It’s Monday, Oct. 26. There is one week left of early voting in Florida, nine days to go until Election Day, and this is the state of the presidential race in the nation’s largest battleground state:
Precipice: We are on the verge of a record number of votes cast in Florida. The record for voter turnout was set in 1992 when Bill Clinton defeated George H. W. Bush and 83% of the electorate voted. But that was also before automatic voter registration kicked in and increased the registration rolls.
Historic early votes: Now, the pandemic has made early voting the story of this election and we appear headed to match or exceed the 75% turnout of four years ago. Although the number of voters casting ballots before Election Day has increased every election cycle, coronavirus fears have accelerated that trend. By Sunday afternoon, there had already been 5.7 million votes cast from either early in-person voting or vote by mail. That’s more than half of all votes cast in 2016.
Democrats had the edge when early voting began on Monday but that is gradually evaporating. As of Sunday, Democrats had cast 2.4 million votes, with a 600,000-vote edge in vote-by-mail ballots returned. Republicans had cast 2 million votes, and held a 230,000-vote edge in ballots cast in person.
WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT
Conflicting forces: The makeup of who is voting is different this year in fascinating ways. Former Vice President Joe Biden is doing better among older Florida voters and with white suburban women, two groups that helped President Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton four years ago.
Biden also holds a lead among younger voters who, although they are among the least reliable voters, are showing up in bigger numbers than ever. There are 1.1 million new Florida voters registered between the ages of 18-34 this year, and turnout among that age group is up a stunning 44%.
Offsetting the Democrat’s advantage is the number of new Republican voter registrations that have outnumbered new Democrats, bringing the parties numerically closer than any time in recent years. (The share of voters who have registered with neither party has shrunk.)
If the president still has a good chance of winning Florida, it is because of enthusiasm for him among Latino voters and non-college-educated whites. In fact, pollsters say he may be doing better than four years ago among many Latinos, an enormously diverse group in Florida, but Trump’s is especially luring newly-registered and younger Cubans, and Puerto Rican men.
The battleground: “If you bring Florida home, this thing’s over,” former president Barack Obama told Biden supporters at a surprise campaign stop Saturday at the United Teachers of Dade labor union office in Miami Springs.
Asked which state he’ll be watching Election Night, Trump campaign advisor Corey Lewandowski told NBC’s Chuck Todd on Sunday: “Florida is the battleground state. It always has been,’’ he said. “If Donald Trump wins Florida on Election Night, it’s going to set the path for the rest of the night.” It’s hard to imagine Lewandowski would call attention to Florida if he didn’t think they could pull it off.
But there are signs that Biden sees an opening. That’s why he sent his most popular surrogate, Obama, to Miami for two days. An analysis of polling data by the New York Times concluded that Trump’s coalition in Florida has shrunk by 359,000 voters from four years ago, while Biden’s grew by 1.5 million.
Trump Friday: We’ve said it for months and its a truism in any electoral college strategy: the president can’t afford to lose Florida. So, rather than try to expand the base, his campaign is focused on stoking his followers to get them to show up. A day after the final debate last week, Trump traveled to two Florida communities he won overwhelmingly in 2016: the retirement hub of The Villages, where he downplayed the pandemic, and Pensacola, a red county where he focused on personal grievances and predicted he was “doing so much better than we were four years ago.”
Pence Saturday: Vice President Mike Pence also arrived in North Florida to energize the base. After hours of pouring rain, a crowd of about 500 mostly mask-less people greeted him Saturday in Florida’s capital city. Pence used the event to highlight abortion, downplay the pandemic, and promise an economic revival.
Saturday energy: President Trump voted early in West Palm Beach Saturday and streamed it to Florida Republicans at get-out-the-vote events across the state. But the Biden forces were also out in force last weekend. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition held rallies in 25 counties. NextGen Florida and a coalition of young voters held a massive GOTV virtual rally.
At the Westchester Regional Library, an early voting site in Miami, Trump supporters played reggaeton and Biden supporters played cumbia. And a coalition of faith-based groups unable to assemble in churches brought their appeals to the polls. They formed a caravan and brought music and energy to early voting sites as part of a statewide effort called “Prayer at the Polls.”
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
COVID vote: The invisible player on the ballot this election is the coronavirus. On Friday, Trump once again falsely claimed that the reason cases have spiked is because of increased testing. In Florida, testing levels have widely varied over the past two weeks from a low of 24,575 on Oct. 9 to nearly 110,000 in the past two days. Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center put Florida’s positive test rate the last week at 10.16%, a number that is rising.
Gov. Ron DeSantis appeared to show more lenience to families with relatives in nursing homes and assisted living facilities last week. He announced that homes could now allow visitors outdoors, but he left intact a ban on visitors if a home has had a positive COVID case in the last two weeks. Left unsaid is how many homes that excludes. A report by AARP this month shows that three-fourths of all nursing homes in the state don’t qualify for indoor visitors.
Intimidation on the rise: Threatening emails from a group calling themselves the Proud Boys reached voters in Florida and three other states last week but appeared to have ended after the FBI accused Iran and possibly Russia of being behind the attacks.
Organized voter suppression: The Miami Herald, working with Channel4 television in the United Kingdom, produced an eye-opening report last week that revealed how the Trump campaign in 2016 targeted Black communities along Miami-Dade County’s historically disenfranchised Interstate 95 corridor. It was part of a national experiment to spread disinformation and discourage them from voting. The campaign, engineered by Cambridge Analytica, a British data firm and political consultancy, used a computer algorithm to analyze huge sums of personal data — from Facebook posts, credit card purchases, charity contributions and personality traits — to send messages that discouraged voters from voting for Clinton. It called the strategy “deterrence.”
Remember that Bloomberg money? Florida Republicans’ request last month for the FBI to investigate a program funded by billionaire Michael Bloomberg to pay off felons’ court fees and fines hasn’t amounted to criminal charges or a formal probe.
But it has created a “chilling effect” and sparked threats from white supremacists, according to Desmond Meade, executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which has raised tens of millions of dollars to pay off court fees and fines for felons over the last 18 months.
Democrats retaliate: Meanwhile, the Democratic PAC Forward Majority is targeting 22 Florida Republicans running for statehouse seats in an effort to retaliate against lawmakers who voted to undermine the state’s Amendment 4 ballot initiative that was designed to restore voting rights to most felons. The group is spending $11.8 million on English and Spanish-language ads that don’t mention the felons issue but instead feature a claim they hope resonates with voters: they accuse the lawmakers of wanting to reduce health insurance coverage.
Lawyering up: It’s not quite like a battle in Game of Thrones, but armies of lawyers and other volunteers for the Biden and Trump campaigns are being deployed across Florida as they brace for the distinct possibility of another legal clash in what could prove a razor-thin presidential election.
Hacked: DBPR Secretary Halsey Beshears said malicious activity detected in the agency’s system last week led to online service outages for several days.
This week: We will be watching Florida’s early voting numbers until it ends next Sunday. That’s also when daylight savings ends, sadly. (If there is any year when we need more daylight, it is this one!)
Oh, and, go Rays!
Stay safe all and remember, the Miami Herald and McClatchy news sites have lifted the paywall on some of our coronavirus-related stories, but we very much need your help. To support vital reporting such as this, please consider a subscription for unlimited digital access.
Know someone who’d like to get this? Send this to a friend to receive our weekly newsletter on politics and policy.