Hillary Clinton fires up enthusiastic crowd in Orlando

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a grassroots event in which she discussed her economic agenda and mobilized supporters at the Meadow Woods Recreation Center in Orlando on Wednesday. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a grassroots event in which she discussed her economic agenda and mobilized supporters at the Meadow Woods Recreation Center in Orlando on Wednesday. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
Published Dec. 3, 2015

ORLANDO — Hillary Clinton fired up an enthusiastic crowd in Orlando on Wednesday, blasting the Republican presidential contenders for waging a divisive, insult-filled campaign.

"They seem more interested in seeing who can say the most offensive and insulting comments. You've heard what they said. They have insulted Latinos, women, Muslims," she told a heavily Hispanic crowd. "They are determined to absolutely insult everybody before this is over. They're out-Trumping Trump, if you will. I have one word for them: Basta! Enough!"

Days after Donald Trump drew thousands to a rally in Sarasota, Clinton's crowd numbered roughly 600.

"Donald Trump has made racism and hatred the hallmarks of his campaign," the former first lady and secretary of state said. She never mentioned her Democratic primary rivals by name, but exhorted the crowd to vote.

"I need your help in the primary," she said. "Make sure you are registered to vote. Make sure you do vote on March the first."

Florida's presidential primary is March 15.

Clinton's 25-minute speech in southern Orange County was squeezed into a two-day fundraising swing that including private events in South Florida on Tuesday, a private reception at former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink's home in eastern Hillsborough County on Wednesday morning, and private events in Windermere and Jacksonville on Wednesday afternoon and evening.

"The reason for coming is not just the weather," she said. "It's because Florida is so much a symbol of America — diverse, dynamic, optimistic. You have everything in this state, from big cities to small towns, from highrises to family farms, and a diversity of the people here sends such a strong message about the importance of us always valuing the fact that we are a nation of immigrants."

The sometimes inflammatory rhetoric Trump and other Republicans have used when discussing immigrants and refugees has led some Republican leaders to worry that the party may be damaging itself with the growing Hispanic electorate, just as Mitt Romney's meager 27 percent support among Hispanic voters in 2012 helped deliver Barack Obama a second term.

Clinton, speaking in an area of Florida where the Hispanic population has exploded in recent years, celebrated diversity and noted that she campaigned in Puerto Rico in September.

"Because I believe anyone who wants to be president should give attention to Puerto Rico and remind our fellow Americans that Puerto Ricans are American citizens," Clinton told the crowd sprinkled with "Puerto Ricans for Hillary" and "Estoy contigo" (I am with you) placards. She quipped that so many Puerto Ricans are moving to the greater Orlando area that "some are even starting to call Central Florida Puerto Rico's municipality."

Cheryl Morales, a former New Yorker holding a "Puerto Ricans for Hillary" sign, noted that Clinton's intellect and qualifications excite her.

"She makes me feel secure that she's not going to do anything stupid as president. I see these other candidates on the other side just shooting from the hip and not really thinking. We need a thinking person in the presidency," said the Davenport retiree.

Jayme Wills, a writer who with her husband drove 90 miles from Sebastian to see Clinton, said she's excited about Clinton as the likely nominee.

"I'm 63 years old, and I'm very, very excited we're going to have a woman president — finally," she said. "And I'm excited to vote for someone who is a leader who can handle (things) for a change."

Clinton touted her $275 billion plan to upgrade America's infrastructure, including crumbling bridges and overtaxed highways, and expanding high-speed Internet access. Republicans liken it to a reckless spending spree that taxpayers can't afford.

"It is sad that Hillary Clinton refuses to be straightforward with Floridians on how she would pay for her trillion-dollar spending increase while demanding her challengers outline how they'd pay for theirs," said Florida Republican Party chairman Blaise Ingoglia. "The truth is that Hillary Clinton isn't giving details on her outrageous spending increase because she knows it means raising taxes on hardworking middle-class families."

Clinton referred to traffic congestion and delays in the Orlando area and elsewhere in Florida and accused Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz of backing legislation that would "slash" infrastructure spending.

"Those people that say let the states do it — do you really want to put the responsibility for funding Florida's infrastructure in the hands of Rick Scott?" she asked, going on to criticize Florida's governor for turning away more than $2 billion for high-speed rail "that could have created good-paying jobs and spurred economic growth," and for refusing federal funds to expand Medicaid coverage. She also noted that the Sunshine State has fallen way behind other states in developing solar power.

Clinton spoke about defeating terrorists; about improving the economy; tackling global warming that especially threatens Florida; rebuilding trust between law enforcement and their communities; tackling drug addiction with treatment rather than incarcerations; reducing student debt; and fighting discrimination. But her loudest applause came when she spoke of "standing up to the gun lobby."

"It is time for us to say, we're going to have comprehensive background checks, we're going to close the gun show loophole," she promised in remarks that occurred before news of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif.

Contact Adam C. Smith at Follow @adamsmithtimes.