What do you see when you zoom in on a single day of the campaign? On Tuesday of this past week, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were in the battleground state of Florida, where the Republican nominee held two rallies, touching as many as 20,000 people. The Democrat spoke to roughly 1,750 at her one public event. Ah, but that’s just the candidates. Beneath the surface of their events atop the ticket, both White House hopefuls have a different strategy aimed at Election Day victory.
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Trump focuses on his giant rallies, television interviews and an array of stand-ins advocating for him on local and national media. Clinton’s efforts are all about turnout: appearing at carefully staged events and in local media as she deploys a small army of supporters campaigning in battleground states, working to get people to register, volunteer – and most crucially, vote.
“The Clinton people are driving people to polling places,” Democratic consultant Mary Anne Marsh said. “You are going from a rally to vote.” That’s not how the Trump campaign is organized, she said.
Even as both campaigns are loath to admit it, the approaches highlight the shortcomings of both nominees: Trump’s campaign would surely love to have Clinton’s organization and attention to detail, and Clinton’s shop would love to see her speaking to packed arenas and airplane hangars.
There’s no question that, judging by rally size alone, generating excitement has been a challenge for Clinton when compared with her Republican rival. The Democrat has kept a relatively light fall schedule, taking time off to deal with a bout of pneumonia and going dark for days at a time to prepare for the three presidential debates.
Clinton, who has never been accused of being a natural orator, has seen her crowds grow as the election approaches. But her biggest rally to date – 18,500 people at Ohio State University – pales in comparison with the 100,000 that came to see then-Sen. Barack Obama in Missouri eight years ago at a similar point in the campaign. Clinton’s primary rival, Bernie Sanders, drew 27,000 in New York City during that contest.
“Is she as good on the stump as Michelle Obama or Barack Obama or Joe Biden or Bernie?” asked former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Clinton supporter. “No, she isn’t.” But he said “you build enthusiasm in different ways.”
When Clinton does an event, it is designed to maximize its impact. Her gathering in Coconut Creek on Tuesday was one block from an early voting site. “You can go across the street right now … and cast your ballot today!” Clinton said. “And we have volunteers and staff ready to escort.”
Separately on Tuesday, Clinton had 27 prominent backers campaigning 11 states. Among them: Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, actress Angela Bassett and figure skater Michelle Kwan. These supporters hit events designed to get people to volunteer, register and vote.
No opportunity goes to waste. For example, free tickets for a Jay Z concert for Clinton in Cleveland are being distributed at a campaign office near an early-voting place _ only during voting hours.
As of Saturday, nearly 20 million people had already cast a ballot. Those are votes “in the bank” for some candidate, and Clinton’s efforts are aimed at packing them away for her.
The votes won’t be disclosed until the election. But judging from party registration figures of people who have voted early, Trump appears to be holding ground in Iowa and Ohio, while Clinton has strength in North Carolina and Florida, two battlegrounds that are must-win for the GOP nominee.
Trump, who was on a multi-day swing through Florida packed with rallies, made several stops Tuesday in addition to his rallies. Running mate Mike Pence had three more rallies in Ohio, while Trump’s sons campaigned in New Hampshire and Maine. Other supporters, like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and current and former members of Congress, appeared on national television shows and in local press.
But Trump had just Pence and four other prominent supporters out at public events Tuesday.
Trump’s campaign, initially sluggish in capitalizing on his giant crowds, has improved its voter efforts in recent weeks. A table is set up to register voters, a merchandise stand collects shoppers’ contact information, and volunteers wander the crowd with clipboards.
Trump has also gotten much better at reminding people to vote – though he did get the date of Election Day wrong once – and, of late, urging them to vote early. He’s bullish about the early turnout in Florida, telling Fox News on Tuesday morning that “the polls, they’re packed.”
Republican Party offices, meanwhile, have tried to fill Trump’s organizational gaps. He also hired data firms to reach more voters, and his campaign has increased registration at rallies.
But that’s all happened much later than many Republicans feel is necessary.
“There’s just no organizational structure around him, no operational structure around him that’s really his,” said Chris Wilson, a GOP consultant who worked for Trump’s primary rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Barrow reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in Miami, Catherine Lucey in Des Moines, Iowa, and Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin, contributed to this story.