TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Presidential resumed in the key battlegrounds of Florida and North Carolina on Monday, though some campaign offices remain closed and a legal dispute over voter registration lingers after Hurricane Matthew battered the Atlantic coastline, leaving behind fatalities, property damage and widespread power outages.
Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence was in western North Carolina on Monday, while Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was planning to visit south Florida on Tuesday. GOP hopeful Donald Trump was also to campaign in Florida the next two days with stops in three cities that are usually GOP strongholds.
Yet the storm’s interruptions could yield even marginal effects on voter turnout efforts by campaigns of Clinton and Trump. North Carolina and Florida remain close, even as Clinton appears to be taking a commanding national lead. And going days without door-knocking and phone-banking around Fayetteville, North Carolina, or registering voters around Jacksonville, Florida, is enough to make Republican and Democratic aides nervous.
“The time for politics will come back, and it will just have to take care of itself,” said Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, which together with the Republican National Committee leads voter turnout efforts for Trump and the rest of the GOP slate.
Woodhouse said GOP campaign offices remained closed in Fayetteville, Greenville and Wilmington.
In his first public campaign appearance since Sunday’s second presidential debate, Pence told a Charlotte crowd that eastern North Carolinians are “inspiring” for their handling of the hurricane. Pence also praised Trump for apologizing after the Friday disclosure of a 2005 NBC video that captured the real estate billionaire making predatory comments about women.
In Florida, Democrats were still pushing to extend Tuesday’s voter registration deadline, even as they plan to mark the occasion with campaign stops from the candidate, former President Bill Clinton and former Vice-President Al Gore. The deadline applies to both in-person registration and postmarks for mailed forms.
It was not clear Monday afternoon when a federal court might consider an extension sought in a complaint filed Sunday by Florida Democratic Party with Clinton’s support. The suit argues that Matthew constituted a “daunting” and “life-threatening obstacle” to registration and that would-be voters should have additional time since Scott urged 1.5 million people to evacuate ahead of the storm.
Scott previously declined requests from the Clinton campaign to extend the deadline under his emergency powers. “People have had time to register,” the governor said.
In 2004, then-Gov. Jeb Bush used emergency authority to allow several Florida counties to delay the start of early voting after Hurricane Charley.
Scott’s legal advisers are reviewing the suit, aides said.
Court offices were closed Monday in observance of Columbus Day.
Clinton aides declined comment on the suit, but maintain that under normal circumstances, they would have registered tens of thousands of Florida residents in the final five days of registration. President Barack Obama won the state in 2012 by fewer than 75,000 votes out of more than 8.4 million cast. Both Republicans and Democrats have intensified their voter registration efforts since.
Democrats note that South Carolina, another GOP-controlled state, extended its original Oct. 7 deadline to accept registration forms postmarked no later than Tuesday.
Hurricane Matthew drifted farther north than projected when Scott ordered evacuations, leaving heavily Democratic counties Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach in south Florida relatively unscathed. Campaign activities there have resumed, with Clinton aides saying only a handful of their 65 offices around the state remaining closed Monday, all of them in more Republican north Florida.
Hillary Clinton and Gore are slated for a Miami campaign appearance Tuesday, while the former president has several stops scheduled, including in the Tampa Bay area, where Hillsborough and Pinellas counties combine to form one of the most populous swing districts in presidential elections.
North Carolina’s voter registration deadline is Friday, but the state also has same-day registration on Election Day.
Barrow reported from Atlanta.
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