Trump, Biden dial up efforts to boost early voter turnout in Florida

Democrats and Republicans are bolstering mobilization efforts as early in-person voting begins in Florida, a battleground state critical for both President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

While Democrats have been riding a wave of mail-in voting, Republicans in the state are hoping to see their voters turn out en masse to vote in-person two weeks out from Election Day.

Democrats say they are optimistic about voter turnout in the Sunshine State, but caution that Republican efforts should not be taken for granted.

"The rate of return is really positive, but again there's still this huge army of Republicans who are yet to vote," veteran Florida Democratic strategist Steve Schale told reporters on a conference call. "It was smart of Jaguars fans to not declare themselves Super Bowl champions after the first game of the year."

There has been a total of 2,509,245 votes cast in Florida as of Sunday. But that leaves 11,556,382 registered voters who still haven't cast their ballots.

Democrats appear to already have an advantage when it comes to voter turnout so far. More than 1.2 million Democrats had already voted in the Sunshine State as of Sunday, while 757,000 Republicans have voted so far. 

"I'm not encouraging Democrats to be discouraged by this in any way," Schale said. "But I do think that folks need to be mindful that Republicans are going to get their vote."

The Trump and Biden campaigns have already hit the ground running in Florida ahead of early voting, encouraging voters to head to the polls.

Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) participated in an early vote launch drive in Orlando on Monday before heading to Jacksonville to take part in a voter mobilization event.

"I had to come here on the kickoff of early voting in Florida because y'all are going to make it happen," Harris said, speaking at a drive-in rally in Orlando. "What you will do here in Florida, here in Orlando, what you will do by early voting is you will be the first to put our country back on the right track."

Her visit comes shortly after Trump held two rallies in Florida in the span of one week. Meanwhile, Vice President Pence is headed to Jacksonville and Tallahassee this weekend.

And despite repeated attempts to delegitimize mail-in voting, the president's campaign recently touted the voting method in a number of social media ads last week, urging voters to "Vote like President Trump." The ads refer to Trump's own Florida absentee ballot during the Republican primary. CBS News first reported the ads appeared in Florida and North Carolina.

When asked earlier this month whether he wanted his supporters to go out and vote early, President Trump told conservative talk show host Sean Hannity that he did not have a problem with the use of absentee ballots. 

"Absentee ballots are fine, because absentee ballots, you request, you ask for a ballot and you request and that's it. Absentee ballots are absolutely fine," Trump said. "But these unsolicited ballots, universal unsolicited ballots, Sean, it's going to be a disaster the likes of which we've never seen."

Florida is seen as a must-win state in this year's presidential election with its 29 electoral votes up for grabs. Trump narrowly won the state in 2016, but he is trailing Biden with two weeks to go until the election. The RealClearPolitics polling average shows Biden narrowly leading by 1.4 points.

Republicans say their push to drive out early voting is a part of their strategy to narrow down which voters they still need to reach on Election Day.

"The reason why Republicans are touting early in-person voting or making sure that their absentee ballot is in is because what is clear here in this campaign is that despite the cash disparity between the two campaigns, what the Republicans have is a big ground game to manage," said Florida-based GOP strategist Ford O'Connell.

"The sooner you can check off that these people are voting, the easier it is to be able to find that needle in the haystack come Election Day in terms of those undecided or hard to reach voters."

The Trump campaign said their focus has been on multiple phases of voting, ranging from early to in-person.

"They've [Democrats] just done a really good job at cannibalizing their own voters," said Trump campaign southeast spokesperson Danielle Alvarez."There's three distinct phases of the game - there's vote by mail or absentee voting depending on what state you're in ... you have early voting and then you have Election Day voting, and each phase is equally as important. You don't get extra points for voting one way or another." 

The voter mobilization efforts could also be felt in other states kicking off early voting across the country. Over 27 million American voters have cast their ballots so far, according to the U.S. Elections Project, accounting for roughly 20 percent of the votes cast in the 2016 election.

Early voting has already begun in states including North Carolina, Nevada and Texas.

Trump hit the campaign trail in Nevada on Sunday while Biden campaigned in North Carolina.

"It's go time. This is the most important election of our lifetime," Biden told a crowd in Durham.

But it's not only campaigns that are encouraging early voter turnout. A number of outside groups are pushing to turn out the early vote amid widespread concerns over voter suppression.

"We know in order for us to make voting easy, we're encouraging people to stand in line so we can overwhelm the system in order for us to change the system," said Derrick Johnson, the president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"It's so important for people to vote in person or early, but it's frustrating to see the long lines," he continued. "Staying in line is absolutely important in order for us to be in those position to change the system."

Max Greenwood contributed.