Democrats seize on Florida pandemic response ahead of general election
ORLANDO, Fla. — Democrats are seizing on the recent coronavirus spike in Florida, blaming it on the leadership of President Trump and GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis in a critical swing state that could help decide November’s general election.
A record 9,585 new cases were reported in Florida on Saturday, forcing DeSantis to scale back the state’s reopening. The governor has attributed the rise in cases to an increase in testing, as well as to young people being less cautious about social gatherings.
The state has once again closed its bars, and a number of localities, including Jacksonville, the site of the Republican National Convention next month, have mandated wearing face coverings in public.
However, DeSantis has yet to issue a statewide mandate on face coverings, echoing Trump’s generally hands-off approach, and a number of Florida beaches are set to stay open for the Fourth of July holiday.
Meanwhile, the RealClearPolitics polling average shows former Vice President Joe Biden leading Trump by 6.4 points in the Sunshine State.
“I am sure that come November, our community will remember that all of this could have been avoided if the people in charge had simply done their jobs,” Florida Rep. Val Demings (D), who has been floated as a possible Biden running mate, told The Hill. “When he’s not suggesting that we inject bleach, President Trump says that COVID response is the state’s job. Gov. DeSantis says it’s the president’s. Both have totally given up, and Floridians have been caught in the middle, with no help against a deadly virus, a broken unemployment system, and no end in sight.”
Biden hit Trump’s handling of the virus in a campaign appearance in Wilmington, Del., on Tuesday.
“Infections on the rise. The threat of massive spikes that overwhelm the capacity of our health care system. Americans anxious and out of work, fearful for their lives and their loved ones,” Biden said. “And Donald Trump is doing next-to-nothing about it.”
A CBS News poll released on Sunday showed 41 percent of Americans said Trump is doing a “good job” in combating the pandemic, down 12 points since late March.
Meanwhile, a separate left-leaning Change Research poll conducted for the Democratic National Committee in Florida found that 56 percent of state residents said they believe the president did not listen to experts or take the threat of the coronavirus seriously.
The state has 29 electoral votes, making it one of the most sought-after prizes in the presidential contest.
“There is no question that the coronavirus has put a damper on President Trump’s reelection plans,” said Ford O’Connell, a Florida-based GOP strategist.
“If DeSantis wasn’t in charge of the most important swing state in 2020, he wouldn’t be under such a media microscope,” O’Connell added. “The reason is simple: Trump has to win Florida.”
Democrats have worked amid the pandemic to tie Trump to the state’s governor, one of his most vocal allies, and DeSantis has taken a number of cues from the administration in his response.
The governor issued a stay-at-home order in early April after Surgeon General Jerome Adams, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said the administration’s guidelines should be interpreted as a national stay-at-home directive.
DeSantis allowed that order to expire in May and moved forward with phase two of Florida’s reopening — which included bars and movie theaters — in early June, as Trump was openly calling for the country to lift restrictions and get back to work.
“From day one of the crisis, DeSantis has ignored public health experts and followed the lead of Donald Trump,” Florida Democratic Chair Terrie Rizzo said in a statement on Monday. “The result has been a botched reopening and a recession in Florida. Today, we are seeing the results of DeSantis’ failures to lead.”
DeSantis’s supporters argue that hospitalizations remain relatively low compared to other states hit hard by the virus.
“Florida is facing challenges due to coronavirus as is the rest of the nation during this global pandemic,” said DeSantis’s communications director Helen Aguirre Ferré. “Florida’s ICU hospitalizations rates, ventilator use and mortality rate due to COVID-19 remains constant and low as we continue to reopen in a safe and smart manner. Until a vaccine is produced, every state can expect to experience peaks and valleys due to this disease.”
Trump and DeSantis’s allies have maintained that reopening the state’s economy was essential to avoid an even deeper economic crisis. An improved economy in November could play well for Trump, who has touted his economic strength throughout his administration.
“Ultimately if they can tie it to the economy, and the economic recovery, they might even go beyond neutralizing it, and make it a small plus,” said Aubrey Jewett, associate professor of political science at the University of Central Florida.
However, a rise in deaths coming after the latest wave of confirmed cases could stand to put Republican approval ratings in the state at risk.
“If we do, I think that COVID-19 and the pandemic response are going to become a much bigger issue in the minds of many Florida voters because then you start talking about a lot of people dying,” Jewett said. “That’s a different story.”
DeSantis’s supporters also point out that the median age of infected patients in Florida is dropping. The state’s Department of Health said on Monday that the median age of cases in the state is now 36.
“I think the reason why Trump has a good shot in Florida is because DeSantis has done a good job protecting seniors in Florida,” O’Connell said. “It’s going to be the seniors that decide whether the winner of this election in Florida, at least, is Joe Biden or Donald Trump.”
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.