TALLAHASSEE - President Donald Trump has won Florida’s 29 electoral votes, defeating Democrat Joe Biden in a prized battleground state crucial to the Republican’s bid for another four years in the White House.
Trump withstood an aggressive challenge by the former vice president, who questioned the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, his rush to appoint a new justice on the U.S. Supreme Court and how he has addressed social unrest after high-profile police killings of Black people.
Democrats had hoped to boost turnout among their ranks with a mail-in voting push, but it was not enough. In the end, Trump prevailed with the help of a loyal base, particularly in the state’s rural reaches.
Another high-profile loss in Florida adds to the handwringing — and finger-pointing — among Democrats who had hoped to reverse a string of electoral setbacks.
With so many states at play in the final weeks of the campaign, it became increasingly clear that Trump could not afford to lose Florida — a state he narrowly won in 2016 when he outpolled Democrat Hillary Clinton by just over 112,000 votes.
Both campaigns made Florida a priority in the waning weeks of an election year thrown off kilter by the pandemic.
Trump made frequent visits across the state. After being infected by the coronavirus, the president reemerged on the campaign trail in Florida.
Both camps vied for support among seniors and Hispanics in a state with significant segments of both.
“It’s official: Florida is still Trump country,” said his Florida campaign spokesperson, Emma Vaughn. “Florida has once again delivered its 29 electoral votes for President Trump and is ready for Four More Years.”
Trump tried to tie Biden to the Democratic far left, hoping that branding him as a socialist — even though Biden lies to the center of his party politically — would gain traction among voters of Cuban, Venezuelan and Central American descent whose families fled the politics of their homelands.
“We kind of saw it coming,” said Fernand Amandi, a Miami-based Democratic pollster who was among those who had been sounding the alarms months ago of possible trouble for the Biden campaign in Florida.
“It may very well be that his underperformance in Miami-Dade trips up his hopes of capturing Florida.”
Amandi, who is of Cuban descent, had urged the Biden campaign to more aggressively court Hispanics, who represent almost one in every five voters in Florida.
The problems with Hispanic voters were underscored in Biden’s underperformance in Miami-Dade County — which Biden won, but at lower margins than Clinton did in 2016.
“The Republicans clearly won the turnout game. You saw it in the registration game, and you now see it in the results,” said Susan MacManus, a longtime political science professor at the University of South Florida.
Floridians turned out in huge numbers at the polls Tuesday to weigh in on the presidential race, as well as to decide who to send to Congress and the statehouse. The number of early voters, including a record-breaking 9 million ballots cast before Election Day, signaled high turnout among the state’s 14.4 million registered voters. Statewide, turnout exceeded 76%, a couple percentage points higher than four years ago.
In Miami-Dade, the state’s most populous region, turnout was 2 percentage points ahead of 2016.
But the heavier turnout did not necessarily translate to Democratic votes, however. Two Miami-area Republicans defeated a pair of Democratic incumbents for seats in the U.S. House. Florida now has 14 Republicans and 13 Democrats in the U.S. House — and that majority will increase by two.
Voters also narrowly approved a ballot measure that will gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, one of six ballot measures that were before them.
The Trump-Biden contest was the main event, though.
It remains to be seen how the social unrest after high-profile police killings of Black people might have influenced the race. Analysts say a lack of enthusiasm among Florida’s sizeable bloc of Black voters contributed to Clinton’s loss.
That’s a mistake Biden did not want to repeat, picking a running mate that he hoped would excite that base and align him with social rights activists who called on Trump to express more empathy for the African American community — or at least to denounce white supremacists.
But Trump has assailed Biden for being too sympathetic to protesters, saying that amounts to a tacit endorsement of the violence tied to protests across the country.
In a state with a panoply of concerns — health care and climate change, among them — the coronavirus outbreak loomed largest.
Throughout the campaign, Biden assailed the president’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 215,000 nationally and about 16,000 in Florida — which at one time was a national epicenter of the outbreak.
The results are likely to have significance going forward, as Democrats and Republicans survey the political landscape to prepare for elections two years from now, when Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, both Republicans, are up for reelection.
DeSantis has been a loyal ally of Trump, and that fealty could arise as a central issue.
Democratic candidates have suffered a string of high-profile setbacks in the state in recent years amid an increasingly divisive political environment.
“Democrats have really been struggling in Florida, coming all so close on a number of previous elections but yet falling short,” said Professor Aubrey Jewett, a political scientist at the University of Central Florida.
Looking even deeper into the future, he said, several Floridians could potentially be thinking of using their state as a springboard to the White House, including DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott.