PHILADELPHIA, PA - In the last 48 hours of a grueling and trying election campaign, Hillary Clinton has hit her groove. The director of the FBI has removed the cloud of suspicion that he himself hanged over her 10 days earlier. The Democratic Party, scared stiff by the prospect of a Donald Trump victory, has united behind her. And while she may not be revered like Barack Obama, at her penultimate campaign rally in Philadelphia on Monday night, Clinton was cheered, admired, perhaps even loved.
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It has been a long process, with ups and downs, ebb and flow. For many months she was too careful by half, too calculated for her own good, stiff, reserved, on guard against Trump’s assaults, wary of the daily batch of bad news from WikiLeaks, the DNC hacks and the private email affair, the insinuations about her health. In recent days, however, even before the FBI”s James Comey published his new letter on Sunday that removed any possibility that the criminal investigation against her might be reopened, Clinton seemed calmer than before, more natural. At times she even seemed to be enjoying herself.
In her final campaign appearance in North Carolina after midnight on Monday, Clinton was actually received with wild enthusiasm, perhaps because her speech was preceded by a rousing appearance by Lady Gaga. In Philadelphia, her rally was highlighted by a short acoustic appearance of the Boss, Bruce Springsteen, who also gave a short but pointed speech praising Clinton’s moderation and good judgment and blasting Trump’s intolerance and “lack of decency.”
It was the largest political rally of any of the two candidates, attracting between 35-40 thousand, mostly white Clinton supporters in a city in which she is relying on a heavy turnout by African Americans. Many young and middle-aged women were on hand, volunteers who had come from states throughout the northeast for one last pep talk before they headed on Tuesday to galvanize voters to go to the polls. In an election that could very well be decided by the turnout rate of each candidate’s core supporters and the organizational capabilities that will support them, Clinton’s energetic and enthusiastic white women will be pitted against Trump’s resentful and angry white men.
The final stops on the candidates’ campaign tours reflected their last minute focus on states that can make all the difference. Clinton was in Pennsylvania with a Democratic dream team that included Barack and Michelle Obama as well as Bill and Chelsea Clinton. It was meant to shore up support in the Keystone State, an important part of Clinton’s basic Democratic firewall. From there she went on to North Carolina, a state that Democrats do not feel as confident about today as they did a few weeks ago. If captured by Clinton, however, Trump’s possible avenues to the needed majority of 270 electors would be severely restricted.
Trump, on the other hand, decided to make his final appearance in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a state that was once thought to be firmly ensconced in Clinton’s camp but which now seems to be teetering toward Trump. If the GOP candidate manages to upset Clinton in Michigan, he will expand his possibilities and seriously dent Clinton’s chances.
But while Trump maintained his attacks on Clinton the hardened criminal and on the rigged system that is conspiring against him, Clinton preferred to end her campaign on a more positive note. Telling her audience that “love trumps hate”, Clinton extolled America’s inclusiveness and the great strides made in recent years by minorities and other groups that have been victims of discrimination. Her speech wasn’t spectacularly exciting, but it did the job: firing up her army of activists and volunteers hours before they will head out to try and secure enough votes for a Clinton victory.
It’s not really fair to Clinton, of course, to have her speak immediately after a rare public appearance by both Michelle and Barack Obama. Both Obamas are gifted speakers on regular days, but in Philadelphia there was an added element of poignancy at their last appearance before Obama’s successor is chosen and he turns into lame duck President. Obama maintained his harsh attacks on Trump - “If his advisers can’t trust him on Twitter, how can you trust him with the nuclear codes?” - but there he also sounded a note of farewell to his fans.
The rally symbolized a passing of the baton from Obama to the woman he prays will replace him but also a kind of mutual public farewell and appreciation between the Presidential couple itself. Michelle Obama thanked her husband for the intelligence, dignity and grace that he exhibited as President while he lauded her as “my partner, my love and my rock.” Some of the women next to me, I noticed, wiped away a tear. Obama added an adieu to his Democratic fans in particular and to American voters in general, saying that he is betting on them making the right choice for decency and democracy. “It’s a bet I’ve never lost,’ he said.
For now, the pollsters and prognosticators are backing him up. The Washington Post on Monday night estimated that Clinton had already clinched 275 electoral votes, five more than needed, with 48 more outstanding. Huffington Post gave Clinton a 323-215 triumph. Cook’s Political Report assumes that Clinton will squeak by with 278 electors but fellow political forecaster Larry Sabato puts the figure at 322. The New York Times Upshot section is standing by its assessment that Clinton has an 84% chance of winning and even Nate Silver, who has been relatively restrained on Clinton’s prospects, has upped her chances over the past few hours for 64% to 71%. Everything depends now on the energy of the volunteers and the organizational preparations of the two campaigns, as the fate of America and the world now hangs on the 135 million Americans who are expected to participate in Tuesday’s vote.