Road to the White House: Rivals ready for 'the test of our time'

By Chris Reed

It ended where it all began.

Hillary Clinton all but closed her campaign with a huge Election Eve rally in the shadow of the Independence Hall in Philadelphia, birthplace of the nation.

This is where both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were agreed and adopted. The symbolism was heavier than the security.

On the day Donald Trump railed against Somali migrants in Minnesota, Clinton chose the City of Brotherly Love to urge voters to choose unity over division. As ever, she ended her speech with her catchphrase - roared back at her by a crowd of tens of thousands - "love trumps hate".

She used the occasion and location to stress the need for continuity and to build on the achievements of Barack Obama's eight years as President.

"I am not going to let anybody rip away the progress we've made and turn the clock back, sending us back in time," she said before referring the founders of America.

"You know they did not agree on everything, in case you haven't remembered. There were lots of contentious arguments, but they saw a higher purpose, and they came together."

Her voice showing signs of strain after weeks of rallies, Clinton added: "Tomorrow we face the test of our time. Every issue you care about is at stake and that's just the beginning because we have to bridge the divides in our country."

Trump was in no mood to bridge divides. He visited industrial areas in the Rust Belt to tell working class voters he would bring back prosperity and get rid of trade deals he says have encouraged competition and cost American jobs.

He told his final event, after midnight in Grand Rapids, Michigan that his was an unprecedented movement. He bemoaned the loss of jobs to Mexico.

He continued to pitch himself as representing the disenfranchised and criticised the corrupt Washington establishment. He promised to "close the history books on the Clintons".

Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally. Photo / AP
Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally. Photo / AP

"Today is our Independence Day," he said, adding it was the day when the working class fought back.

Somali-Americans weren't the only people in his sights. He took aim at the celebrities rolled out by Clinton in the final week of the campaign.

Jay Z, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Cher, Lady Gaga and Jon Bon Jovi have all performed in support of Clinton.

In Philadelphia she was joined by Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen. Born in New Jersey, just across the Delaware River, Springsteen has demigod status in these parts.

However, even that star power paled against the political line-up. The past, present and possible future of the presidency on the same stage: Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Add in Michelle Obama and Chelsea Clinton and it was like some kind of Democrat supergroup.

The lineup did little to dispel the mood of early celebration. Clinton has been buoyed by a final round of polls that almost exclusively put her ahead, mostly by amounts outside the margin of error.

Hillary Clinton, second from right, is joined on stage by first lady Michelle Obama, left, President Barack Obama, second from left, and former President Bill Clinton. Photo / AP
Hillary Clinton, second from right, is joined on stage by first lady Michelle Obama, left, President Barack Obama, second from left, and former President Bill Clinton. Photo / AP

A record number of Hispanics have voted early in battleground state Florida, which Trump really has to win, Arizona and Nevada. He has his support among certain Hispanic races in Florida but the large turnout suggests trouble.

Clinton is leaving nothing to chance though. As late as 10.30pm there was an email appeal to supporters asking for campaign donations.

She had spent part of Monday in Pittsburgh, traditionally a Democrat stronghold but one which is home to some of those disgruntled blue collar workers Trump is desperate to flip in an unlikely bid to snatch Pennsylvania.

Her final rally, the one after Philadelphia, was in Raleigh, North Carolina, likely the second closest battleground after Florida.

Her campaign had spent the day focusing on Trump's fitness to lead.

Barack Obama told a rally in Florida and the one in Philadelphia that the Republican nominee was "temperamentally unfit" to be in control of the military - and their nuclear weapons. He pointed out his campaign managers had persuaded him to suspend his Twitter activity for the final days of the campaign.

"If his closest advisers don't trust him not to tweet why would any of us trust him with the nuclear codes?"

Obama said he knew it had been a long campaign with a lot of noise and distraction.

"At times it's felt more like a reality show. Or even a parody but tomorrow the choice you have when you step into that voting booth could not be clear and could not be more serious."

Clinton also acknowledged the rancour of the campaign. There have been signs in recent days that she's aware of the need to be more positive.

In the wake of her being cleared for a second time by the FBI after investigation of her use of a private email server to conduct official business by email she acknowledged the need to unite feuding factions.

Hillary Clinton is joined by daughter Chelsea Clinton and husband, former President Bill Clinton during a late-night campaign rally. Photo / AP
Hillary Clinton is joined by daughter Chelsea Clinton and husband, former President Bill Clinton during a late-night campaign rally. Photo / AP

According to the Guardian she told reporters travelling on her plane that she had work to do to "bring the country together".

"These splits, these divides that have been not only exposed but exacerbated by the campaign on the other side are ones that we really do have to bring this country together."

She told the crowd in Philadelphia that she had come to "regret deeply how angry the tone of he campaign became". She then spent a few minutes criticising Trump.

As the candidates maintained the tenor of the campaign on the final day, there was little sign of change among their supporters either.

