WASHINGTON (AFP) - White House hopeful Donald Trump appeared bent on exploiting Sunday's (June 12) massacre in Orlando to boost the argument that he can be trusted to tackle terrorism over rival Hillary Clinton.
With many victims of the carnage yet to be identified, and the police still probing the suspected Islamist ties of the slain gunman, Mr Trump wasted no time in harnessing the assault to his political advantage.
The presumptive Republican nominee unleashed a broadside accusing President Barack Obama and his would-be Democratic successor Clinton of failing to tackle head on what he calls "radical Islam".
"Because our leaders are weak, I said this was going to happen - and it is only going to get worse," he said in a statement. "I am trying to save lives and prevent the next terrorist attack. We can't afford to be politically correct anymore."
Mr Trump is set to deliver more of the same tough talk at a campaign appearance in Manchester, New Hampshire on Monday. The speech was originally to be about Mrs Clinton, but he is shifting the focus to national security.
As the country reeled from what is being treated as the deadliest attack on US soil since Sept 11, 2001, Mr Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll, said the threat of terrorism was likely to dominate the US election debate for months.
"It will be at the forefront until election day," he told AFP.
After extremists slaughtered 130 people in Paris last November and a Muslim husband-wife team murdered 14 in San Bernardino, California, Mr Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
The move prompted an uproar, but he doubled down, presenting himself as cracking down on extremism more than his political rivals.
After San Bernardino, "it became a permanent part of the Trump dialogue," said Quinnipiac's Mr Malloy.
In March, following a deadly attack in Brussels, Mr Trump told NBC that his insistence on defeating extremism was "probably why I'm No. 1 in the polls".
Opinion polls late last year showed a majority of Republicans supporting Mr Trump's call for a Muslim travel ban.
Mr Trump and Mrs Clinton are promoting fiercely different approaches to fighting terror, and have traded accusations that the other is not temperamentally fit to run the country.
Mr Trump has repeatedly called for a halt to refugee flows from the Middle East, and assailed Mrs Clinton for wanting to expand the programme.
He says he is prepared to reauthorise torture methods such as waterboarding in terrorism cases and advocates targeting the families of terror suspects.
Mr Trump has also repeatedly argued that attacks like the one in Paris would have seen far fewer casualties if people had been armed to defend themselves.
According to Quinnipiac, voters see Mrs Clinton as far more prepared than Mr Trump to handle an international crisis - but they see Mr Trump as better able to tackle the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Their rival styles were on display in the hours after a gunman unleashed an assault on a gay nightclub in Florida that left 50 people dead, apparently after pledging allegiance to ISIS.
"If Hillary Clinton, after this attack, still cannot say the two words 'radical Islam' she should get out of this race for the presidency," Mr Trump thundered.
The former secretary of state trod more cautiously.
She declared Sunday's attack "an act of terror" and an "act of hate", and issued a statement saying Washington should redouble efforts to counter terror threats at home and abroad.
Mrs Clinton was set to visit Ohio on Monday for her first rally since clinching the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.
Mr Obama had been scheduled to join her two days later for a high-profile joint campaign appearance, but the event was postponed "because of the tragic attack in Orlando".
Mrs Clinton currently leads Mr Trump in head-to-head matchups, but "things can happen in the final weeks and months before the election", explained Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
"What if we have an attack like Paris in October?" he asked.
"Maybe people will say we can't trust a person who's never had any experience. But maybe there is the allure of a strongman."
Mrs Clinton argues that her experience - as first lady, US senator and top diplomat - makes her the most qualified for the White House job.
She has reminded voters she urged Mr Obama to authorise the mission to kill Osama bin Laden.
With the atrocity in Orlando, Democrats were quick to call once more for a tightening of gun laws, a theme Mrs Clinton is intent on pursuing during the campaign.
"We need to keep guns like the ones used last night out of the hands of terrorists or other violent criminals," she said.