Trump, Biden set for tight battle in Florida

ORLANDO, Fla. — The coronavirus pandemic is upending politics across the country, including in Florida — home to 29 electoral votes and consistently one of the most important states in the presidential contest. 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Trump-Biden debate clash The Memo: Debate or debacle? Democrats rip Trump for not condemning white supremacists, Proud Boys at debate MORE won Florida in 2016 over Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton after debate: 'Everyone better vote' Hillary Clinton: 'Black Lives Matter' is 'very profoundly a theological statement' House in near-unanimous vote affirms peaceful transfer of power MORE by a little more than 1 percentage point but may be an underdog against former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFive takeaways from Trump-Biden debate clash The Memo: Debate or debacle? Democrats rip Trump for not condemning white supremacists, Proud Boys at debate MORE

A new poll released by the University of North Florida on Monday found Biden leading Trump by 6 points, 46 percent to 40 percent. 

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Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic is almost certain to be the deciding factor in the race in Florida. 

Nationally, Trump has generally done well in approval ratings for his handling of the crisis, but the University of North Florida poll found that 53 percent of voters in the state said they disapproved of Trump’s handling of the crisis in the state. Just 45 said they approved. 

The same survey showed 58 percent said they do not trust Trump to give reliable information on the crisis, while 41 percent said they trust the president. 

“Unless things turn around quickly and decisively, Florida may become Trump's Waterloo,” warned Martin Sweet, an affiliate assistant professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University. 

He noted that Florida’s governor, Republican Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisWill winter bring a new round of COVID-19 outbreaks? Party of more than 1,000 people broken up by police near Florida State University Overnight Health Care: New wave of COVID-19 cases builds in US | Florida to lift all coronavirus restrictions on restaurants, bars | Trump stirs questions with 0 drug coupon plan MORE, has also come under scrutiny for his handling of the coronavirus. DeSantis, a strong supporter of Trump’s whom the president has frequently complimented, did not issue a statewide stay-at-home order for Florida until last week. 

“Florida has been trending overall less purple and more red, but Trump and Gov. DeSantis may have squandered their advantage,” Sweet said. 

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The UNF poll showed a majority still support DeSantis’s handling of the coronavirus. 

Fifty-one percent of Floridians said they approved of the job the governor was doing to address the outbreak, with 46 percent saying they disapproved. 

The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC) have deployed a massive ground game in Florida, underscoring the importance of the state in November. 

The RNC has had staff on the ground in Florida since 2014 and has been working to register voters and train staff. It says it has held more than 250 virtual Trump Victory Leadership Initiative training sessions, while volunteers have made nearly 2 million calls to voters. 

“We’ve engaged thousands of activists throughout the state, because we know how important it is,” RNC spokesman Rick Gorka told The Hill. “We know that we're putting in the time and the effort in a critical state because we know we have to win it in November.” 

Florida is facing a double whammy from the coronavirus. Cases are building, and the economic unrest is a major threat to the state’s tourism industry. 

Ninety-four percent of Florida voters said they were concerned about the impact the pandemic would have on the state’s economy, according to the UNF survey. 

“The die is far from cast in terms of people’s opinions of Trump handling the coronavirus,” Florida-based Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said. “Obviously, President Trump recognizes that if he can instill hope and confidence as he goes through this, he has a better chance of not only saving the economy, but also winning reelection.” 

Democrats won Florida in 2008 and 2012 and are expressing confidence they can win it again in 2020. 

“Floridians are feeling pretty down on Trump and DeSantis right now,” one Biden ally said. “No one thinks things are going well. How do you vote for the status quo?”

Miami-based Republican strategist Ana NavarroAna Violeta NavarroCNN's Ana Navarro to host Biden roundtable on making 'Trump a one-term president' Cuba spells trouble for Bass's VP hopes Trump rally speaker earns criticism for calling Aunt Jemima the 'picture of the American Dream' MORE, who didn't vote for Trump in 2016 and has harshly criticized him as a commentator on CNN, said “in theory, Biden should be strong in Florida.”

“He has decades' long relationships with key communities in Florida, like African-Americans, the Jewish community,” Navarro said. 

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Biden defeated Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump, Biden clash over health care as debate begins Biden calls Trump a 'liar' and a 'clown' at first debate Biden mocks Trump campaign debate claims: 'I've got my earpiece and performance enhancers ready' MORE (I-Vt.) soundly in the state’s Democratic primary. 

“He also passes what I call the 'grandparent test' with younger Cuban Americans,” Navarro said. “Will my grandmother still speak to me if I vote for this guy? With Bernie, the answer is no. Cuban grandmothers would be brokenhearted.”

Biden has seen positive signs in the state’s larger cities. The former vice president leads Trump in Orlando, Jacksonville, Miami and Tampa, according to the UNF poll. Republicans, on the other hand, point to their outreach to the less urban and more rural areas, where Trump is stronger.

“Obviously there are very important centers around Tampa, Orlando, Daytona, but it's also about reaching out into the less populated counties,” Gorka said. "This is where the virtual trainings that we've been doing has really brought a lot of new people in as well.” 

In the crucial Interstate 4 corridor, which runs between the greater Orlando and Tampa areas, Trump's numbers are “particularly troubling” for his reelection campaign due to the sheer number of independents in the region, Sweet, of FAU, said.

“Not only is Trump underwater in what is typically the bellwether for the state, the intensity of his opposition is strong and the intensity of his support isn't impressive,” he added. “As the number of COVID-19 cases and death totals rise and unemployment hits numbers not seen since the Depression in the 1930s, America doesn't seem so great right now.”