Florida heads into election day with no clear favorite | US & Canada
Orlando, Florida, USA – Florida, the largest swing state in the country, is living up to its reputation as a bitterly fierce campaign ground where none of the presidential candidates enjoy a clear advantage on the way to election day.
Given the makeup of the national voting card, a victory for Democrat Joe Biden here would almost certainly be an early knock-out blow, while victory for Republican Donald Trump will give his campaign a chance to tackle him on other battlefields as soon as the Results came in later that night from across the country.
If anything, the race has only intensified in the last month. According to poll averages compiled by RealClearPolitics, Biden has observed that his state polling advantage has fallen from a 4.5 percentage point lead over Trump in early October to just 1 percentage point in November.
Nationwide, more than 8.9 million Floridians have already cast their ballots by mail or in person during the state’s early voting period. The turnout shook the early voting figures for 2016 by more than two million ballots. Four years ago a total of about 9.5 million people voted in Florida, and participation in this cycle is on the right track to surpass that.
The latest tally of the early vote shows the Democrats have little advantage over the Republicans, but not enough to allow Biden to simply rest. As of Monday, 39.2 percent of the early vote came from registered Democrats, compared with 38.1 percent for Republicans. Florida is a real problem and none of the contestants can take victory for granted.
US President Donald Trump greets First Lady Melania Trump at his election rally in front of Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, USA, on October 29, 2020 [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]Since 1996, the presidential candidate who won Florida has won the presidency, making Florida a key piece of the election puzzle. Given Trump’s dwindling avenues to victory, the state is a must-see campaign. But since Biden has a head start in elections in several other battlefield states and appears to be making profits in traditional Republican strongholds like Georgia, Arizona and Texas, his fate may not be as closely tied to Florida as it was with previous candidates.
“I think there’s a really good chance Trump wins Florida and loses the election overall,” said Richard Mullaney, director of the Public Policy Institute at Jacksonville University. “That could very easily happen.”
Trump and Biden visited the state last week, proof of how important it is to any campaign and a sign that they both think Florida is winnable.
Biden visited Broward County in the southeastern state, where raising voter turnout is critical to his campaign, and then Tampa on the state’s west coast.
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden takes the stage during a drive-in campaign stop in Coconut Creek, Florida, the United States, on October 29, 2020 [Brian Snyder/Reuters]”You have the power. If Florida turns blue, it will be over, ”Biden told the followers during his visit.
On the same day, Trump visited Tampa, where he performed in front of a crowd with his wife Melania and repeatedly referred to Florida as “his home state”.
Trump returned to Florida again late Sunday night for one final rally in Miami-Dade County, where his campaign hopes to curtail Biden’s support in the region, particularly among Cuban Americans.
“We win Florida,” said Trump, “we win the whole thing.”
The first state to watch on election night
Twenty years ago, Florida’s electoral system suffered disaster when election officials struggled to count ballots during an incredibly tight 2000 presidential election. The nation saw the controversial ballot papers carefully re-counted in Florida, the state that ultimately decided the outcome. In the end, the presidency was passed with only 537 votes.
Since then, state officials have revamped Florida’s electoral infrastructure and passed reforms that allow ballots to be counted quickly. Unlike many states who have to wait until election day to start counting ballots, Florida can count them if they are received by mail or in early voting periods in the weeks leading up to election day, which increases the likelihood of results of the state will be announced early on election night.
This ability to count quickly, combined with its role as one of the largest election awards in the country, makes Florida a must-see.
Southeast Florida: Biden’s Blue Wall
For Biden, having a strong stake in Florida’s highly democratic and well-populated southeast corner – Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties – will be critical to taking Trump’s leadership in other parts of the state.
“If Biden is to win, he needs big margins in Broward and Palm Beach,” said Kevin Wagner, professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University. “If he doesn’t understand that, the rest won’t matter.”
Four years ago, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton beat Trump in those counties by 678,424 votes, but it was nowhere near enough to beat him nationwide. Trump won Florida this year with around 113,000 votes, which is a 1.2 percentage point lead.
Trump’s avant-garde: the elders
Trump’s strongest support comes from Florida’s northern counties and from solid support among Florida’s senior voters. Sumter County, home to a sprawling retirement plan called The Villages, will be vital to him. Four years ago, Trump carried the county by nearly 40 percentage points, a number he must match or surpass in order to carry the state.
“Trump probably needs at least a two-to-one lead in Sumter to keep Florida in his column,” remarked David Wasserman, editor of the Cook Political Report, in an election analysis for NBC News in Florida.
While Trump is expected to win Sumter, Biden has an opportunity to extend his lead. Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has led senior voters to reconsider their support for him, national polls suggest, and sparked a “gray riot” against the president.
Turnout in Sumter is expected to be high. Last week, Sumter became the first county in the state to have early votes exceeding the total number of votes counted in 2016.
Central Florida: The Swing Zone
State-wide campaigns in Florida are won and lost in the center both geographically and ideologically. The counties that stretch from Florida’s central east coast near Tampa and St. Petersburg along Interstate 4 east towards Orlando and Daytona are likely to determine the outcome on election night.
Among these, Pinellas County is the one to watch. Pinellas’ voters, who are on a western peninsula jutting out into the Gulf of Mexico, are only consistent in their unpredictability, with a population of around 713,000 now. The county backed Democrat Al Gore in 2000, Republican George W. Bush in 2004, and then returned to Democrat Barack Obama two cycles in a row. In 2016 it turned red again and supported Trump with razor-sharp edges. In 2018, the last statewide election, Pinellas supported Democrats for the Senate and for the Governor.
Florida’s growing non-Cuban Latino population, closer to metropolitan Orlando, is another potential key voice, especially in Orange and Osceola counties, where the Latino population is growing.
Central Florida has seen an explosion of newcomers, particularly Puerto Ricans, who have left American territory to settle in central Florida after years of financial crisis and a devastating hurricane that hit the island in 2017.
Puerto Ricans living on the island are not eligible to vote in a general election, but can vote if they are a resident of an American state. Both parties see opportunities in these new voters and have made efforts to advertise them.
While Latinos – who come from different ethnic and national backgrounds – traditionally support Democrats in greater numbers, they are not a monolithic electoral bloc. Trump’s ability to win in Florida will depend in part on his ability to decrease the support margins of that population.
While Florida may not be the absolute kingmaker as it has been in the past this election cycle, it remains one of the most volatile and unpredictable giants in American politics. Because of its size and ability to quickly count ballots, it will be the first state to be on the lookout for clues as to how the national elections are likely to play out when the east coast polling stations close on Tuesday evening.