torsten Riecke is Handelsblatt’s international correspondent. To contact the authors: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org