In the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s visit to Orlando to announce his re-election campaign, and as 20 Democratic candidates ascend on Miami for primary debates this week, one question looms large: How will the ultimate swing state vote in 2020?
As of now, it’s anyone’s guess.
There are some 200,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in Florida as of the latest count. Just under 5 million voters are registered Democrats, 4.7 million Republicans and 3.6 million have no party affiliation.
In 2016, Trump won Florida in 2016 with just 112,911 more votes than Hillary Clinton.
The Trump campaign is beefing up its infrastructure in Florida. According to the Los Angeles Times, the campaign spent $721,770 on Facebook ads targeting Floridians in the first six months of the year.
On The Florida Roundup Friday, Susie Wiles — chief Florida strategist for Trump in 2016 and advisor to Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign — said Trump cannot win Florida again without swing voters.
“But neither can whoever the Democratic opponent is,” she said. “It’s the fastest growing piece of the electorate. In every election cycle swing voters are the target for both parties.”
Speaking before nearly 20,000 supporters on June 18 at the Amway Center in Orlando, Trump hit on familiar themes, like hardline immigration policies and record low unemployment — and he railed against the Mueller investigation and the media. He called Florida his “second home.”
Trump also said Democrats are “driven by hatred, prejudice and rage” and want to “destroy the country.”
But Wiles said Friday that, like many things Trump says and tweets, she doesn’t think he was being literal.
“I think we have to acknowledge that hyperbole on both sides of the aisle is just sort of the rhetorical currency,” she said. “He ran the first time on ‘Make America Great’ and he’ll do it again.”
At least some voters, including many Republicans, seem to have had enough of Trump’s hyperbolic style.
The same day Trump’s re-election campaign kicked off in Orlando last week, the Orlando Sentinel put out a 2020 endorsement for any presidential candidate other than Trump, writing “there’s no point pretending we would ever recommend that readers vote for Trump.”
The Sentinel editorial board, which endorsed Mitt Romney in 2012 and leans conservative, cited the “chaos, the division, the schoolyard insults, the self-aggrandizement, the corruption” and lies under Trump.
Orlando Sentinel Opinion Editor Mike Lafferty said Friday on The Florida Roundup that the newspaper had received close to 1,000 emails since the editorial, and that they were “pretty evenly split” for and against the position.
“It was a strong reaction — more than I’ve seen for anything we’ve written before,” Lafferty said. “ So many people were so angry about it, really furious. And then other people just seemed so grateful. The theme there was we articulated what they’ve been feeling.”
According to WMFE News Director Matthew Peddie, many Central Florida Republican voters can still look beyond Trump’s bombastic style.
“There are a lot of folks I think in the Republican party who may not agree with some of the presentation of the president but are happy that there’s a Republican in the White House,” he said. “You also have to try to separate the rhetoric — what you see on Twitter in the early hours and what’s actually happened.”
Independent voters, who make up some 25 percent of Florida’s electorate, are likely to play a big role in the 2020 election, and in many ways the options seem more extreme on both sides, Peddie said.
Independent voters would most certainly be more inclined to vote for Trump if he were to “tone down some of the rhetoric,” he said. “If that were to happen then he may be a more palatable candidate.”
On the other hand, they’re also facing a Democratic party that appears to be moving towards the left in many ways.
To win the state, Democrats in Florida will also have to focus on turning out voters for 2020. In the 2018 Florida governor race, Republican Ron DeSantis won 26 of the top 30 counties by turnout. The 10 counties with the highest turnout were all Republican strongholds.
Five hundred days out from the 2020 presidential election, one thing is clear: overall turnout is likely to be very high in Florida. After 62 percent of all registered voters showed up to vote last November, some are estimating that upwards of 70 percent may turn out to cast their ballot for the next president.
“Hopefully those voting machines don’t break down this time,” Peddie said.