Howard Caplan was bidding, perhaps optimistically, to get into the Philadelphia rally wearing orange overalls and a Clinton mask and holding a sign reading Hillary 4 Prison.

He said he was a lifelong Democrat supporter who had wanted Bernie Sanders to get the party's nomination.

"This country is in big, big trouble. Globalists are trying to take us over and it's got to stop. Look at the beautiful buildings (in Philadelphia's historic centre). Once you get out of this area it's a Third World area. That's the way they want it. They want people slow, sick and stupid. It makes them easier to kill.

"I'm going to give Trump a chance. He's obviously not establishment. They all hate him. But he's all I got."

Linda and George May were succinct in their support for Clinton.

"She's everything that we stand for. He's everything that we are against," said George.

Bon Jovi told the crowd: "Tomorrow, with the eyes of the world upon us, you've got to ask yourself what kind of a world do you want. Because I want a world of hope and optimism and I'm sure that you do too."

Bruce Springsteen said Trump was a man whose "vision is limited to little beyond himself who has a profound lack of decency ... Tomorrow those ideas and that campaign are going down."

Bruce Springsteen performs during a Hillary Clinton campaign event at Independence Mall in Philadelphia. Photo / AP
Bruce Springsteen performs during a Hillary Clinton campaign event at Independence Mall in Philadelphia. Photo / AP

Emotional night

This was an emotional night for the Obamas, Michelle introducing Barack to the Philadelphia crowd on what was their last public appearance before the next president-elect is chosen.

After praising Clinton, a woman who she said was "singularly qualified to be our president", she thanked Americans for the previous eight years.

"Let me take a moment to thank the people of this country for giving our family the extraordinary honour of serving as your first family. Thank you for your love, thank you for your prayers, thank you for welcoming us into your communities with open arms, for giving us a chance whether you agreed with our politics or not.

"Every day you have inspired us with your courage and your decency and every day we have tried to make you proud and live up to the standard of citizenship that you set."

She went on to introduce her husband, "the love of my life", praising him for getting the job done in the face of "unimaginable challenges, always going high when they go low".

Hillary Clinton paid tribute to the Obamas saying they had led the country with grace, strength, brilliance "and a whole lot of cool".

Anti-Trump protestor in Philadelphia. Photo / Chris Reed
Anti-Trump protestor in Philadelphia. Photo / Chris Reed

Finding the truth about Clinton

Life is good in Clinton, New Jersey.

On Main Street, Stars and Stripes hang limply from lamposts on a flawless Fall day. The stores are independently owned and offer gourmet foods and upmarket goods.

There are no fast food chains. The sandwich shop is call Ye Olde Sub Base.

You'd like to retire here. You could. A 13-room "pristine private retreat" in spacious grounds is advertised for US$639,000. That's $873,000. With no auction. Weep into your lattes Aucklanders.

Clinton is in rural Hunterdon County, fourth wealthiest in the US according to the Census Bureau's 2012 American Community Survey.

It's named for DeWitt Clinton, governor of New York almost two centuries ago.

The town's elected mayor is a Democrat but all six members of the town council are Republican.

In the Clinton Book Shop, owner Harvey Finkel says this is a strong Republican area.

In the Clinton Book Shop, owner Harvey Finkel says this is a strong Republican area. Photo / Chris Reed
In the Clinton Book Shop, owner Harvey Finkel says this is a strong Republican area. Photo / Chris Reed

Not that it matters in the presidential race. New Jersey is as close to a sure thing for the Democrats as there is. They get huge numbers in the urban, industrial east of the state.

In Clinton, there's little sign there's an election at all.

"People know what's going to happen," says Finkel.

Hillary Clinton's campaign has put little time and money into New Jersey. There was a cursory effort at campaigning-by-TV-ads from the Donald Trump campaign on Sunday night.

Trump has a golf course 13km east in Bedminster.

Lori Rodriguez, co-owner of JJ Scoops in Clinton - which sells the most amazing pumpkin flavoured ice cream - says her daughter used to work at the golf club.

Lori Rodriguez, co-owner of JJ Scoops. Photo / Chris Reed
Lori Rodriguez, co-owner of JJ Scoops. Photo / Chris Reed

When Trump's daughter Ivanka got married there in 2009 her daughter worked in the cloakroom. Her daughter has met Trump more than once and liked him, she says.

Rodriguez wants to live off the land. We talk about the price of bare property in New Zealand compared with West Virginia.

She is going to vote Republican. She doesn't like "corrupt" Clinton and thinks Trump's business record makes him a good candidate.

She's looking forward to voting. She and her partner will vote together and go for breakfast afterwards.

As a bruising, bitter presidential campaign staggers to a close, that seems like an extremely civilised plan. That's how they do things in Clinton.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 07 Dec 2016 11:16:34 Processing Time: 844ms