Trump triumphs in Florida with help of whites, large turnout

Donald Trump rally at the Collier County Fairgrounds on Sunday. (Stan Chambers Jr./WINK News)

TALLAHASSSEE, Fla. (AP) – Republican businessman Donald Trump’s victory in Florida was buoyed by a record turnout of more than 9.5 million voters, as well as deep levels of support among whites and older voters anxious about the economy.

Trump’s victory in the Sunshine State over Democrat Hillary Clinton wasn’t a landslide, but he defeated her in the battleground state by more than 100,000 votes. That’s more than President Barack Obama had when he carried the state four years ago.

Up until Election Day, it had been a seesaw tug-of-war for the state as both candidates repeatedly swept through, urging their supporters to turn out. The two campaigns and their allies smothered Florida’s airwaves with television ads, spending in excess of $120 million in advertising in the lead-up to Election Day, according to Kantar Media’s political ad tracker.

In a conference room at the Hilton Miami Airport where a small group of Republicans had gathered to watch the presidential returns after Sen. Marco Rubio’s victory party, cheers erupted when it was announced Trump had won Florida.

“Liberty, liberty, liberty,” shouted Carlos Lumpuy as others hugged and shook hands. “President-elect Donald Trump!”

Trump lost in Florida’s urban counties, such as Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, but he ran up large margins in other parts of the state, from the Panhandle to the Keys. Only nine of Florida’s 67 counties backed Clinton.

Clinton’s defeat stunned some of her supporters. Trish Collins, a 39-year-old human resources manager, watched results at a St. Petersburg bar in silence. She is a Clinton supporter.

“I did not walk in tonight and think it was going to be this close,” she said. “I’m leaving here feeling very nervous and sad. They were both here in Florida a lot. I don’t know whether he mobilized people who hadn’t voted before.”

There was no question that this year’s election sparked turnout in Florida, as more than 1 million voters turned out to the polls this year than did in 2012.

Exit polling conducted for The Associated Press and television networks by Edison Research showed that Trump led with voters age 45 and older, and almost two-thirds of white voters in Florida preferred Trump. Trump also had an advantage with men.

Clinton had a slight lead with Florida women, and voters under age 45, particularly millennials, supported Clinton. Almost 9 in 10 African-Americans in Florida favored Clinton.

Those same exit polls showed a significant divide between Cuban voters and non-Cuban Hispanics in Florida, the state with the nation’s third-largest Hispanic population. Trump led with Cuban voters, but more almost three-quarters of non-Cuban Hispanics preferred Clinton. Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric has turned off many Hispanics, but Trump appealed to Cuban voters in September by saying he would reverse the deal Democratic President Barack Obama made with Cuba to reopen diplomatic relations – unless Cuba expands political freedoms.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who had backed Trump since March, predicted that jobs and the economy would be the issue that helped the part-time Florida resident capture the state. The exit polls showed that Scott was right. Almost half of Floridians picked the economy as their top concern. Terrorism was second, with about a quarter of Florida voters picking it as the most important issue facing the nation. Less than 1 in 10 voters picked immigration as their top issue in Florida.

Democratic strategist Steve Schale, who ran Obama’s 2008 Florida campaign and was a top 2012 adviser, said Democrats attacked Trump for being a racist and xenophobic without sufficiently addressing fears white, middle-class voters have about the economy.

“If you’re in your mid-40s and you’re looking at not having a pension, and you haven’t gotten a pay raise in eight years, and your taxes are going up and your friends are losing their jobs, yeah, it’s really scary,” Schale said.

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