Former President Barack Obama kicked off early voting in Florida. Still, the number of Republican voters who are coming out to vote is quickly erasing the early lead enjoyed by Democrats. For weeks Florida Republicans have been outvoted by Democrats who voted by mail. Republican voters stormed early voting precincts in person this week, taking large bites out of their opponents’ historic lead in pre-Election Day ballots.
The Democratic advantage was still huge as of Saturday morning: 387,000 ballots. But that’s a 21 percent reduction from Democrats’ high watermark, set three days prior. The election is in 10 days.
President Donald Trump was one of those GOP voters going to the polls, kicking off Florida’s statewide in-person early voting period Saturday by casting his ballot in West Palm Beach and live streaming an event to urge supporters to show up and catch Democrats. Further south, in Miami, former President Barack Obama held a rally for his former vice president, Joe Biden, at Florida International University.
The split-screen schedule of the two presidents, each of whom carried Florida with different voter coalitions, shed light on the different strategies of the two campaigns in Trump’s must-win state, with the president trying to supersize older and white voter turnout and Obama seeking to boost young Black and Latino voting.
“One of the biggest shortcomings in 2016 was Hillary Clinton was unable to assemble the Obama coalition, especially among younger Black voters and especially among younger Black men. The Biden campaign has accurately identified that that’s a challenge they need to overcome this time,” said Tom Bonior, CEO of the Democratic data firm TargetSmart.
“So Obama [going] there is probably one of the items on the checklist and why the Obama visit makes sense.”
According to TargetSmart’s analysis, Black voters aged 18 to 29 have cast 15.8 percent of the total ballots so far in Florida. That’s half a percentage point down from the same period in 2016. Bonier pointed out that the total vote of that group, along with nearly all other demographics in the state, is up in raw votes and that “it’s not as if the numbers are bad. There’s opportunity.”
Bonier pointed out that white voters without a college degree, Trump’s most loyal supporters, have a smaller share of the vote so far when compared to 10 days before the election in 2016.
But Republicans are expecting those white voters to show now that in-person early voting has started in every county. As for young Black voter turnout, it’s problematic for Biden that he’s not even matching Clinton’s 2016 totals, which still weren’t enough for her, said Florida’s top Republican data analyst, Ryan Tyson.
“If they’re excited about matching Clinton turnout, I say, ‘please do,'” Tyson said. “The only turnout that can defeat Trump soundly is an Obama coalition turnout, a turnout of the ascendant electorate of young voters, especially African American and Latino. Biden isn’t getting that. That’s why they’re bringing Obama to Miami. It’s appropriate to call it a rescue mission by Obama.”
Overall, Black voter and Hispanic voter turnout as a share of the early and absentee vote is higher than at this stage in 2016. But that’s mainly due to voting by older, high-propensity voters, who were expected to turn out anyway, Tyson said. Democrats have led the way in turning out far more of these reliable voters than Republicans, who have 401,000 more high-propensity voters itching to cast ballots in person.
Republicans’ advantage in high-propensity voters in 2016 helped Trump overcome a deficit of nearly 247,000 votes on Election Day morning and beat Hillary Clinton by less than 113,000 votes.
Democrats are turning out low propensity voters and newly registered voters more than Republicans. But as shares of their party’s votes, the proportions are roughly the same as 2016, according to an analysis by Tyson, whose most recent 1,000-sample Florida poll has Trump with a 2-point lead that’s well within the survey’s error margin of 3.1 points.
Many recent public polls have Biden marginally leading. “All signs point to another 1-to-2 percent Florida election,” Tyson said, noting that more younger voters are turning out, but older voters are still casting more ballots.
Steve Schale, a top advisor to Obama’s 2008 and 2012 Florida races who now leads the pro-Biden Unite the Country super PAC, agreed that the election will likely be tight. Still, he disputed the idea that Obama was on any “rescue mission.” And he noted that Trump was stumping Friday in GOP-heavy Pensacola and The Villages retirement community, while Vice President Mike Pence came to Tallahassee on Saturday.
With his opponents defending their must-win state, Schale pointed out that Biden on Saturday was campaigning in Pennsylvania. His running mate, Kamala Harris, was in Ohio, both battlegrounds Trump won.
“Of course, I want to win Florida. But you can see where I spent my money,” Schale said via text message, referring to the PAC’s spending in the Upper Midwest. “I want Joe Biden to be president. If forcing them to go all-in here means we lose FL and win the White House, you know how much that’s going to bother me?”
He replied his own question by sending a GIF of Trump’s former lawyer saying, “The answer is ‘zero.'”
In his speech in Miami Gardens, a predominantly Black city, Obama on Saturday mocked Trump’s erratic behavior, saying, “Florida Man wouldn’t even do this stuff!”
Trump responded with a tweet, in between campaign stops in North Carolina and Ohio, claiming that, “Nobody is showing up for Obama’s hate-laced speeches.” The day before in The Villages, Trump made fun of Obama’s middle name, “Hussein.” As Trump early voted Saturday, he deadpanned: “I voted for a guy named Trump.”
The Trump campaign expects to continue eating into Democrats’ margins in Florida. The president’s campaign manager in the state, Susie Wiles, said, “I would rather be in our position than theirs” because Florida Republicans have a history of come-from-behind wins on Election Day. In contrast, Democrats have a history of blowing it.
“We believe in our plan because it worked in 2016 and in 2018 and in previous election cycles,” Wiles added.
In previous years, Democrats used to cast fewer absentee ballots than Republicans but topped the GOP by voting early in person. Now the roles have reversed. Trump demonized voting by mail, which discouraged many of his voters from casting absentee ballots, while more Democrats vowed to vote by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic.
After Democrats leaped to a large lead in mail-in votes, Republicans began closing the gap once in-person early voting started in select counties Monday. Under Florida law, all counties have to offer early in-person voting beginning Saturday. Many of those counties are small but have significant Republican-voting majorities.
Both parties monitor pre-Election Day ballots as a sign of base-voter intensity. Though the ballots are counted by party, the votes in them are not actually tabulated until Election Day.
As of Saturday morning, Democrats had cast 2.3 million total pre-Election Day ballots or 43 percent of the 4.8 million so far. Republicans had cast about 1.9 million votes or 36 percent. The rest were cast by no-party-affiliation voters.
As much as 75 percent of the vote could be cast before Election Day in Florida, which could mean the nation’s biggest battleground state could report the night’s most-significant results early.
Obama referenced that fact while addressing campaign organizers and members of the United Teachers of Dade labor union on Saturday, imploring Florida voters to make it an early night.
“If you bring Florida home, this thing’s over,” Obama said. “I won’t have to wait for the results. I want to go to sleep knowing we’re going to have a president fighting on our behalf.” (Politico).