Julio Reynoso sat down to watch the third and final presidential debate Wednesday leaning toward Hillary Clinton but not yet committed to voting for her. By the time the debate was over, he was sold.
It wasn’t that Clinton won him over so much. It was that Donald Trump drove him there.
“It’s all about him,” said the 53-year-old retired school administrator from Orlando. “Everything was negative. . . . When I hear her speak and hear him speak, I am stressed and full of anxiety from the lack of knowledge. . . . It’s like a hate. It’s not what we’re about.”
Reynoso was one of five voters in a 31-person focus group from the crucial swing state of Florida who’d had lingering qualms about Clinton before her final debate with Trump. Afterward, they were all solidly for Clinton. That suggested that Clinton emerged from the debate poised to tighten her already-growing lead over Trump in this key swing area of the nation’s premier swing state.
Lori Rivera, 53, a Realtor from Orlando, had thoughts similar to Reynoso’s “He’s attacking. There’s nothing positive,” she said.
She’d been leaning Clinton, but by the end of the debate was solidly for Clinton. “The best thing (Trump did) was that he just made a closing statement for her,” Rivera said. “If you were behind Obama at all, you should vote for Clinton.”
No one in the group, conducted by McClatchy, the Bradenton Herald and the Miami Herald at the University of Central Florida, moved to Trump. Even some Trump backers said they were not pleased by his performance.
I was absolutely disturbed by the third debate.
Julio Reynoso, a retired school administrator
Florida is critical to winning the White House, and the Interstate 4 corridor from Orlando to the Tampa suburbs is critical to winning Florida.
Clinton leads Trump by 6 points statewide in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College poll. She led by 12 points in the Orlando/central Atlantic coast area and trailed by 5 in the Tampa Bay area. She was far behind in the northern part of the state, on the Gulf Coast and in mid-Florida but had a big lead in south Florida.
Before Wednesday’s debate, most in the politically and racially diverse group said they were eager to hear more about policy, notably economics and anti-terrorism measures. By the end of the 90-minute event, many said Clinton had at least some concrete ideas while Trump had few.
“Trump had no plans,” said Eduardo King, 31, a student from Orlando who was undecided before the debate but for Clinton afterward.
The onetime Clinton doubters could not bring themselves to back Trump.
“Now I kind of don’t have an option but to go for Hillary after what I have seen today,” said Andres Alvarado, 25, a graduate student from Orlando who’s a Republican. “Trump thinks of the country as a business but unfortunately the country isn’t run like businesses are.
“They’re about people and public service first and foremost. I don’t think Trump understands that. I think he thinks we are a corporation.”
Alex Alvarado, 21, a college student, is also a Republican. He was annoyed at Trump’s attitude toward women who have accused him of sexual assault. Trump has denied all accusations.
He doesn’t represent the values, for me, of what the Republican Party is. It’s not Republican values. It’s human values . . . compassion, emotions.
Alex Alvarado, a Republican describing Trump’s views
“He doesn’t represent the values, for me, of what the Republican Party is. It’s not Republican values. It’s human values . . . compassion, emotions,” he said.
He is bothered by Clinton’s use of a private email server for government business. But it’s not enough. “I think she obviously did something wrong,” Alvarado said. “But I can’t vote for Trump.”
Clinton was hardly an overwhelmingly popular choice.
Derek Bruce, 43, a lawyer from Orlando who’s a Democrat, said he’d cast a “hold your nose vote” for the former secretary of state.
“She certainly didn’t fill me with a sense of trustworthiness,” he said. “I’m sorry we got this kind of choice.”
Trump was just too offensive for them.
Vanessa Zabala, 25, a program manager of Venezuelan heritage, compared Trump to the late dictator Hugo Chavez, who was elected in 1998.
Scott Kidd, 60, an Orlando business owner, went further. “Trump was doing an English-language version of a Hitler speech,” he charged.
Trump did have some strong defenders.
I’ve hated Hillary Clinton for 25 years.
Michael Dugre, a Trump supporter
“Trump is not the most eloquent person he could be,” said Michael Dugre, 57, of Orlando, who is unemployed, but he noted Trump is not one of the politicians who’ve run the country for decades.
Judi Schack-Dugre, 52, a college professor from Orlando, was annoyed at Clinton’s argument that she’s been a strong advocate for women.
“I’m tired of her making comments that women are always victims. Are some women victimized? Sure,” Schack-Dugre said. “But it’s offensive to me, especially after the reprehensible things her husband did.”
Gail Hill Smith, 65, a human resources manager from Winter Park, challenged such notions. Trump, she said, would take women back to the days when they were second-class citizens.
Every time she hears him speak, said Hill Smith, a Democrat who voted for the GOP’s Mitt Romney four years ago, “my body just goes crazy. It scares me again.”
That kind of fear was the key reason Clinton scored well with this group, even as they were disappointed by what they heard.
LaToya Hodge, 39, an administrator from Orlando, found she “only got more annoyed” as the debate went on. “In 90 minutes we actually had 25 minutes of policy discussion,” she said.
But after hearing Trump talk about his strong anti-abortion views, she was convinced anew that Clinton was her candidate.
“I’m over politicians talking about legislating our choices,” Hodge said. “I can’t support any candidate who wants to do that.”