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'It's Always Close': Presidential Race Will Be A Fight To The Finish In Florida

Donald Trump
Evan Vucci/AP
Supporters of President Donald Trump cheer as he arrives to speak during an event on "Protecting America's Seniors," Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The focus has been on Florida this week in the presidential race, drawing ever closer to Election Day – and it promises to be a fight to the finish in the perennial battleground state.

President Donald Trump, in his bid to win reelection, has seemingly been hyper-focused on the Sunshine State. At the top of the week, he held his first rally since being diagnosed with COVID-19 in Sandford, Florida.

“But it was Florida’s best year, the year coming is going to be – and you’re going to see a great third quarter set of numbers coming out very soon – just before the election! So I’m putting myself on the spot,” Trump said at the Orlando-Sandford International Airport, where the rally was held.

Trump told his crowd of supporters his administration is the key to rebounding from the tailspin coronavirus sent the economy into nationally. He localized his message to Central Florida.

“The Florida tourism and hospitality industries that I know so well will reach historic new highs,” Trump promised.

Despite criticisms about holding a rally amid debate about whether the president was still contagious, Trump has kept up the pressure. He addressed the Economic Club of Florida during a virtual event held with various other clubs around the country. The president kept up his messaging on an economic rebound.

“The choice facing America is simple: It’s the choice between historic prosperity under my pro-American policies; or very crippling poverty and a steep depression under the radical left – and that’s what you’ll have is a depression,” Trump told the clubs.

In Florida, the president has had his eye on two key groups of voters:

“I want to thank the Hispanic Americans, down in Florida – you all have been so incredible to Trump,” the President said, adding after a few seconds of applause, “Biden’s agenda would be a catastrophe for Florida seniors.”

Joe Biden
Carolyn Kaster/AP
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden is seen on a huge monitor as he speaks at Miramar Regional Park in Miramar, Fla., Tuesday Oct. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Trump’s challenger, Democratic nominee Joe Biden, took to the deep-blue bastion of Broward County in South Florida this week to woo voters.

“His handling of this pandemic has been erratic, just like his presidency has been. And, it has prevented Florida seniors, and people all across the country, from getting the relief that they need,” Biden told a group of supporters in Pembroke Pines.

Biden hammered away at the message that Trump doesn’t care about seniors, the former vice president asserted, as evidenced by his handling of COVID-19.

“People say he’s not willing to do the work, well I don’t think he cares much about it,” Biden said. “While you’re losing precious time with your loved ones, he’s been stuck in a sand trap on one of his golf courses.”

Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch, whose district includes Broward, says Biden’s messaging resonates with seniors in his constituency.

“He mocks seniors in his political ads, like he did the other day with a meme that went around – and they’re angry, and they’ve turned on him, and it’s absolutely understandable why,” Deutch told WFSU Friday.

Deutch and other Democrats see Trump as a threat to Social Security and Medicare, which is reflected in Biden’s campaign messaging. But Deutch maintains Biden’s biggest point of emphasis should be ripping Trump on his COVID-19 response:

“Start with the biggest problem that President Trump faces, which is utter mismanagement of a pandemic that has led, in Florida’s case, to the deaths of well over 15,000 people,” Deutch said.

A voter registration gap favoring Democrats has tightened over the last several major elections – and for November, it has narrowed to less than 150,000. That’s less than half the advantage in registration Democrats had in 2016.

Deutch says registrations aren’t the only indicator to watch in a race, and instead says to look at the whole picture.

“If you look at the general election turnout, more Democrats have voted so far. If you look at new voters, you’d see that Democratic participation is up by over 2-to-1. So, I think you need to look at this election, and who’s actually voting,” the South Florida congressman said.

Despite that narrowing gap, Florida-centric polls have Biden unanimously holding a lead, albeit in a close race that will no doubt be a fight to the finish. Deutch says Democratic voters can’t get complacent:

“Look, Florida’s going to be close – it’s always close. But I don’t tell anyone, I would never tell anyone, to rest based on the polls.”

The back half of this week brought two competing town hall events on major television networks – held in lieu of an actual in-person debate. Trump’s was held in Miami, where he took questions from Florida voters. Biden’s in Pennsylvania, following a similar format, with a longer run time.

Trump is holding another Florida rally in Ocala Friday night, and Dr. Jill Biden is stumping for her husband in Saint Petersburg.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.