With just five days left until the election, President Trump and his rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, spent Thursday focused on the key battleground state of Florida, holding dueling rallies there.
For Trump, who is behind in numerous swing state polls, Florida increasingly looks essential to his prospects for being reelected. Biden doesn’t necessarily need Florida to win, but his allies argue that the state, whose rules for counting mail-in and absentee ballots mean results could come in relatively early, could deliver a knockout blow to Trump if Biden wins there.
Speaking to a crowd who socially distanced in about 200 cars at Broward College near Miami on Thursday, Biden was clear about the pivotal role he believes Florida could play.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the heart and soul of this country’s at stake right here in Florida,” Biden said as his audience honked in approval. “It’s up to you, you hold the key. If Florida goes blue, it’s over. It’s over.”
About 250 miles away, Trump, whose events have largely ignored social distancing guidelines, spoke to a packed crowd in one of the parking lots at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium. The president mocked Biden as “the worst candidate in the history of presidential politics.”
Thanks to its role as the pivotal swing state in the closely contested 2000 election, Florida continues to loom large in the public consciousness as a place where anything can happen during a presidential contest. In the two decades since footage of local officials checking “hanging chads” on ballots in the state was seared into the American memory, Florida has been anything but predictable. Trump squeaked out a win there in 2016, besting Hillary Clinton by about 112,000 votes.
Currently, Biden is leading Trump in polls of the state by an average of about one and a half percentage points. Prior to the pair of rallies on Thursday, NBC News and Marist released a poll that showed Biden up 4 points in Florida, where 29 electoral votes are at stake.
The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment on this story, but from the beginning of this race, the president’s allies were unambiguous that they viewed Florida as a must-win. And while the polling picture has been an ugly one for Trump both nationally and in many other swing states, he has shown some signs of momentum in Florida. In August, Biden was ahead by an average of about 5 points and the president has cut down that lead.
Biden has made multiple trips to Florida this month, as have some of his top surrogates, including his wife, Jill, and former President Barack Obama. Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, is set to hit the state this weekend after visiting earlier this month.
A source working for a pro-Biden political action committee described Florida as an opportunity for Biden to close off Trump’s only plausible route to victory.
“If Biden wins Florida then, it’s over. There’s really just no path or it’s really a crazy path for Trump,” said the source, who requested anonymity to discuss the race. “The Trump campaign does have a theory of what they can do if they lose Florida, but it looks really crazy.”
Unlike Trump, the source said, Biden has multiple ways to win the election without Florida. However, the source said the state is playing an outsize role due to the fact that an increase in mail-in voting sparked by concerns of exposure to COVID-19 means many states may not reveal their results on election night.
“We just don’t know what’s going to happen with the ballots that are early voting and being sent through the mail,” the source said.
Florida allowed the processing of mail-in ballots prior to Election Day, and officials there expect to have all mailed votes reported on election night. That makes Florida more likely to have a fast result than other states, which might not report outcomes for several days.
Trump has repeatedly sought to undermine confidence in mailed ballots by raising false claims about fraud. Along with casting doubt on the results, the president has also suggested he might be unwilling to accept a Biden victory, and Trump’s campaign team has already begun legal wrangling over vote counting procedures in several states.
The president’s willingness to question delayed results has many Biden supporters nervous, particularly since any legal challenges could end up in the U.S. Supreme Court, where Trump just cemented a conservative majority.
Biden’s supporters are confident he can still stay on top if Trump wins Florida. Chuck Rocha, founder of Nuestro PAC, a pro-Biden political action committee dedicated to Latino outreach, said he had mapped out other pathways to victory.
“The plan here is, win Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and put this baby to bed. Everything else is icing,” Rocha said. “I feel like we’re going to win those three and then it’s over.”
Despite this, Rocha said Florida is still “pivotal” because of the unique potential for delayed results in this year’s race and the potential that Trump might try to dispute the outcome.
“It’s psychological. … It’s the mental anguish that we’ll all live through for 24 to 72 hours if we take Florida off Biden’s map,” Rocha said. “If it’s close, anything could happen with the Supreme Court we have now. … You take Florida off the map for Donald Trump and it ends it all. It even ends the legal stuff.”
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