The faithful who will never leave her

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Story highlights

  • CNN spoke to Hillary Clinton supporters in Florida, Ohio
  • They explain why they support the Democratic nominee

(CNN)The day after FBI Director James Comey dropped a grand piano on Hillary Clinton's campaign, setting off a round of recriminations from top aides and allies, the candidate looked out on a happy-go-lucky assembly of supporters gathered in a small, sticky Daytona Beach gymnasium.

If Comey's letter had resurrected the dreaded specter of Clinton's emails, her diehards in Florida, where she spent most of Saturday, were openly untroubled. They dutifully jeered Comey's name as Clinton called his decision and its timing "pretty strange," but roared when she pivoted back to her usual fare -- a promise to keep "focused on one thing, you and your families."
Apart from the quick round of booing, the crowd here had little to say about the campaign's new bête noire. Minutes away from the historically black Bethune-Cookman University, this was a safe space. Her supporters in this coastal city -- the kind of quiet loyalists who could vault her to the White House next week -- didn't just take the FBI news in stride, they mostly strode right past it.
    Retired veteran Walter Browning, his "Operation Iraqi Freedom" cap tipped up high on his head, strained to explain just how little he cared.
    "Let's talk about the meat and potatoes. We don't want no more of the salad, let's talk about the meat and potatoes," he said.
    "This is about Hillary," he continued. "The hating don't really matter. You have the character of a person -- everybody has dirt on them, everybody -- but you have to focus on what that person can do. You look at their stats. Hillary? She gives you the opportunity."

    Charting a different path from Obama and Sanders

    In the months since he emerged as the favorite to win the GOP nomination, Trump and his supporters have been scrutinized and psychoanalyzed, their motivations and "anxieties" studied like the Dead Sea Scrolls of American politics.
    Meanwhile, Clinton's gravitational pull has been treated less like a force of nature than a mundane fact of life. It's understandable. For millions of Americans, her place in the firmament is fixed and the decades-long run-up to the 2016 election, with its unexpectedly rancorous primary and the lingering email server scandal, has cemented many of the less pleasing impressions of the former first lady, senator and secretary of state.
    But while the Trump voter is widely viewed as a man on a mission to reclaim some past greatness, the caricature of a Clinton voter manages to be both less distinct and more rigid.
    Ideology plays a part -- but only up to a point. As a candidate, Barack Obama drew crowds to rival or exceed Trump's while pitching ideals that directly contradict the Republican nominee's performative pathos. Same for Bernie Sanders, who because of some topline similarities -- mainly a broad economic populism and faddish personal brand -- is too often conflated with Trump, or held up as a false conduit for Republicans making eyes at working-class Democrats.
    Clinton cannot play that game. In 2016, she has embraced her inner wonk and bet that voters would do the same. Victory next week would offer a fittingly paradoxical end to this daft campaign: the election of one of our most politically sane and rhetorically mild candidates.
    "She evokes a peacefulness in people," said Martha Massfeller, 58, after the Daytona Beach rally. "It's more hometown -- she's seems more hometown to me. It's more grassroots. I love her -- that's all I can say. I'm just very proud, very proud."
    At the New Mount Olive Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Sunday, Clinton was received with glee. Rapturously, by some. The candidate is a Methodist, but she knows the room. And she said hello, smiling and in pious lavender, with a piece of scripture.
    "Now this is the day the Lord has made," Clinton said upon taking stage, her voice attuning itself to the regional twang, much like Obama and generations of politicians before her have done with relative peace.
    Among those present waving their approval, Julia Paul-Momdaizie, an American citizen born in Trinidad, spoke with delight in her eyes about Clinton's policy positions.
    "She has great ideas for the country," Paul-Momdaizie said. "Change is good, yes, but if it's not broke then you shouldn't fix it. Our country isn't broken. We have things we need to work on and I think she can fix those areas."
    "Mr. Trump wants to burn it all down," she added with a laugh, "get rid of all of us."

