The Memo: 2020 is all about winning Florida
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will travel to Florida on Tuesday. Michael Bloomberg has committed to spending $100 million to help the Democrat win the state. And President Trump is in the middle of a $32 million Florida ad spend, with more sure to come.
It all underlines one thing: The 2020 election could all come down to Florida — again.
On election night in 2016, the projections of Trump winning Florida served as the first significant indicators that Hillary Clinton might not win the presidency.
If Trump loses the Sunshine State’s 29 Electoral College votes, it becomes difficult to see his pathway to a second term. If he wins, he could be well on his way.
Is Florida a must-win for Trump? GOP strategist Ron Bonjean replied “absolutely” when asked that question during a recent event hosted by The Hill.
New polls show a tightening race in a state where Biden held a significant lead during the summer. A recent NBC News poll found the race in Florida to be tied. The RealClearPolitics polling average has Biden leading by 1.2 points, down from approximately 6 points in July.
The narrowing margins are not a big surprise to Florida political observers, who have long been skeptical that either candidate can win by a sweeping margin.
None of the past three presidential elections in Florida has been decided by more than 3 percentage points. Trump vanquished Clinton by 1.2 points in 2016 — a margin of roughly 100,000 votes out of more than 9 million ballots cast for one candidate or the other. The closest presidential contest in the state came in 2000 when, after a historic Supreme Court ruling, George W. Bush was deemed the winner by 537 votes.
The demographic plates have shifted somewhat since 2016. Biden looks set to improve on Clinton’s performance with older voters — a vital constituency in a state famously popular with retirees.
The NBC poll found the candidates effectively tied with seniors, with Biden at 49 percent and Trump at 48 percent. If that were replicated on Election Day, it would be a body blow to Trump, who carried over-65s by 17 points over Clinton in 2016, according to exit polls.
On the other hand, Biden’s standing with Latino voters is troubling his supporters.
Asked if Biden’s numbers with Latinos were concerning, state Sen. Annette Taddeo (D) told The Hill, “Listen, they are. And we forewarned that if you don’t push back at the attacks and the lies they sort of stick.”
Taddeo was alluding to charges pressed by Team Trump and its allies that Biden, if elected, would be susceptible to pressure from the ascendant left in his party — especially prominent figures such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), sometimes called AOC.
Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez are revered by progressives nationwide, but their brand of democratic socialism is unpopular with Cuban Americans, in particular. Florida is home to more than 1 million Cuban Americans, who typically cast about 6 percent of all votes in the state. As a group, they lean Republican, especially among older generations, many of whom fled their nation of birth after Fidel Castro came to power in a 1959 revolution.
Even taking that GOP-leaning history into account, however, Democratic nerves were jangled by a recent poll of Miami-Dade County that found Cuban American voters favoring Trump by 38 points, 68 percent to 30 percent.
The recent NBC poll, meanwhile, showed Trump winning Latinos statewide, 50 percent to 46 percent. That result raised some eyebrows among experts, who think such an outcome very unlikely. Another reputable recent survey, from St. Pete Polls, gave Biden a 12-point edge among Hispanics in the state.
Still, even a 12-point advantage would be a considerable deterioration from Clinton’s showing. Among Florida Latinos, she defeated Trump by almost 30 points, according to exit polls.
Biden will have his work cut out to make big inroads with the Cuban community. Emiliano Antunez, a Cuban American political strategist who has worked with both parties, told The Hill that Biden’s problem is hard to overcome alone.
“It is not Biden who they are really not buying. They are not buying for other reasons,” Antunez said. “They are looking at Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, and they are looking at AOC, and thinking they are going to have a big voice.”
Biden has been seeking to make up lost ground even before Tuesday’s visit. His vice presidential running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), visited Florida last week — a visit that included a stop for arepas at a Venezuelan restaurant in Doral. Last week, Biden also tweeted his good wishes on the feast day of Cuba’s patron saint.
On Tuesday, Biden is scheduled to take part in a roundtable discussion with veterans in Tampa, and, later, a celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, in Kissimmee, near Orlando. The two cities anchor the so-called I-4 corridor, which has long been considered a politically vital region.
Asked by reporters on Monday what he planned to say to Floridians, Biden responded, “I will talk about how I am going to work like the devil to make sure I turn every Latino and Hispanic vote.”
Democrats also note that, for all the attention given to Cuban Americans, other Latino groups are more favorably disposed toward the party. They also say that there are plenty of other issues where Trump fares badly — notably his handling of the coronavirus in a state that was particularly hard-hit by the pandemic.
Independent experts argue this could be as vital an issue as any other.
“If COVID continues to decline and the economy continues to climb, that helps Trump. And if the reverse is true, it helps Biden,” said Susan MacManus, a professor emerita of political science at the University of South Florida.
MacManus argued that national coverage tends to underestimate “the relationship between COVID and the economy in a tourism-based state like ours.”
With seven weeks to go before Election Day, the nation’s biggest swing state is balanced on a razor’s edge.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.
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