DETROIT — Kevin Stanton, a 55-year-old volunteer for Hillary Clinton, was having a good day. As he walked door-to-door off Livernois Avenue, plenty of his fellow black Detroiters told him they’d already turned in their ballots. One elderly woman danced in her wheelchair as she said she’d absentee-voted for Clinton — her three grandchildren would do the same “if they want to live in my house.” Several voters said the FBI’s announcement of yet another email probe had made them even more motivated.
But at one home, a voter in his 20s opened the door and couldn’t wait to close it. “Not voting,” he said. “Not voting this year.”
Stanton had seen that before.
“Them old people fought for the right to vote, and they believe in it,” Stanton said. “It was the young guy who said he didn’t want to vote. But that guy voted for Barack, and it may be the only time he ever votes.”
Following the latest FBI inquiry, which has dominated news coverage for days and has been described as a potential lifeline for Republican nominee Donald Trump, Clinton’s campaign is counting on its organization more than ever to revive the coalition that twice elected Barack Obama.
In places such as Michigan, that means turning out minorities in big numbers to overcome Trump’s advantage among white voters. The trend in early-voting returns has been both encouraging and worrying for the Clinton campaign: Enthusiasm among Latinos appears to be up, in some cases considerably, but African Americans are turning out in smaller numbers than they did with Obama on the ticket.
That’s the picture in Florida. Early returns show a boost in turnout in heavily Latino counties and a decline in largely African American ones. In a state such as Nevada, where Democrats are relying heavily on Latinos, early returns show they are voting in similar numbers as in 2012, boosting Democratic chances. But in battleground states such as Ohio where Democrats are counting on African Americans to put them over the top, they could be in trouble if blacks stay home.
Polling shows a similar story. Clinton maintains a large lead among nonwhite voters in the Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll, but by a smaller margin than Obama did. In polling since Oct. 20, Clinton has led Trump by more than 3 to 1 among all nonwhites (69 percent to 19 percent), compared with President Obama’s margin of 80 percent to 19 percent in 2012.
Moreover, nonwhite voters are more united by their strong dislike of Trump than positive views of Clinton — only 39 percent have a strongly favorable view of Clinton, while 68 percent have strongly unfavorable views toward Trump.
On Monday, in campaign trips that were scheduled before news of the FBI inquiry broke last week, Trump was attempting to vault the Democratic “blue wall” with stops in Michigan. No poll has suggested that Clinton could lose the state. It would take a collapse of suburban support or a cratering black vote to make that happen.
Exit polls from the past few elections show how Democrats could lose their advantage in such states. In 2004, the last time a white candidate led the Democratic ticket, then-Sen. John F. Kerry won Michigan by 3.4 points. According to the exit poll, he lost Michigan’s white voters by 10 points but carried a supermajority of nonwhites. Black voters, who made up just 13 percent of the electorate, went for Kerry by a 79-point margin.
Eight years later, Obama won Michigan by 9.5 points — but did just as poorly as Kerry with white voters. Much of his margin came from black voters, who rose to 16 percent of the electorate and went for him by 90 points.
In closer states, Trump’s campaign is working to soften enthusiasm for Clinton among young black voters. One TV ad plays a clip of Clinton, then supportive of a new crime bill, referring to a group of young black offenders as “super-predators.” That two-decade-old quote — even after an apology — has dogged Clinton with some Black Lives Matters activists. Trump has also sought to dampen enthusiasm by casting life in black communities as something akin to apocalyptic.
Democrats counter that Trump is ill-equipped to talk black voters into staying home. Rumors of Trump supporters challenging voters have spread quickly and have been included in Democrats’ doorstep pitch on why to vote early. One elected Democrat here speculated that militia groups might dispatch their members to join the “poll watching” programs suggested by groups such as Oath Keepers and by Trump supporter Roger Stone.
On Monday, Democrats filed lawsuits in Arizona, Nevada, Ohio and Pennsylvania alleging that Trump, the Republican state parties and Stone’s group Stop the Steal are conspiring to intimidate and block minorities from voting.
Trump is violating federal civil rights “by using the loudest microphone in the nation to implore his supporters to engage in unlawful intimidation” at polling places, the lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania alleges.
Stone’s response: “I assume the purpose of this bogus lawsuit is to distract from the voter fraud the Democrats have traditionally engaged in.”
In North Carolina, where Democrats and civil rights groups won a high-profile lawsuit against Republican-backed voting restrictions, the early look is mixed. Total black turnout has fallen 17 percent from its 2012 level, but Democrats point to a shrunken number of early-voting locations to claim that they are on track. At the polls, the voters who are showing up said they feel an obligation, if not passion.
“It’s not like four years ago when we knew we were going for Barack Obama, no ifs, ands and buts,” Sunia Wilson, 38, said after casting a ballot at the Chavis Community Center in Raleigh. “This year it’s like, ‘Hmmm. I don’t know.’ But I’ve got to vote.”
In Florida, where Latino voting patterns look stronger for Democrats, the relationship between shaky enthusiasm and fear of voter suppression is even more complicated. Reports of problems at the polls have spiked, with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials reporting 31,000 phone calls to its help line since its September launch.
Meanwhile, voters such as Robert Ortiz, 20, were not sure whether they would bother. As he walked out of a Duvall Homes thrift store in Deltona, Fla., Ortiz said he could not figure out which candidate to trust or what to believe. Friday’s revelation about the FBI looking into more emails that could be relevant to the Clinton email server investigation only added to the noise.
“You try, but you still don’t really know how they truly feel about life,” Ortiz said. “One is too eager to be president. And one does not know anything about struggling people. No, no, both of them are like that.”
In Michigan, with higher stakes and a bigger built-in advantage for Democrats, the pitch to black voters comes with plenty of caveats. One of the fliers given out on every canvass shows Obama talking to Clinton in the Oval Office, a black-and-white photo with “Protect His Legacy” written across it. In a state where felons are allowed to win back their voting rights, canvassers emphasize that Clinton has endorsed a criminal-justice reform agenda.
On Sunday morning, Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), whose district covers much of Detroit, stopped by the Life Line church to tell voters that Trump favored a national stop-and-frisk approach, contending that he supports mass incarceration.
“Nobody’s asking you to marry Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton,” Lawrence said. “I don’t think any of us here is planning on having them over for dinner tomorrow. But when you tell me, ‘Oh, I’m sick of this,’ and, ‘Oh, I’m not going to vote’ — the audacity of anyone to say that, when there’s blood still on the ground from people who fought for that right!”
On Sunday, as Stanton knocked on doors, the FBI inquiry came up multiple times — never in a way that reflected poorly on Clinton. One voter, pulling into his driveway, said the new story had persuaded him to vote early. Fred Franklin, 56, was so irate about the email inquiry that he stopped another canvasser to vent.
“Comey got involved in politics, and if you ask me, he should be fired,” Franklin said.
Michigan’s Republican voters, who have lived through 24 years of presidential droughts, are not getting cocky. Trump’s Monday schedule took him to Grand Rapids, where Democrats say he has underperformed with social conservatives, and to Warren, a Detroit suburb where he stumped during the primary campaign. The Warren crowd did not quite pack an events center, and the voters trickling in — more than one dressed as Clinton in a prison jumpsuit — said that they fully expected Democrats to come out.
“I live in Flint, and it feels like every year,” said Brenda Battle Jordan, 59. “They work the polls and they pull out their vote. They’re everywhere. Doesn’t matter who they run.”
Ed O’Keefe in Washington, Robert Samuels in Florida and Vanessa Williams in North Carolina contributed to this report.