TAMPA — With the presidential campaign entering its final two months, Hillary Clinton returned to the Tampa Bay area Tuesday to draw a point-by-point contrast between herself and Republican nominee Donald Trump, especially as a potential commander in chief.
"This is a countdown to one of the most important elections of our lifetimes," the Democratic nominee told a crowd of about 1,500 at the University of South Florida, many holding cellphones aloft to record the moment.
Trump, she said, describes an America she does not recognize and has an unrealistic view of what the president actually does.
The work ahead "cannot be done by any one person," she said. "It must be done by all of us. That is something that Donald Trump does not understand."
Although the speech was touted by her campaign as focusing on national security, the first and last parts were largely about domestic issues like jobs, education and tax policy.
"We're going to make this economy grow, but we're also going to make it fair," Clinton said. She called for raising the minimum wage, giving students relief from college debt, expanding solar energy, growing vocational education and apprenticeship programs and creating a "rapid response fund" for public health emergencies so states like Florida wouldn't have to depend on Congress when facing a threat like the Zika virus.
Clinton also said the campaign is about ensuring that barriers that have blocked the progress of Americans because of their gender, race or sexual orientation are taken down for good.
"We've got to make sure they're all gone and that no demagogue can ever bring them back," she said. "Vote this year like your future depends on it, because it does."
On a day when Trump's campaign touted a letter of support signed by nearly 90 retired generals and admirals, Clinton characterized him as flighty and inexperienced with no real plan to fight ISIS.
"He is temperamentally unfit and totally unqualified to be president," she said. By contrast, she said, she would bring diligence, a steady hand and focus to the job. "I'm a very patient person. I don't quit. I don't give up. I don't blink."
Trump, Clinton said, has talked about letting Syria become a free zone for ISIS and, conversely, about putting American troops on the ground in Syria to fight ISIS, suggesting he'd use nuclear weapons to do so.
"He's very loose in his talk about nukes," Clinton said. Her approach, she said, would be to take out ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria, then dismantle its "terror infrastructure on the ground and online," and use an "intelligence surge" to protect the United States and its allies.
Further, she said, Trump has said he would bring back torture and order American troops to murder the family members of terrorists with no thought about how that would put Americans at risk all over the world.
But those, she said, are not the values that American military power is meant to safeguard or reflect. Rather, she told an anecdote about the Seal Team Six raid that killed Osama bin Laden. With one of its helicopters disabled, the commando team rigged the other to explode. But first, team members shepherded the women and children, "family members of terrorists, including the worst terrorist of all," out of bin Laden's compound to safety.
"That, Donald Trump, is what American honor" looks like, she said.
Trump's campaign didn't let Clinton's criticism go without a response.
"There has never been a more dangerous candidate for President on national security than Hillary Clinton," said a statement from Trump's chief Florida strategist, Karen Giorno, moments after Clinton's speech. "Hillary's failed leadership in the Middle East cost American lives in Benghazi and destabilized the region."
Several of Clinton's warm-up speakers went directly at Trump's readiness to lead the military.
"When I hear Donald Trump disparage a Gold Star family, it makes me sick," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, referring to the parents of Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq as he came to the aid of fellow troops. Noting that Tampa is home to MacDill Air Force Base, Buckhorn added, "Those are our neighbors. We are a military town."
Clinton's visit was her first to Tampa since just before the Democratic convention, and she gave shout-outs to the USF football team, university president Judy Genshaft, plus Buckhorn and state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.
USF associate professor of music education Clint Randles, 38, said he has voted for both Republicans and Democrats, but this year Trump has him voting for Democrats.
"The things I care the most about are education and the arts," Randles said. "I'm appalled by Donald Trump and who is he is and how he presents himself to the public. I can't see how anyone could get behind him."
Still, the crowd wasn't uniformly in support of Clinton. Many students were undecided. David Spivey, a 56-year-old home inspector and pole-vaulting coach from Tampa, said he does not support Clinton.
"It's not 'we the government,' it's 'we the people.' So I'm here to listen," he said before the event. "I don't think there's anything she could say to change my thinking, but what I'm here to do is solidify my understanding of what's going on so I feel better about my decision."
USF student Steven Maguregui, 21, said he supports Clinton "because the alternative is even worse."
"What I like about her is that she's a seasoned politician and her goals are a little bit more realistic than Bernie Sanders," he said. "Bernie Sanders is kind of like a Donald Trump. They stand on opposite sides. They can't come together. Hillary Clinton can do that. I don't know how well she can do that, I don't know what the future holds, but I feel that she has a better chance of doing that."
And Jayme Smith left with exactly the kind of charge the campaign hoped to deliver.
"I've never been to anything like this before," said Smith, 20, a USF junior studying health science. "This is the first presidential election I'll be able to participate in. It's super exciting. I'm like, nervous. I'm kind of shaking from getting to see her."