FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Trump and Biden campaigns brought heavyweight surrogates to Florida on Tuesday as both sides push their supporters to vote in a tightening race that suggests the nation’s largest swing state likely will again be decided by a percentage point or two.
With a week left before Election Day, Ivanka Trump stumped for her father, President Donald Trump, in Republican-dominated Sarasota. Former President Barack Obama did the same in Democrat-rich Orlando for his former vice president, Joe Biden.
Biden plans to campaign Thursday in two Democratic hot spots, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa, while the president recently hit Pensacola, Fort Myers and The Villages retirement community, all places where he is strong. These rallies are aimed not at swaying the few undecided voters left, but at pushing supporters to not only vote but pester like-minded others to do the same.
"If everybody's decided, you want to make sure everybody on your team shows up," said Kathryn DePalo-Gould, a political science professor at Florida International University. "That's the difference between a win and a loss."
Obama did his part for Biden, telling a crowd outside a football stadium to vote sooner rather than later: “Don’t wait. Put it in the mail or drop it off at a dropbox location today. Don’t take any chances. Just get it done."
Ivanka Trump told a Sarasota crowd her father gave her this message: “Florida, get out and vote, tell them they’ve gotta vote, and tell them I love them.”
Florida, with 29 electoral votes, is a must-win state for Trump to have a realistic chance of being reelected. He carried the state by 113,000 votes over Hillary Clinton in 2016, a margin of 1.2 percentage points. Most recent polls have shown Biden with a slim lead within the margin of error.
State statistics show the race is tightening, as expected. Through Monday, Florida Democrats had cast almost 300,000 more ballots than Republicans, but that advantage, built through mail-in voting, is narrowing as more Republicans vote in person. Mail-in voting began a month ago and walk-in early voting started last week.
Overall, 2.7 million Democrats have voted compared to 2.4 million Republicans. The gap peaked Oct. 21 when the Democrats were nearly 490,000 ballots ahead, but has slowly declined each day since. Two-thirds of Democratic votes have been cast by mail, compared to about half of Republican ballots.
In this highly partisan election, it is expected the overwhelming majority of Republicans will vote for Trump and Democrats for Biden.
Including independents and third-party members, more than 6.4 million Floridians have voted, according to the Florida Division of Elections. That's already 68% of the 9.4 million who voted in 2016. Turnout is expected to reach about 10.5 million.
The Biden and Trump campaigns both say getting supporters to early voting sites this weekend will be key.
Trump campaign spokeswoman Emma Vaughn said in a statement that Republicans have long been contacting their supporters, building a network they believe will pay off.
“Sending Barack Obama to stump for Biden for the second time in one week won’t make a dent in the advantage we’ve built thanks to our field army and frequent visits from President Trump and his family,” she said.
Biden's team plans rallies statewide aimed at various groups including seniors, African-Americans, Haitian-Americans and Democratic voters in Florida's traditionally Republican regions.
"Democrats are excited, and it’s clear from the amount of Floridians who have cast their votes early ... We’re taking nothing for granted and keeping our foot on the gas," Biden spokesman Kevin Munoz said in a statement.
Political science professors Kevin Wagner of Florida Atlantic University and Susan MacManus of the University of South Florida said there are too many unknowns to predict which side will prevail.
Among them are the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on Election Day turnout, the influx of Puerto Rican voters in Florida after 2017's Hurricane Maria and the breakdown of independent voters. Yet it may ultimately fall on voters under 30 to decide who wins.
“It is going to be the younger vote that spells the difference in Florida — either because they don't vote or because they do,” MacManus said.
Associated Press reporters Mike Schneider in Orlando and Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg contributed to this report.