Biden campaign puts Florida — sort of — in play

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MIAMI — President Joe Biden’s campaign is giving Florida Democrats a few encouraging signs that the conservative-leaning state — once a key battleground that both parties intensely fought over — still matters.

But only a few.

Vice President Kamala Harris will visit Parkland, Florida, on Saturday to address gun safety. Biden's reelect will launch digital ads on the Affordable Care Act targeting several demographics and will go on the air to reach Latino voters. And the campaign also intends to hire three senior-level staff for the state.

Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried told reporters earlier this week that the state party had “complete confirmation that the Biden campaign, as well as national surrogates and national partners, will be investing dollars here.”

Florida was a perennial swing state. But it’s leaned Republican in recent years. Democrats haven’t won Florida at the presidential level since 2012, and their voters’ lackluster turnout in 2022 helped Republican Gov. Ron DeSantissail to reelection by historic margins. Republicans also outnumber Democrats by almost 850,000 registered active voters. So it remains an open question whether Biden’s campaign will prioritize or invest heavily in Florida, the home state of former President Donald Trump.

Jen O'Malley Dillon, Biden's campaign chair, and campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez released a memo in early March, shortly after Super Tuesday, saying the campaign will “invest in key Sun Belt battlegrounds like Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina where Democrats have seen successes in recent years.” But they promised to “seize on” undefined opportunities only in states like Florida, where it claims Trump’s agenda is unpopular.

The Biden campaign this week also launched an initiative to reach Latino voters — one of the most important and influential constituencies in Florida. But it wasn’t among the three states where Harris touched down first to promote the strategy. Florida will be included in the $30 million ad-buy.

And while the campaign’s top officials regularly say they have “multiple pathways” to getting the 270 electoral votes needed for Biden to get reelected, Florida isn’t listed among the six key battleground states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — cited as crucial to getting there.

Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.), who will appear at the Parkland event with Harris on Saturday, acknowledged Florida had a “math problem” because of the GOP’s voter registration advantage, and said it made sense for Biden to prioritize other states. He added, however, that it was smart for the Biden campaign to spend some cash in Florida to force the Trump campaign to spend, too.

“You’ve got to figure out other states that are winnable — Florida, North Carolina — can you put them in play? Trump doesn't have the resources,” Moskowitz said, referring to Bidenout-fundraising Trump. “And so to make him play defense in Florida helps you also in other states.”

Florida-based Democratic strategist Christian Ulvert said it was “still early in the process” and that the Biden campaign’s intentions would become clear in the next 90 days. Signs that they consider it in play would include spending during the second quarter and hiring staff.

Many Democratic strategists agree with prioritizing other states now and seeing how things go in Florida. Evan Ross, a Florida-based Democratic strategist, acknowledged Florida was a “tough get” but insisted it wasn’t “out of play.”

“There is no path to the White House without Florida for Republicans,” he said. “As we saw in the last election, there was a very clear path to the White House for Democrats without Florida.”

Kevin Munoz, a national spokesperson for Biden’s reelect, said the president has multiple pathways to victory and his agenda “is popular and resonant with Florida's many constituencies.”

But general election media spending in Florida is projected to drop to just $81 million, compared with $350 million in 2020, according to the advertising tracking company AdImpact. That would mean Florida’s general election media buys will fall to eighth place in the November elections, after leading in media spending in 2020.

“Florida is kind of a head-fake state,” said a Florida-experienced Democratic consultant granted anonymity to speak candidly without fear of backlash from the party. “They’re going to pretend they are spending money here to try to get Trump to spend money — and it’s probably a good strategy knowing how insecure and petty he is because he’s not going to want his rich friends in Palm Beach to see ‘Broke Don’ on television without a rebuttal.”

There are, however, some encouraging signs for Democrats. Trump’ssupport dropped 14 points in Florida’s primary on Tuesday compared with where it was four years ago, and 1 in 5 GOP voters opted for a candidate other than Trump. Though Biden’s campaign doesn’t have a Florida director yet, it intends to hire several senior staffers, said a Democratic strategist based in Florida who was granted anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

And if nothing else, Florida offers a place Democrats can fundraise. Biden’s last visit to Florida, for example, wasfor high dollar fundraisers.

“The current coalition that exists in the Biden-Trump setup of American politics favors Trump in Florida,” acknowledged Steve Schale, a political strategist who directed Barack Obama’s Florida campaign in 2008. “But I don’t know that I think that means Florida is a red state for the rest of my life.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report misidentified who authored a memo from Biden's campaign; it was Jen O'Malley Dillon, his campaign chair, and campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez.