Clinton comforts Pulse victims' families, holds roundtable
A somber Hillary Clinton met privately on Friday with family members and friends of victims of last month's Pulse nightclub killings in Orlando and later held a roundtable with community leaders.
Three days before the start of the Democratic National Convention, Clinton said the massacre of 49 innocent patrons at a popular gay club by an ISIS loyalist underscores the need for gun control and of the dangers faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
"We need to acknowledge and be very clear who this attack targeted -- the Latino LGBT community is, by any measure, the community that is most severely impacted by this terrible attack," Clinton said. "It means that it is still dangerous to be LGBT in America," Clinton said. "(They) are more likely than any other group in our country to be the targets of hate crimes."
"We have to stand against hate and bigotry," she said. "We have a lot of work ahead of us." She added: "We have to take on the epidemic of gun violence ... and demand changes."
With Clinton setting the tone, the discussion focused on hatred of and bigotry against LGBT people and gun violence more than the threats posed by terrorists that Donald Trump and others have emphasized.
The roundtable meeting at the Holden Heights Community Center included Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer; Orlando SWAT team commander Mark Canty; Carlos Guillermo Smith, a leader of Equality Florida and Democratic state House candidate; and Imam Muhhamad Musri, a pastor, senior imam and chairman of the board of the Islamic Society of Central Florida.
The outpouring of compassion and resiliency by Floridians after the massacre included mass donations of blood and money and a memorial on behalf of the victims. But Orlando Commissioner Patty Sheehan told the Democratic presidential candidate that there's still too much hate in America.
"We should not hate. Hating a Muslim person is the same thing as hating a gay person," Sheehan said, fighting back tears as a crowd of about 50 people applauded. "We have got to stop defining our community by who hates who."
Sheehan thanked Clinton for "waiting until we were ready" to come to Orlando, nearly six weeks after the shootings, which she said was a sharp contrast to other politicians -- none mentioned by name -- who she said "politicized" the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Clinton's two Florida appearances Friday, in Orlando and at the state fairgrounds in Tampa, were both in the heart of one of America's pivotal electoral battlegrounds, the I-4 corridor. It slices across the state's midsection fom Tampa to Daytona Beach and is the gateway to Disney World, making it familiar to tourists everywhere.
"The I-4 corridor has been important in every campaign when you look at Florida," said Amanda Renteria, Clinton's national political director. "You look at key battlegrounds and where campaigns are won and lost and the I-4 corridor is certainly one of those places."
The two most populous counties in the corridor, Hillsborough and Orange, have been trending Democratic for years. Both counties were critical to President Barack Obama's two Florida victories in 2008 and 2012. Other counties along I-4 -- Polk, Seminole and Volusia -- lean Republican.
Pinellas, though technically not in the I-4 corridor, matters in a big way because it's part of the Tampa television market and is the large county with the most competitive balance between the two major parties. Pinellas is the state's sixth most populous county, and on Friday there were 800 more Republicans than Democrats among a total of more than 600,000 voters.
Like much of the rest of the state, the I-4 corridor is getting more populous, younger and more diverse, with a steady influx of new Hispanic residents, especially in Orange and its neighbor, Osceola, home to increasing numbers of Puerto Rican voters.
The Florida politician with the longest political connection to the I-4 corridor is Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who was first elected as a state representative from Brevard County in 1972 and has won a half-dozen statewide elections as a Cabinet member and senator.
As the only Democrat who currently holds statewide office, Nelson thinks not just in terms of counties, but TV markets.
He said the combination of the Orlando and the Tampa-St. Petersburg markets (the state's largest TV market) account for 46 percent of the vote in a general election in Florida.
"It is the swing part of the state," Nelson said. "The person who carries the I-4 corridor will win the state."