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Politics / Issues

Democratic Candidates' Talking Points Seldom Heard On GOP Side

Though she has a commanding lead in most polls, Hillary Clinton can still expect a stiff challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders Tuesday in Florida's presidential primary. And as many Florida voters got to see up close last week the sound - and the look - of their rallies are very different than those held by Republicans.

Tampa was the center of the Democratic Party's political universe last week when both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders held rallies a few miles apart.
"Tampa! Give it up for the next President of the United States, Hillary Clinton!," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said as he introuced the former Secretary of State to an energetic crowd of about 1,000 packed the Ritz Theatre in Ybor City.

Hillary Clinton in Tampa Thursday
Credit Christopher Collier / WUSF News
Hillary Clinton in Ybor City Thursday

A few hours later - and a few miles up Interstate 4 at the Florida State Fairgrounds - around 9,000 people gave Bernie Sanders a hearty welcome.
"Thank you all," the Vermont senator told the audience in his now famous Brooklyn accent that sounds a lot like that of Republican candidate Donald Trump. "What a fantastic crowd. As a matter of fact, as I look around me, I see a 'HUUUGE' crowd."
Their stump speeches followed, broaching topics seldom brought up by any of their Republican rivals for the top job in the nation. Global warming. Rising sea levels. Renewable energy. Even mass transit.
Clinton noted that Florida Gov. Rick Scott not only declined an offer of federal money to build high-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando, he told state environmental officials not to use the words "climate change."
"As president, I will do everything I can to help Florida get ready for and deal with climate change and create more clean renewable energy jobs," she said.
Clinton said when she's president, she'd find money for projects like that rail line.
"That would increase tourism, that would increase commerce, that would increase the opportunity for people to go quickly back and forth," she said. "It makes absolutely no sense. Especially when we know that we're going to have to do high speed rail if we're going to have a competitive economy in the 21st Century.

Sanders says if he were elected president, places like Florida would see an increased emphasis on renewable energy.

Bernie Sanders at the Florida State Fairgrounds Thursday
Credit Roberto Roldan / WUSF News
Bernie Sanders at the Florida State Fairgrounds Thursday

"We have got to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to sustainable energy," he said. "The state of Florida has an extraordinary natural resource - it's called sunlight."

Both Clinton and Sanders know these topics are popular among voters in their party, much like Republican candidates regularly reach for the meat and potato topics for the GOP - such as immigration and the military.

The Democratic rallies in Tampa also pointed out another difference - there were a lot more people of color at those events than at local rallies for Donald Trump and Marco Rubio.

And, as Lars Udderbakke of St. Petersburg found out at the Sanders event, he felt as if there were a lot more women.
"I think as a man, I'm the minority here," he said "There's a lot of women here. So I think, the so-called 'Bernie-Bro,' I have yet to see him."
Pauline Hammerstrom is from Toronto and stopped in to see Clinton on her vacation - even though she can't vote in the United States. She knows a lot of Americans in Canada, and says she wants to tell them "who to vote for."
"From my perspective, I want to see a woman in the highest office in the land. Wow," she said. "But she makes a lot of sense, she has the background, she has the experience, as well."
University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus said Clinton's got a good chance to win in Florida - and not necessarily because she's a woman. Clinton's husband had a strong pull, too.

A Bernie Sanders supporter at the Florida State Fairgrounds
Credit Roberto Roldan / WUSF News
A Bernie Sanders supporter at the Florida State Fairgrounds

"Florida is something of a Hillary state, a Clinton state," she says. "I recall that Bill Clinton got his start in Florida a straw poll in a state party convention years ago, and Hillary Clinton clobbered Barack Obama in the 2008 primary."

MacManus says Sanders has a chance/ He's bringing in new voters who have been alienated by politics.
"The expansion of the base and the fervor of the new recruits, so to speak, is often a very good thing for predicting turnout," she said. "And of course, Sanders' support, no surprise, is heavy with the millennials, which is the largest generation in Florida and in the nation."
Clinton has had a large lead in the polls in other states - and Sanders still has won a fair share of contests so far. Still, MacManus said, you never know.
"Anything's possible in Florida." she said. "I always remind people, remember it was just 0.9 percent by which Obama bested Romney in 2012 in a general election. Anything can happen in this swing state."