Wednesday,22 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1318, (3 - 9 November 2016)
Wednesday,22 August, 2018
Issue 1318, (3 - 9 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly


Swing states are in the crosshairs in this cycle’s US presidential elections, in what could be an easy win for Clinton, or a close win for Trump come 8 November, writes Said Okasha in Orlando

Al-Ahram Weekly

On Friday, 29 October, President Obama appeared at the University of Central Florida (UCF), America’s second largest university in terms of enrolment figures, where he took part in a rally to support Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The organisers of the event had required people who wished to attend to register their names ahead of time. I did so four days in advance. When I received the acceptance letter I had thought this would guarantee me a place in the stadium where Obama would be speaking. I was wrong. When I arrived at the CFE Arena two hours before the time scheduled for the doors to open, I was surprised to find an extremely long queue stretching away from the gate. A security officer pointed me in the direction of the end of the line. I took out my mobile, opened the “health” app, set it to zero and started walking. By the time I reached the end of the queue the distance metre read 2.5 kilometres.

A quick calculation informed me that thousands of people had arrived even earlier than me to reserve a place, not inside the arena but in the queue. So much for my hope of shortening my waiting time in the queue by arriving two hours before the doors were scheduled to open (3:00 pm). I also began to lose hope of being able to make it inside the arena if I stuck it out in that endless queue beneath Orlando’s scorching sun.

By the time the gates opened, the queue extended behind me about the same distance as that which separated me from entrance, meaning that it was about five kilometres long. According to the lowest estimates, over 50,000 people had turned up to see Obama. Perhaps only 20,000 would be admitted into the arena. When the president began to speak, I was about 600 metres away. At that moment, the organisers announced that the arena had reached full capacity and that we would have to listen to the president’s speech via the large video relay system erected outside.

He had come to Florida because he knows what that state means to any presidential candidate, Obama told the huge audience. It is hard to win an election without winning Florida. Florida was the state that triggered the biggest wave of scepticism in the American electoral system in 2000. The presidential race was neck-and-neck between Republican candidate George W Bush and his Democratic rival Al Gore. In Florida, where Bush was ahead, but by an extremely small margin, the Democrats suspected foul play and called for a recount. That recount settled the contest in that state, and therefore the election as a whole, in favour of Bush who entered the White House albeit with cloud over his legitimacy.

Although all nationwide opinion polls until Friday have given Clinton around a five-point lead over Trump, Trump leads Clinton by two points in the opinion polls conducted in Florida. This makes the Democrats nervous. Clinton’s overall lead in opinion polls will mean nothing if Democratic Party voters do not turn out to the polls. Democrats believe that Republicans are always more committed to casting their votes which is why Clinton campaigners are pinning their hopes on efforts to bring out the Democratic vote. Obama, in his speech, repeatedly stressed the need for Democrats to turn out to the polls in this election year in particular. He listed the many areas of progress that were achieved during his two terms in office. “In almost every measure, we are significantly better [off] than we were eight years ago,” he said, listing economic recovery, reduced unemployment, gay marriage (or “the right for people to marry the person they love” as he put it) and greater access to healthcare (Obamacare) among his accomplishments. He added, “all the progress made over the last eight years goes out the window if we don’t win this election.”

But Obama was also intent on driving home the potential danger of a Trump victory and what this would mean to American democracy given the candidate’s open hostility towards minorities. Obama related that he had run against John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 and that although he opposed those Republican candidates’ electoral platform, he never felt that either of them would imperil American democracy if they won. Trump is different. He is a threat to the country. His repeated and unprecedented attacks against Latinos, Asian Americans, women, gays and Muslims and his generally polarising and racist rhetoric strike at the very roots of American culture, which is based on respect for cultural diversity. In addition, Trump has refused to commit himself to recognising the results of the elections. Trump supporters have already begun a campaign to cast suspicion on the integrity of the polls, claiming that tampering takes place in states which offer early voting, such as Texas, which generally votes Republican. Also, according to a recent New York Times report, Trump supporters are becoming increasingly aggressive the closer the US gets to polling day, which is 8 November. They are totally convinced by the propaganda spread by the Trump campaign machine regarding a conspiracy on the part of the US political and media establishment to keep him out of the Oval Office at all costs. Therefore, the authors of the Times report fear that rioting and other acts of violence may erupt in several states if the election results turn out in favour of Clinton.

The Republicans, for their part, took jabs at Obama’s achievements. Trump seized upon the recent publication of the official assessment report on the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, which indicated that premiums for insurance plans will shoot up by 25 per cent next year. In an interview with Fox News on 27 October, the Republican candidate proclaimed that Obamacare was a disaster and that it would bankrupt the country and deprive people of opportunities to obtain proper healthcare. He did not present any ideas for how he might remedy the problem if he became president apart from to say that he would trash the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something else.

Obama’s remarks were frequently punctuated by enthusiastic applause, cheers and whistles on the part of a predominantly young audience. Yet, it should be borne in mind that a large portion of that audience would vote for Clinton with or without Obama’s active campaign support. Their fear of a Trump victory outweighs their approval of Hillary and it is to this sentiment that Obama appealed when he urged voters in Florida to perform their duty to vote.

Still, Trump appears confident of winning that state. He conveyed this message when he visited Florida four days before Obama, pointing out that opinion polls — which he claims to personally hate because they do not reflect the alleged truth — report that 45 per cent of Florida voters support him as opposed to 43 per cent for Clinton.

The “swing states”, such as Florida and Texas in which the candidates rate extremely close in opinion polls and which could go either way on election day, offer the Trump campaign its sole hope of delivering a surprise 8 November. Clinton, in spite of the large lead that she holds in most states, will remain anxious until the polls close and the returns start coming in. Meanwhile, there remains the fear that regardless of whether Trump or Clinton win the results will have negative impacts of one sort or another that will ripple through American political life in the near future.

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