It was halfway through my four-hour drive from Palm Beach to Dade City that I realised my rental car had cruise control.

After two hours of arrow-straight roads driven through a big flat nothing I was delighted to be able to set and forget.

Poor Hillary Clinton's had to do the opposite. She was firmly in control of the polls, coasting towards the White House. Now there's a Trump in the road.

In yesterday's Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll, Trump led Clinton nationally for the first time since May. Another new poll puts him up here in key swing state Florida. The RealClearPolitics poll average has Clinton ahead, but by a diminishing margin.


It was nudging 27C when she took the stage at Pasco-Hernando State College East Campus in Dade City, a charming-borderline-twee town with historic brick buildings and independent cafes.

Surrounded by gently undulating and relatively verdant farmland, it's the diametric opposite of the Escher-like loop of strip malls and drive-throughs on the other side of the state. The only signs I see at roadside houses are for Trump.

But there was a long queue to get in to see Clinton and not everyone who registered was successful. If Clinton was feeling the heat, she didn't show it. She seemed smaller than I was expecting. Her delivery was poised, polished but not as naturally empathetic as her husband's. We'll get to him later.

The rally felt like a combination of religion and rock festival. There were fangirls too, of course. Females were out in force this Tuesday afternoon, one week from election day. Clinton made them a focus of her speech, revisiting the cavalcade of complaints about Trump's treatment of women.

She was preceded and introduced by Alicia Machado, the former Miss Universe who complained about the way Trump treated her when he owned the contest. The Venezuelan was surely selected to appeal to Florida's Hispanic population too.

Clinton said she didn't want to talk about the way talked about way Trump had "belittled' and "mistreated" women. But she did. At length.

Outside, Trump supporters who were earlier goading press photographers from behind a barrier chanted throughout.

Afterwards I spoke to a Trump supporter who said he had been thrown out of the event for "voicing his opinion on how Hillary's going to jail". He knew the truth from his "trusted sources".

A Clinton voter I spoke to was unconvinced for different reasons -- she wanted less of the attack politics, more of the policies.

If she wanted policies and positivity, she should have come with me to St Petersburg, the second-largest city in the Tampa Bay area, about halfway up the west coast.

On the other side was Bill Clinton, at a spot he acknowledged as beyond the usual rally circuit, the Thomas 'Jet' Jackson Recreation Center in Wildwood. This one was in the gym, working families excited about their audience with one of only four living former Presidents.

Andy Stafford outside a Hillary Clinton campaign event in Florida. Photo / Chris Reed
Andy Stafford outside a Hillary Clinton campaign event in Florida. Photo / Chris Reed

Protecting the economy by investing in infrastructure and the need to protect low-lying Florida from rising sea levels were among the touchpoints in his precision-targeted address. He focused on education, the economy and equality during a 40-minute masterclass in oratory.

Boy, he was good; avuncular and engaging; note-free connection. He studiously avoided using Trump's name, calling him "he". I was reminded of the Hogwarts alumni talking about Voldemort ("you-know-who").

And after the detail, the overarching theme. This is, he said, "a once-in-a-generation election where we have to define all over again what it means to be an American". A time to choose consensus over anger. There was no equivocation after this one.

"Bill's one of the greatest speakers you're ever going to listen to, you already know that," said Andy Stafford. "And he steps on the policies and things that the economy needs. When he was in office he kept a surplus so he knows what he's doing."

The converted were convinced. But will that be enough? Trump returns to Florida tomorrow. Millions of votes are still up for grabs.

Chris Reed travelled to the United States with the assistance of the US Embassy in New Zealand.