JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden are chasing votes in Florida, a state all but essential to the Republican’s pathway to another term as both nominees shift their focus to encouraging voters to turn out on Election Day.
Proof that the campaigns are focused on the Sunshine State? On Wednesday, both Trump and Biden held rallies in the state. With time running out, the campaigns are frantically looking for an edge.
Appearing hours apart in Tampa, the candidates visited the western end of the state’s Interstate 4 corridor, the area known for its rapid residential growth, sprawling suburbs and status as an ever-changing, hard-fought battleground during presidential elections.
News4Jax spoke with leaders from both campaigns Thursday. Each say they need -- and will win -- the state of Florida.
“Specifically in Florida, we’re doing a lot of, you know, car caravans, and we’ve been able to engage with the Latino community,” Chavez Rodriguez said. “We’ve been really excited about the turnout that we’ve seen among voters throughout early voting.”
Nearly half of all registered voters in the state have cast ballots. The stakes are huge in Florida, where Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by just over one percentage point.
Hogan Gidley, the national press secretary with the Trump Campaign, says the president’s message will resonate well with Florida voters.
“He’s down in Florida, but he’s been all over the country delivering that patriotic, positive, unifying, uplifting message,” Gidley said. “Donald Trump has done more to improve the lives of all Americans in 47 months than Joe Biden has done in 47 years, regardless of race, religion, color or creed, this president has uplifted all Americans.”
As of this Thursday morning, more than 7 million people had voted in Florida. The number of people voting in person is increasing and that favors registered Republicans.
In both Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, and the adjacent Pinellas County, Democrats are crushing vote by mail. As of Wednesday morning, more than 53,000 Democrats had voted by mail in Hillsborough than Republicans. In Pinellas, the largest of the four counties in the state to switch from Obama to Trump in 2016, that number was just shy of 30,000 more Democrats voting by mail than Republicans.
Republicans in both counties have a slight edge in the state’s in-person early voting, which began last Saturday as Trump himself voted in Palm Beach County downstate, and the GOP will likely need a strong showing on Tuesday to overcome Democratic leads.
Because of concerns about submission deadlines, Postal Service backlogs and the potential for drawn-out legal challenges, Democrats are pressing their backers who have yet to return a ballot to head to the polls in person. Trump, meanwhile, is banking on enthusiasm among his Election Day supporters to overcome indicated Democratic strength in some early returns.
Associated Press writers Alexandra Jaffe in Wilmington, Del.; Michelle Price in Bullhead City, Ariz.; Kathleen Ronayne in Phoenix; and Will Weissert in Washington contributed to this report.