‘A stone-cold up-and-down referendum on Donald Trump’: Will FL voters kick him out and pick Biden?

Polling place, Florida's state capital. Credit: Diane Rado.

Whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden captures Florida’s 29 electoral votes largely depends on whether the Democratic Party manages to harvest nearly 600,000 mail-in votes that have not yet been cast — and also outflank the GOP in election-day voting.

As of Sunday, the Republicans had returned more than 3.3 million mail-in and early votes to the Democrats’ 3.4 million, according to Florida Division of Elections data. Republicans had yet to return 440,786 mail-in ballots; for the Democrats, the number was 598,557.

“Supposedly, the polls are talking about this Biden lead. If that’s true, that number should be bigger — a lot bigger,” said William Large, president of the conservative Florida Justice Reform Institute, referring to Democratic votes cast.

William W. Large, president, Florida Justice Reform Institute. Credit. FJRI website.

Large expects more Republicans to turn out on Election Day, which means Democrats need to have banked enough early votes by mail or in person to retain their lead. His estimate is that they’ll need to be more than 200,000 votes ahead.

“If that number is 200,000 or below on Nov. 3, that’s a good thing for Republicans,” he said.

A Biden win in Florida, the nation’s largest swing state (although Texas is looking like a contender for that distinction), likely would signal defeat for Trump.

As Biden himself said during a rally in Broward County last week: “If Florida goes blue, it’s over. It’s over!” (Biden and running mate Kamala Harris have been campaigning heavily in South Florida of late; Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Trump’s family members have also rallied supporters in the state.)

An Associated Press analysis suggests Biden has ground for confidence. The news service suggested either candidate can win, but that Biden doesn’t necessarily need to win in Florida if he can carry upper Midwest states that Trump captured four years ago. Pennsylvania is also a key swing state.

Of course, the numbers above don’t tell the whole story. Some 3.7 million Floridians are registered as no party affiliation, or NPA. More than 1.8 million of them had voted early by mail or in person as of Sunday but they had yet to return 355,016 mail-in ballots. Members of “other” parties had 22,602 mail-in ballots as yet unreturned.

Given the history of Florida elections — particularly the Bush v. Gore drama in 2000 — anything seems possible when it comes to calling a winner or loser in the Sunshine State.

Younger, more diverse

Republicans have been expressing confidence for their prospects in the state.

“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris make up the most extreme ticket in history. Between Harris’ praise for defunding the police and promise to end President Trump’s Tax Cuts and Job’s Act, the contrast between Biden-Harris and President Trump’s America First Policies couldn’t be clearer. Floridians will soundly reject Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in November,” Trump Victory spokesperson Emma Vaughn said in a written statement over the weekend.

Rosy Gonzalez Speers, who coordinates down-ballot races for the Florida Democratic Party, acknowledged late last week that the Republicans were catching up in the early vote upon which both the top of the ticket and races for the state Legislature will turn.

Still, she said, NPA voters seem to be turning out at record numbers for Democrats.

“They’re younger, they’re more diverse, and also the majority of them that have voted live in Democratic counties,” Speers said.

“Not a perfect prescription there, but when you look at those three indicators, this is something that shows us that it is likely that maybe NPAs are breaking for Democrats when in 2016 they broke for Republicans.”

About the polls: The FiveThirtyEight Project’s survey of Florida polling shows Biden enjoying small leads in the state, mostly within the statistical margin for error.

Joe Biden. Credit: Joe Biden Facebook page.

A St. Pete Polls survey released Sunday showed Biden with a one-point lead — 49 percent against 48 percent for Trump. The poll was weighted toward Republicans to capture “shy” Trump voters — those disinclined to admit it to the pollster.

Of respondents who already had voted, Biden led, 55 percent to 43 percent for Trump.

The survey showed Biden leading among unaffiliated voters, 50 percent to 47 percent for Trump. It also showed only 82 percent of GOP voters sticking with Trump, compared to 84 percent of Democrats for Biden.

President Donald Trump at The Villages in Central Florida, at a campaign rally Oct. 23, 2020.. Credit: YouTube/PBS

The Democrat led among all ethnic groups except for whites. Trump enjoyed a 13-point lead among voters more than 70 years old but Biden carried other age groups, including those aged 50-69.

As for those allegedly shy Trump voters?

“I’ve never met a f—-ng shy Trump voter,” said Mac Stipanovich, the veteran Republican political operative and lobbyist turned never-Trumper who at the moment is registered as a Democrat. (He plans to switch to NPA following the election.)

“They drive down the street with flags on their trucks, stars-and-bars flying, and boat parades and 15 signs in their yards, having fights with you over their masks in Publix.”

Stipanovich believes Trump will lose. “His base is not big enough to win,” he said.

Mac Stipanovich. Photo provided by the subject.

“Has he expanded that base or built a coalition that could produce victory? If he has, there’s no objective evidence of it. To think that he might win, you have to believe that every responsible pollster in America, including Fox News, has gotten it wrong again and again.”

He also pointed to the president’s mixed messages while campaigning.

“Trump has not gotten any real traction. He tried law and order. He tried socialism. He tried Hunter [Biden]. He can’t be disciplined and pick one message. He is flailing,” Stipanovich said.

“Biden has been disciplined to the point of boredom — character and COVID. And he’s winning, apparently. I don’t know if you can complain about a strategy that is doing as well as his appears to be,” he added.

