Presidential candidates hold rival rallies as battle lines are drawn in traditional swing state

Shopkeeper Manuel Robles (C) shows latex masks depicting US presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (L) and Donald Trump, for sale for the upcoming Day of the Dead, in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua State, Mexico on October 25, 2016

Coconut Creek, Florida: White House rivals Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump staged duelling rallies in the crucial battleground of Florida on Tuesday, blitzing the diverse state as the clock ticks down on the tumultuous presidential race.

With two weeks to go before the November 8 election, polls showed Democrat Clinton — who is vying to become America’s first female president — dominating nationally and looking for a resounding mandate to govern the bitterly divided country.

Early voting began in Florida on Monday, an urgent reminder that candidates have little time left to make their case in the country’s third most populous state, one with a wide mix of constituencies, including numerous retirees, Latinos and Bible Belt whites.

The Republican nominee, determined to ride out the controversies hobbling his campaign, made a pitch to Florida’s elderly voters by assailing a sharp rise in health insurance premiums expected next year under President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform.

“It’s just blowing up,” the 70-year-old real estate mogul said at a golf course he owns in Doral, Florida, vowing to “repeal and replace” Obamacare if elected.

“You will have such great health care at a tiny fraction of the cost and it’s going to be so easy,” Trump promised a rally in Sanford, Florida a few hours later — while warning a Clinton presidency would spell more of the same.

Poll averages show that the former secretary of state, who turns 69 on Wednesday, is ahead in Florida by 3.1 percentage points, and nationally by 5.4 points, according to RealClearPolitics.

‘Bigger than me’

Rallying supporters at a college in southern Broward County near Fort Lauderdale, Clinton urged Floridians to help propel her to the White House by getting out and voting “right now.”

“Please join me. This is bigger than me. It’s bigger than any of us. It’s even bigger than Donald Trump if you can believe it,” she told the cheering crowd.

President Obama — who will campaign for Clinton on Friday in Florida — has said he wants an overwhelming Democratic victory in order to send the message that Americans reject Trump’s divisive rhetoric.

Briefing reporters en route to Fort Lauderdale, Clinton’s communications director Jennifer Palmieri also made clear what a key piece of the election puzzle Florida represents for Democrats.

“We don’t plan to lose Florida. It is the biggest prize,” she said.

No one has forgotten that the 2000 US presidential election turned on Florida, where a virtual tie was decided in favour of George W. Bush by the US Supreme Court.

Obama ‘in the act’

Earlier, Trump acknowledged that the White House will likely elude him if he doesn’t win Florida and its 29 electoral votes.

“I think that’s probably true,” he said in a telephone interview with Fox News. “I believe Florida is must-win. I think we’re winning it, think we’re winning it big.”

On the stump in Sanford, Trump pointed to what he called “record” lines of early voters in Florida — many, he said, sporting Trump hats and buttons — as a hopeful sign.

“I think those are people inclined to vote for us. Do you agree?” he said.

Trump also lashed out at Obamacare on Twitter and in the phone-in with Fox News, brushing off a question about his recent threat to sue women who have accused him of unwanted sexual advances.

He also took direct aim at Obama, alleging based on the WikiLeaks release of Clinton campaign emails that the US president knew about his secretary of state’s controversial use of a private email server at the time.

“That means Obama is now into the act,” Trump said in Sanford.

‘Once-in-a-lifetime’

The New York billionaire’s standing in the polls has been hit hard, particularly among female voters, since the release of a 2005 video on which he is heard boasting that his celebrity allows him to grope women with impunity.

Since then, about a dozen women have come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct.

At a campaign event in New Hampshire with Clinton on Monday, fiery liberal Senator Elizabeth Warren served notice on Trump that Democrats are not turning the page on his treatment of women.

“Nasty women are tough. Nasty women are smart. And nasty women vote,” Warren said, quoting a disparaging remark the Republican made about Clinton at their last debate.

With his path to the White House narrowing, Trump has railed against the “phony” polls and appealed to voters to turn out, calling it a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to reject the political elite.

Clinton, meanwhile, received an endorsement from the last in a long line of prominent Republicans who refuse to vote for their party’s nominee, as the ex-secretary of state and retired four-star general Colin Powell announced he would vote for the Democrat next month.

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