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Trump on Defense in Battleground Florida After Narrow Victory in 2016

January 10, 2020 by Dan McCue
In this Dec. 10, 2019 photo, Hispanic Federation Canvasser Ana M. Vigo, right, registers Maria Moralez, left, to vote as Ivan Baez Munoz looks on outside the Polk Coutny Tax Collectors office in Davenport, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

WASHINGTON – “The first thing you have to understand about Florida is, it’s a complex state,” the political operative said.

“Trump won by just 1.2 percentage points,” she said, speaking on background as she assessed the 2016 presidential race. “That’s just 119,770 out of something like 9.4 million votes cast in the state.”

“Could any one group have made a difference in the outcome of the race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton? We’ll never really know. There’s a case to be made for lagging turnout in any number of different communities to account for Clinton’s loss.

“Could Latinos have made the difference? Perhaps. Could the African-American community? Maybe … and perhaps if the Democratic party had appealed more to the white rural community or to the traditionally conservative voters in the panhandle, things would have turned out differently.

“That’s what we’re about to find out in 2020,” she said.

As the statement above illustrates, there’s something unnerving and hard to figure out when it comes to Florida and politics. As anyone who was there in 2000 remembers, it was the state that effectively ensured the election of former Vice President Al Gore as 43rd president of the United States, until it didn’t.

And even as recently as last year’s mid-term, its voters sent a mixed message about their preferences, flipping two House seats to the Democrats, but also flipping a Senate seat to the Republicans and handing the governor’s mansion to the GOP.

As a result, neither party is leaving anything to chance as the Sunshine State’s March 17 primary day approaches, and both are mobilizing for what promises to be one of the hardest fought and most expensive battles of the 2020 election cycle.

Speaking to party activists last summer, Democratic Party Chairman Tom Perez pledged the party would make an “unprecedented” effort to win Florida and other battleground states, starting with an early and huge organizational effort by the national party.

This includes the training of 1,000 organizers in seven states. In Florida, Perez said, three-quarters of the trainees will be “organizers of color” and nearly all of them will be native Floridians rather than operatives who are here today, gone tomorrow.

In an interview with The Palm Beach Post, Perez went on to say Democrats will have statewide focus in Florida, rather than focusing on the Democratic strongholds in South Florida, and the few swing counties elsewhere in the state.

At the same time, a Democrat superPAC, Priorities USA has unveiled a six-figure digital advertising campaign in four battleground states — Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — aimed at presenting voters with “real life” accounts of the impact or lack thereof, of Trump’s policies.

The Priorities USA effort entails collecting the personal stories of Floridians in every part of the state, and then distributing them through Facebook and Google and other platforms.

“This cycle, Priorities USA is dedicating ground teams in four key states to the effort of collecting stories of real working families who have been struggling as they try to make ends meet. Floridians are telling us that they’re hurting under Trump’s economy,” said Daniela Martins, Florida Outreach Director and Hispanic Media Director for Priorities USA. “Working families are telling us that their wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of living and that they are anxious about this administration’s attacks on the health care programs they rely on.”

“We will continue talking with Floridians from the Keys to the panhandle on the issues they are telling us they care about: their struggle to make ends meet, the fear of being an illness away from bankruptcy, the challenge of building a brighter future for their children. While his billionaire friends at Mar-a-Lago are surely benefitting from Trump’s policies, his economy is not working for working families,” she said.

Polls conducted by Florida Atlantic University also suggest the economy and health care — and immigration — are top issues on the minds of Florida voters as they think about the 2020 election.

They’re not nearly as interested, the polling shows, in two issues that get lots of attention online or time on cable TV: gun control and impeachment.

Priorities USA has also set up a website, iwillvote.com, where people can check their voter registration and register to vote if they need to.

“Priorities USA has been working hard to ensure that the eventual Democratic presidential nominee is in the best possible position to beat Trump next year,” said Patrick McHugh, executive director of Priorities USA, in a written statement.

“We are proud to help encourage people to exercise their fundamental right to vote … so that our democracy grows stronger and works for them, rather than the wealthy special interests who have flourished under Trump,” McHugh said.

The Republicans are working hard to counter this effort in the president’s adopted home state.

In fact, the Republican National Committee has trained thousands of local organizers — individuals it calls “fellows” — who augment the paid staff’s efforts to amplify the president’s message in every Florida county.

“We have to win Florida,” Rick Gorka, the RNC’s deputy communications director, told the Tampa Bay Times. “And we’re going to put all the resources needed into Florida to make that happen.”

 At the same time, the Trump-endorsed Super PAC, America First Action, is planning to raise $300 million of its own dollars, with much of that money slated to be spent in Florida.

The America First Action Super PAC believes about 10.5 million Florida voters will participate in the 2020 election, and believes the fight for the state will come down to whether the president can pick up another million votes between now and November 2020.

Trump has made more visits to Florida as president than to any other state, in part because he maintains a number of private golf clubs here. But familiarity hasn’t necessarily given him an edge.

A recent Mason-Dixon survey found former Vice President Joe Biden would beat Trump 47% to 45%, with 8% undecided.

None of the other Democrats included in the survey – Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., or South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg – surpassed Trump in polling in the state.

One thing people in both parties will be watching closely this year is the impact of a recently enacted amendment to the state constitutional that in theory could enable some 1.4 million former felons to vote for the first time in 2020.

The other thing that will be scrutinized is the influence of a growing Latino population in the state.

While Latino voters nationally have leaned Democratic in recent elections, Republicans in Florida continue to find strong backing in the nearly 2 million Floridians of Cuban, Venezuelan and Nicaraguan origin.

A big reason for this is a cudgel the President has been brandishing against the Democratic party for years — his assertion that “all Democrats are Socialists.”

“It’s blatant manipulation of a population whose world view was shaped by authoritarian Socialist leaders in Latin America, but the reality is, it works,” the operative quoted at the top of this piece said.

“For many Latinos and Latinas in South Florida, this accusation is a trigger, reminding them of the abuse and the trauma they and their loved ones suffered in Latin America,” the operative said.

“There are a lot of people who reside in Florida for whom the nightmare of socialism is a very personal, family story,” she said.

“One of the lessons I think the Democrats have learned from past elections is just how potent that socialist trope is in Florida. At least today the party realizes it has been much more hurtful than they originally imagined,” she added.

Democrats and their supporters are working diligently to shake the label ahead of the 2020 election.

“Democrats have been increasingly vocal in denouncing the Republican use of the term ‘socialist’ to blatantly manipulate the collective traumas that so many Florida Latinos share,” Martins said. “We will continue to uphold the message that the issues that we fight for — health care, education, and an opportunity to build a good life, regardless of where you came from or who you are — are the fundamental values of our democracy.”

Among the steps the Florida Democratic Party has undertaken is sponsoring radio programming for the Latino population to take on the accusations and to provide a platform for Democrats to exhibit their moderate bona fides.

One of the most popular shows, “Democracia al Dia,” or “Democracy Up to Date,” airs on Actualidad Radio in Miami every Saturday.

Democrats and their supporters are also using the print medium to beat back the GOP “Socialist” messaging, through the prominent op-ed pages of The Miami Herald and several Spanish- and Portuguese-language newspapers.

The Democratic party has also responded to criticism that it took Florida’s Latino vote for granted in 2016 and 2018.

Florida Democrats have trained 150 Spanish-speaking surrogates influential in Hispanic media, tasking them with shifting the conversation to Trump’s policies that adversely affect Florida Latinos, such as the rise in deportation of Cubans, and the need to address political corruption and other issues in Venezuela and other South and Central American countries.

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