“Having said that, this election isn’t about Joe Biden. This election is about Donald Trump. It is a stone-cold up-and-down referendum on Donald Trump. And Donald Trump is losing that referendum, it seems. He campaigns against himself every day.”

Harvesting ballots

Regarding harvesting those outstanding Dem ballots, Dwight Bullard is working on it. The former state senator is political director for the New Florida Majority, among a raft of progressive organizations coordinating get-out-the-vote efforts in underrepresented Black and Hispanic communities in 19 large counties on behalf of Democrats.

Together, these groups have had around 400 activists in the trenches, by Bullard’s estimate. They’ve made 15 million attempts at contacting voters, including more than 4.2 million text messages, and established some 500,000 conversations with prospects, he said.

The pavement pounding started only a few weeks in advance of early voting.

“It was a bottom-up decision. Our folks that we had transitioned into phone banking and texting were the ones who said, ‘We need to go knock on these doors because we need to go talk to our neighbors directly,’” Bullard said.

The Biden campaign had discouraged face-to-face outreach for safety reasons, given the risk of COVID, until recently but rank-and-file workers deemed it “more important and more impactful often times than a phone call and a text message,” Bullard said.

But any earlier “would have been shortsighted considering what Florida was going through under COVID-19,” he said.

Vote by mail and early vote numbers suggest to Bullard that the effort is moving voters.

“When you look at the overall turnout, it’s substantial. When you dig into the numbers in even greater detail, you’re seeing quite a large turnout of folks who didn’t vote in 2016 and some who have not voted since 2012 choosing to be engaged in this process,” he said.

“Turnout among the Black community is higher than in the last two cycles, 2018 and 2016,” he said. “From what I’ve seen, at the most organic level you’re seeing the Black community really turn out in a significant way.”

Having a Black/South Asian woman on the ballot seems to help. “The optics are important,” Bullard said.

More important is that, because his activists work in these communities year-round, people know they can trust what they say.

“What they view us as is a trusted validator on why they need to vote, why their engagement is important, why it’s important to vote down-ticket,” he said. “They’re understanding the impact of politics in their everyday lives at the hyperlocal level” in terms of immediate needs like bus and train service and social services.

One big event for Democrats was the “Souls to the Polls” drive scheduled for Sunday, mobilizing Black churchgoers to vote. Large, the conservative, conceded it would be a big day for Democrats. “But how well organized is that because of COVID? That’s a question,” he said.

Stipanovich, the never-Trumper, argues that the overall record turnout favors Democrats. As of Sunday, more than 8.7 million Floridians had voted, compared to 6.6 million early votes in 2016.

“Based on the turnout, that’s favorable to Democrats,” Stipanovich said.

“My entire career was based on the premise that the higher the turnout the less likely Republicans were going to get a good result. But it’s going to be close in Florida again. The difference may come down to independents. Biden may win them by about 10 points — 55 to 45,” he said.

Attacks and complications

Vaughn, of the GOP, was scathing in written remarks about a recent Biden rally in South Florida.

“All 10 Joe Biden supporters must be excited for his gaffe-filled rallies today,” she said on Thursday. “Meanwhile, President Trump looks forward to sharing the Great American Comeback with thousands of enthusiastic Floridians in his home state. Go home Biden, your basement misses you.”

President Donald Trump chose Judge Amy Coney Barrett for his U.S. Supreme Court nominee. Credit: Wikipedia; Rachel Malehorn. Photo from 2018.

Meanwhile, Trump’s behavior in office — including his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, attacks on the Affordable Care Act, and 11th-hour installation of Barrett as a sixth conservative on the U.S. Supreme Court — is mobilizing women voters, including the ones who live in the suburbs, according to Barbara Zdravecky, interim CEO of Ruth’s List in Florida.

The organization trains Democratic women to run for office.

“More people are involved in this election than I’ve seen before, and most of them are women,” she said, and they’re mad about the mishandling of COVID.

“And then, of course, the whole four years of President Trump’s actions accumulated have really just turned a lot of people off.”

They include Republicans.

“I talk to a lot of Republicans, particularly Republican women, who are going for the Democratic ticket this year. And so have my candidates, as they have been talking to people in voting lines. I’ll be very interested in seeing the number of crossovers,” she said.

One complication involves the efforts of the Trump administration to slow down mail delivery. Only last week, video images emerged purporting to show mail-in ballots stacked up, undelivered, in a Postal Service sorting facility in Miami-Dade. Mark Travers, South Florida president for the National Association of Letter Carriers, told the Miami Herald that officials planned to boost resources at the center.

Nationally, another involves the Republican Party’s attempts to make it harder to vote through court actions.

Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, complained that Gov. Ron DeSantis has slow-walked money intended to ease voting. The organization doesn’t endorse candidates but is opposing some of the proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot, including one that would scrap traditional party primaries in favor of a “top-two” system that would include NPAs.

“The state should have made that CARE Act money available for the elections sooner than they did. The supervisors of elections should not have had to wait for that,”  Brigham said, referring to federal COVID relief.

“The state should not come out three days before early voting begins and put out guidance about having a guard by those secure drop boxes. These sort of last-minute instructions or sitting on money that should be distributed as soon as it’s received — those sorts of things shouldn’t happen.”