    Clinton counting on quiet supporters to speak with their ballots

    On the trail, signs at rallies for the Republican showman declare that "the Silent Majority stands with Trump." The reference is a cultural marker, still-valuable currency with crowds that fill up at the mention of "law and order" in a campaign speech. But it is Clinton who, at press time and for long stretches of the campaign, has commanded not only more support, but from a less vocal band of backers.
    Alma Ellis, 70, was chatting about the opponent with a friend before Clinton arrived.
    "Just like the scripture in the Bible: 'Satan is going to and fro seeking whom he can divide. He desires to sift us wheat.' If Trump gets elected he is going to sift all of us as wheat," she said, and paused. "You can't say that someone is leading you when they don't know the way themselves."
    Opposition to the Republican nominee is not incidental, even to many of the people who call themselves enthusiastic Clinton voters.
    A night earlier in Miami, at a "get out the vote" concert headlined by Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, college student Diana Zelaya, 23 years old and nearing graduation, argued that Trump was not being held to a very simple standard she expected to face on the job market.
    "He basically woke up one day and said I'm going to run for president," she said. "It's not fair -- even most college graduates need to have experience to jump into a field. He has no political experience to jump in the field."
    Clinton, she added, "is more qualified, just like (students) need more experience for wherever we want to go work. She worked in this her whole life."
    On Monday in Ohio, at Clinton's first stop -- a rally on the campus of Kent State University -- ticketed supporters lined up an hour before the doors to the school's Recreation and Wellness Center were scheduled to open, and two more before Clinton was expected to arrive.
    Along with a friend, Lyric Aquino, a sophomore double major in anthropology and aspiring photojournalist, bested the Midwestern chill in a long shawl. She spoke about the relative mellow of a Clinton event when set against the sometimes ugly and weird scenes at Trump's gatherings.
    "Hillary has been bashed but she still remains to be so strong," Aquino said. "So she is able to hold attention and cast a sense of power and it makes people want to listen to her. I like that she's able to do that and it's not dangerous, it's not a harsh vibe -- it feels good to know that you're in a safe environment where you can listen to her and actually hear her talk."

    Red meat? Clinton voters hunger for a more balanced meal

    On Monday, Clinton's first order of business was to deliver a message about Trump. These lines of attack tend to drive news coverage and win broader attention, but the live audience seemed distracted.
    After 25 minutes, though, Clinton began a riff on the diversity of her coalition and the room began to heat up. Then, as she closed, listing the sundry accomplishments of the Obama years, it blared.
    "That is something to defend and build on," she said, "and in the end, that is what this election is all about."
    As the last of the crowd filtered out past what had behaved like an airport checkpoint, a trio of merchandise sellers -- "J&J Concessions" -- were cleaning up.
    Kevin Terry, 40, said his small company had been as far south as Texas and all the way up to Maine hawking both both Clinton and Trump gear. The big sellers at Kent State, he said, had been pins reading, "Hill, Yes!" and another featuring "Rosie the Riveter" saying "Hillary 2016."
    The big movers at Trump rallies also focused on Clinton, he said -- stuff like "Hillary for Prison" tee shirts and another that says, "Life's a bitch, don't vote for one." The demand was such that Terry, who had arrived at the convention in Cleveland this summer with "American flag elephant shirts saying, 'Cleveland rocks' and 'RNC 2016,'" had to put in a late order for the nastier swag.
    Hanging back a few hundred feet away with her mother, Ann, Sarah Schlosser, 22, pinned the contrasting nature of the the year's campaign rallies on the candidates: "Trump has a very dark and gloomy message and that is going to attract a very dark and gloomy voter. Hillary's message is very different and you see that in the demeanor of the people who attend."
    A former vice president of marketing at the Chamber of Commerce, Ann professed awe at Clinton's fortitude, but underlined what she saw as one of the candidate's fundamental handicaps: what men expect from powerful women.
    "She's not warm and fuzzy," Ann said. "But we as women are supposed to (be) warm and fuzzy and embracing and love and hold hands and skip off into the sunset together. We should sh-- rainbows and pee puppies. But that's not going to happen.
    "That's not going to get things done."