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  1. Florida Politics

Hillary Clinton pulls no punches on Donald Trump in Pasco

Hillary Clinton addresses the crowd at the early voting event at the Pasco-Hernando State College East Campus in Dade City on Tuesday. (WILL VRAGOVIC | Times)
Published Nov. 2, 2016

DADE CITY — Days after her emails were thrust back into the center of the election, Hillary Clinton pulled no punches on opponent Donald Trump while rallying voters Tuesday in Dade City.

The embattled candidate made no mention of the controversial letter FBI director James Comey sent to congressional leaders Friday announcing his intention to reopen the investigation into Clinton's use of a private email server while secretary of state. Instead, Clinton reiterated to supporters in bullet-point fashion why she felt Trump was unfit to be president.

"Maybe it's what he said about POWs," Clinton told the roughly 1,500 rally attendees, referring to Trump's remarks about Arizona Sen. John McCain's capture during the Vietnam War.

"Maybe it's what he said about a judge," she said, in reference to Trump questioning the ability of an Indiana-born federal judge overseeing a case involving the defunct Trump University to remain impartial, given his Mexican descent.

Clinton has repeatedly said since Friday that she wouldn't let the letter distract her campaign from the issues. Ask her supporters about the emails, and they'll give you the same answer over and over:

Who cares?

"I'm like Bernie Sanders," said Debra Creer, 58, of Dade City. "I'm tired of hearing about her damn emails."

Creer said she doesn't think Clinton should lose any sleep.

"I think it's the same old emails," said Creer, who works in customer service. "I know the FBI has to do what they're going to do, but I don't think she has anything to worry about."

Trump hasn't shied away from taking advantage of Comey's letter. He called it a scandal bigger than Watergate and has used it at rallies to reinvigorate voters.

But Jim Wilkenson, a retired Pasco sheriff's deputy, doesn't buy it when Trump says Clinton is the most corrupt politician in the race.

"Tell Trump to put out his financials," he said, referring to Trump's refusal to release his income tax returns, a practice candidates have done for decades.

"He already knows how to cheat and steal," said Wilkenson, 73, of Dade City. "So let's have Hillary, maybe she'll be more honest."

Clinton, who was up in Florida by 4 points as recently as Oct. 22 according to the RealClearPolitics.com polling average, has started to skid. As of Tuesday, Trump led Florida by a full point, and that was before any polling on the latest email development.

Tuesday's stop at Pasco-Hernando State College's Dade City campus was her second in the Tampa Bay area in a week, and her first of three events in the state that day, along with Sanford and Fort Lauderdale.

Her husband traversed the state Tuesday, too, stopping in Florida City, Immokalee and St. Petersburg for early vote events.

A large racially mixed crowd, mostly middle-aged and older packed the gymnasium at the Thomas "Jet" Jackson Recreation Center for former President Bill Clinton.

He told the crowd that his No. 1 priority was to get people to the polls, preferably during early voting.

"If the people who are for Hillary, vote for Hillary she'll win Florida and be our next president," he said.

The email controversy didn't seem to bother many, even Republicans.

"That's old stuff," said Anthony Rembert, 59, who grew up nearby, and was dropping his son off when he saw a sign for the event.

Rembert, a contractor who lives in Plantation, said he is a Republican, but he's already voted for Clinton.

In Dade City, some supporters were nervous about how things were shaping up.

Sandi Caspers, one of the rare Democrats who lives in the Villages near Ocala, said she's "very concerned" about the trajectory of the race given the FBI news, and that it could distract from Trump's controversies.

"I'm scared," she said. "Trump is taking advantage of this and all the issues with Trump nobody is talking about any more."

Hillary Clinton did, though, rattling off a litany of charges against Trump and comparing her 30 years in public service — a period of time Trump labels as unproductive — to what the businessman has been doing. She said she's been secretary of state, first lady, senator, an attorney. "And for my entire life, I've been a woman," she said.

"If we look at what Trump has been doing for 30 years, he sure has spent a lot of time demeaning and degrading women," said Clinton, who was introduced by former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, who became a political celebrity after Clinton dropped her name during the first presidential debate. Machado spoke about being ridiculed by Trump for being overweight and Latina.

"He calls women ugly," Clinton said. "Disgusting. Calls women pigs. Rates bodies on a scale of 1 to 10."

Others at the rally, like 61-year-old Chuck Bonham, were optimistic Clinton would pull through.

"I believe that the United States of America will do the right thing," he said.

Times Washington bureau chief Alex Leary contributed to this report. Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or jsolomon@tampabay.com. Follow @josh_solomon15.

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