As we enter the post-Labor Day stretch of the presidential campaign, Joe Biden is currently ahead in all six swing states. There is one state that looms just a bit larger than the others, though, because for Donald Trump everything depends on Florida, a state the DDHQ/0ptimus forecast model moved from LEAN D to TOSS UP this week.
Trump’s Special Connection With Florida
The Sunshine State was supposed to be Donald Trump’s secret weapon. Not only had it been key to his 2016 victory, but it was also uniquely suited to support him again in 2020.
After all, retiring and affluent older white voters continue to stream into the state. These seniors constitute such a significant surge that a growing retirement community named The Villages has sprung up and attracted political reporters from across the nation. Of course, the most noteworthy transplanted Floridian is Trump himself, as the famous New Yorker deserted his hometown to permanently relocate to Mar-a-Lago.
The impression that Trump had a special hold on the state was solidified by the results of the 2018 midterms. Across the nation, the Democratic Party won a House majority with their best performance since 1974. Moreover, in the big battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin they scored major victories in Senate and Gubernatorial races.
In Florida, however, the GOP fought off the blue wave. Incumbent Senator Bill Nelson narrowly lost to Rick Scott, while Andrew Gillum fell just short to proud Trump acolyte Ron DeSantis in the race for Governor. As a result, Democrats began to fear that Florida and its 29 electoral votes were trending away from them.
This sentiment was so widespread that Sabato’s Crystal Ball categorized Florida as leaning toward Trump at the beginning of the 2020 campaign. If this were indeed the case, then Democrats would face a perilously precarious path in the Electoral College.
Biden’s Senior Advantage
This dynamic began to change, though, in the early months of 2020.
The Trump team’s plan was to run an anti-socialism campaign that would appeal to two prime Florida demographics, white seniors and Hispanics. This attack lost most of its sting when Joe Biden defeated Bernie Sanders in the primaries.
The real game-changer, however, was the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus disportionately affected seniors, who were shocked and dismayed by Trump’s inability and refusal to get the outbreak under control. As the crisis wore on and the death toll rose, Trump’s standing with voters over the age of 65 began to drop and Biden began to build a small lead in Florida.
Now, as we examine the electoral map, Donald Trump is the one forced on the defensive.
Florida and the Electoral Math
Looking closer at the current Electoral College landscape, it’s striking just how integral the Sunshine State’s 29 electoral votes are to Trump’s chances.
For instance if Biden wins Florida and Michigan (a state that’s leaning his way), then he just has to hold the states Hillary Clinton took four years ago to prevail.
The Biden campaign recognizes this reality. According to a recent New York Times report, they spent $15 million on TV ads in Florida during the last three weeks of August. At the same time, pro-Biden outside groups are pitching Mike Bloomberg on a plan to bombard Florida and sink Trump’s hopes for a second term.
Despite this push, the former Vice President doesn’t necessarily need Florida. Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and perhaps even Arizona are more central to his strategy. Nevertheless, every minute and dollar Trump spends in Florida is one he won’t get to spend in states essential to Biden.
As for Donald Trump’s hopes for victory, he’ll need to follow Tim Russert’s classic axiom: Florida, Florida, Florida.
Nick Field (@nick_field90) is a contributor to Decision Desk HQ.