Candidates Hit Florida As Bondi Backs Trump

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the frontrunners in Florida, according to recent polls of likely voters.
Credit Gage Skidmore / State Department

Presidential candidates and their supporters tried to rally voters across Florida on Monday, the last day before primary elections that could decide the future of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and boost the momentum of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Attorney General Pam Bondi became the highest-ranking state official to endorse Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner nationwide and increasingly in Florida, while former President Bill Clinton hit the stump for his wife's campaign for the Democratic nomination.

Trump and Hillary Clinton are both heavily favored to win Florida, according to the polls, and both plan to hold their Tuesday night victory celebrations in Florida as results from Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina also pour in.

Bondi, who had initially backed Jeb Bush for president before the former Florida governor dropped out, praised Trump for his outspoken style.

"People today are looking for leadership, the kind that Mr. Trump offers, that's unafraid to tell it like it is and will do something about renewing America's strength and greatness. ... We have been friends for years, and I know his family personally. I've seen first-hand how he leads, and how he cares deeply about the people of this country," Bondi said in a statement issued by the Trump campaign.

No other statewide elected official has backed Trump. Gov. Rick Scott has declined to endorse a candidate, though he has said kind things about Trump. Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam have joined dozens of state lawmakers in lining up behind Rubio, Florida's junior senator.

At a rally in Tampa where Bondi's endorsement was announced, Trump continued to mock Rubio — "little Marco," as Trump called Rubio even while insisting he would not use the term — for the senator's lack of attendance at the U.S. Capitol as he runs for president.

Trump said a good showing on Tuesday, when Ohio Gov. John Kasich's home state also votes, could effectively end the four-man GOP contest, which also includes U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

"If we win Florida and we win Ohio, we can go and attack Hillary," Trump said. "We can stop attacking each other."

In Jacksonville Monday, the senator promised to "shock the country" on Tuesday. Rubio could be forced to leave the presidential race if he loses Florida's winner-take-all primary and its 99 delegates, nearly a twelfth of the number needed to win the Republican nomination.

"Tomorrow we have a chance to make a powerful statement to the country and that is that the Republican Party is not going to allow itself to be hijacked by fake conservatives and people who go around dividing us against each other," said Rubio, who has pivoted in recent days from personally savaging Trump to condemning his rival's strident rhetoric.

In Tallahassee, Bill Clinton visited Florida A&M University in one of three get-out-the-vote rallies that the famously indefatigable campaigner held on behalf of his wife. The former president highlighted Hillary Clinton's tangible accomplishments as a lawyer, U.S. senator and secretary of state --- an implicit shot at her opponent, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist.

"We need a change maker as president, and she is the single best change maker I have ever seen," Clinton, who spoke for more than half an hour, told the crowd of a couple of hundred.

Standing in front of a basketball scoreboard set with a time of "20:16" and scores of "45" — a reference to the next president — Clinton touched on subjects from Wall Street to health care to reining in the costs of college tuition, something that got the biggest reception from the audience.

But even some of those who turned out seemed tepid about Hillary Clinton. Republicans and some neutral observers have said that lagging Democratic turnout in early primary and caucus states raises questions about the enthusiasm in the Democratic Party after eight years of President Barack Obama.

"I am skeptical, because her platforms and her ideals and the way that she seems to come off, seems to be very reminiscent of the '90s," said Chantel Gainous, a Florida A&M student, before the event. "It would be progressive if we were in 1995, when her husband was president."

It should be no surprise presidential candidate Marco Rubio spent the final days of Florida's Republican primary campaign visiting places like Melbourne and The Villages. Or that former President Bill Clinton was campaigning for his wife, Democrat Hillary Clinton, in places like Tallahassee.

After all, a big part of winning primaries involves turning out the base.

Voter registration for the presidential primaries closed last month.

Here are seven party takeaways from numbers compiled by the state Division of Elections:

THE BIG, BIG PICTURE: Though the GOP controls the Legislature, the governor's office and the Florida Cabinet, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans. The state has 4,569,788 registered Democrats eligible to cast votes in the primary and 4,276,104 Republicans. But as Florida moves toward the November general election, keep this in mind: It also has 2,878,468 voters who registered with no party affiliation.

URBAN POWER: Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in all of the biggest urban counties: Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Orange, Duval and Pinellas. The differences are particularly stark in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach, which have about 607,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans.

MEANWHILE, ON THE OTHER END OF FLORIDA: The Panhandle is a far cry from Southeast Florida, in more ways than one. And the three most-heavily Republican counties, by percentages of voters, are Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton in the Great Northwest. Republicans make up 58.2 percent of the voters in Okaloosa, 57.7 percent in Santa Rosa and 56.4 percent in Walton. Combined, Republicans outnumber Democrats in those three counties by nearly 109,000 voters.

TALLYING UP THE DEMOCRATS: State government might be run by Republicans, but that doesn't mean residents in Tallahassee and one of its next-door neighbors are rushing to sign up with the GOP. Democrats in Leon County outnumber Republicans by a margin of 102,663 to 54,315. Meanwhile, adjoining Gadsden County is the most Democratic county in the state, at least measured by percentages of voters, with 76.4 percent.

RETIREMENT HAVEN FOR REPUBLICANS: The Villages, a sprawling retirement community in Central Florida, has become a popular campaign spot for Republican candidates in recent years, including Rubio on Sunday. It's no wonder. In Sumter County, which is home to a large chunk of The Villages, the number of registered Republicans more than doubles the number of registered Democrats — 46,155 to 22,790.

SOUTHERN TRADITION: It still means something to be a Southern Democrat in many areas of North Florida. Not counting Gadsden, Democrats made up more than half of the registered voters in 11 other rural counties — Liberty, Madison, Calhoun, Jefferson, Lafayette, Hamilton, Franklin, Taylor, Jackson, Union and Dixie. But here's the rub: Conservative voters in those counties often cast ballots for Republican candidates in state and national elections. As an example, Republican Rick Scot won 10 of those 11 counties — Jefferson was the only exception — in his 2014 re-election campaign.

HOT CORNERS FOR REPUBLICANS: The Northwest corner of the state isn't the only corner good to Republicans. Three counties that flank Jacksonville in the Northeast corner — Nassau, Clay and St. Johns — are among the top seven GOP counties, based on percentages of registered voters. Nassau is at 54.7 percent, Clay is at 53.3 percent, and St. Johns is at 52.4 percent. Right behind them is Collier County in the far Southwest corner. Collier, which is Scott's home base, is at 51.2 percent.

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