Closing out a wildly unpredictable White House race, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump blitzed through battleground states Monday in a final bid to energize supporters. Clinton, backed by an emotional appeal from Barack Obama, urged voters to embrace a “hopeful, inclusive, bighearted America,” while Trump vowed to “beat the corrupt system.”
The candidates rallied voters late into the night, a frenzied end to a bitter election year that has laid bare the nation’s deep economic and cultural divides. Clinton and Trump were both nostalgic at times, looking back fondly at a campaign that has put each on the brink of the presidency.
Clinton campaigned with confidence, buoyed by FBI Director James Comey’s announcement Sunday that he would not recommend criminal charges against her after a new email review. The FBI inquiry had sapped a surging Clinton momentum at a crucial moment in the race, though she still heads into Election Day with multiple paths to the 270 Electoral College votes needed to become the nation’s first female president.
Clinton closed her campaign alongside the last two Democrats to occupy the Oval Office, Obama and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, as well as first lady Michelle Obama. In a nod to the deep divisions that await the next president, Clinton said she’d come to “regret deeply how angry the tone of the campaign became.” She cast the choice facing voters Tuesday as a “test of our time.”
“We know enough about my opponent, we know who he is,” Clinton said, addressing tens of thousands of people sprawled across Philadelphia’s Independence Mall. “The real question for us is what kind of country we want to be.”
Obama’s address amounted to a valedictory for a president whose popularity has grown in his final year in office.
“America, I’m betting on you one more time,” Obama said. “I am betting that tomorrow you will reject fear and choose hope.”
Trump, who sped through five rallies Monday, recalled the rivals he’d vanquished and how far he’s come since launching his improbable candidacy. As he surveyed the crowd in Scranton, Pa., he declared, “It’s been a long journey.”
Still, Trump was aggressive to the end, slamming Clinton as the “face of failure.” Having made the new FBI review a centerpiece of his closing case to voters, he argued that the Democrat was being protected by a “totally rigged system.”
“You have one magnificent chance to beat the corrupt system and deliver justice,” Trump said. “Do not let this opportunity slip away.”
The comments were a reminder that Comey’s news, delivered in a letter to lawmakers on Sunday, was a doubled-edged sword for Clinton. While it vindicated her claims that the emails would not yield new evidence, it ensured that a controversy that has dogged her campaign from the start would follow her through Election Day.
Across the country, nearly 24 million early ballots were cast under the shadow of Comey’s initial announcement of a new email review. That number represents about half of the nearly 45 million people who had cast votes by Monday, according to Associated Press data.
The inquiry involved material found on a computer belonging to Anthony Weiner, the disgraced former congressman and estranged husband of Huma Abedin, a longtime Clinton aide. Comey said Sunday the FBI reviewed communications “to or from Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state.”
Clinton tried to fly above the controversy Monday, making no mention of the FBI during her rallies. She was closing out her campaigning with a midnight rally in Raleigh, N.C.
Clinton is banking in part on high turnout – particularly among Obama’s young, diverse coalition of voters – to carry her over the finish line Tuesday. Roughly half the states with advance voting have reported record turnout, including Florida and Nevada, which have booming Hispanic populations, a possible good sign for Clinton.
In Florida alone, Hispanic participation is up by more than 453,000 votes, nearly doubling the 2012 level. Black turnout is up compared to 2012, but that share of the total vote is lower due to bigger jumps among Latinos and whites, according to University of Florida professor Daniel Smith
In Nevada, where more than three-fourths of expected ballots have been cast, Democrats also lead, 42 percent to 36 percent.
Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie downplayed the impact of increased Hispanic participation, telling reporters on a conference call, “We feel that we’re going to get a good share of those votes.” However, he sidestepped two questions about the level of Hispanic vote Trump needs to win the presidency.
Without victories in Florida and Nevada, Trump’s path to 270 electoral votes would be exceedingly narrow. He already must win nearly all of the roughly dozen battleground states.
Trump had planned to keep up his breakneck travel schedule deep into Election Day, but aides revised plans, keeping the businessman in New York.
Midway through his final day of travel Monday, Trump praised his supporters for having created a “movement.” But he warned it would all slip away if he loses Tuesday.
“Go vote,” he urged. “Or honestly, we’ve all wasted our time.”