White House

Trump targets Florida electoral haul with Orlando campaign kick-off

Booming and diverse state presents challenge, and is key to re-election bid

Bikers after a Republican rally in Orlando, Fla., last November. For President Donald Trump, any hopes of winning a second term depend on him winning Florida and its 29 electoral votes again. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump will pull out all the stops Tuesday in Orlando, Florida, when he announces his re-election bid in a state he narrowly won in 2016 and needs again as he tries to reconfigure the electoral map that put him in the White House.

But Democrats are already countering his expected message of a strong economy and tough trade tactics, arguing that Trump’s tariffs are hurting middle-class voters and causing battleground states to shed jobs. That’s the message the party and many of its 2020 candidates are pushing in hopes of reversing Hillary Clinton’s 1-point loss in the Sunshine State three years ago. 

They’re also banking on turning out voters in an increasingly diverse and booming state. Florida is about 54 percent white, and has seen an influx of voting-age citizens from nearby Puerto Rico. Latinos make up about 26 percent of the state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Trump won Florida in 2016 with 48 percent of the vote, winning 64 percent of white voters and 35 percent of Latinos, according to the networks’ exit polls

And when Trump hits the stage for the prime-time event in the 20,000-seat Amway Center, home to the NBA’s Orlando Magic, he won’t exactly be in friendly territory. Clinton won Orange County in 2016, 60 percent to 35 percent. (Though Trump won nearby Seminole, Brevard, Indian River, Polk and Lake counties.)

Worrying signs

It is difficult to construct scenarios for a Trump second term that do not include him winning Florida and its 29 electoral votes. 

But polls in key battleground states, including Florida, have shown him trailing the Democratic front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden. In fact, Trump’s first internal campaign poll, obtained by ABC News, found the former Delaware senator ahead by 7 points in Florida. Biden has had success in the state before, winning it in 2008 and 2012 as President Barack Obama’s running mate.

Trump has stepped up his attacks on Biden in recent days, publicly referring to him as “Sleepy Joe” and insinuating that his delivery on the campaign trail is flat.

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The Trump campaign survey, conducted in March, also found Biden ahead in other states that Trump won in 2016 and that he would need again for an Electoral College win. Biden led the president by 16 points in Pennsylvania and 10 points in Wisconsin. In deep-red Texas, he trailed Trump by just 2 points. (The Trump campaign has since reportedly parted ways with some of the pollsters involved.)

In private conversations, White House aides dismiss such polling, saying it is far too early to handicap a race 17 months away. They also cite other polls in Florida and Rust Belt states Trump won three years ago that suggest he is very much in the race, even before he begins campaigning in earnest.

For instance, a Florida Atlantic University poll from last month found the president and Biden at 50 percent each in Florida. The same survey gave Trump single-digit leads over the other top Democratic contenders — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (2 points), Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (4 points), California Sen. Kamala Harris (6 points) and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (4 points).

The ever-defiant president has dismissed polls that show him trailing any of the Democratic hopefuls.

“I don’t believe those polls,” Trump told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News as part of an interview that spanned 30 hours. “My polls show that I’m winning everywhere.” 

“I haven’t even started yet,” he said in the same interview of his re-election campaign.

On the trail again

Some Republicans want Trump to tone down his antics as he gets ready to hit the campaign trail in states like Florida.

“I’d hope to see, frankly, some new material from the president, some suggestion that the next four years won’t have the same chaos and rancor as the last four years if he’s re-elected,” said Michael Steel, who was an aide to former Speaker John A. Boehner and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

“And I’d like to see a strong emphasis on the economy, and new proposals to build on the success of things like tax reform and deregulation in a second term,” Steel added. “But I’m not optimistic. I expect we’ll see an amped-up version of his greatest hits.”

But, on substance, leading Republicans are doing little publicly to press him on toning down some of his most divisive policies.

“We want to build a wall. We think the president’s made a good case for that,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News on Monday.

It is unclear what effect such get-tough-on-immigration positions will have on Trump’s bid in Florida, with its Latino population and global-oriented economy. Cuban Americans have traditionally been among the GOP’s most loyal voting blocs. And with the Florida population growing about 13 percent since 2010, political prognosticating remains perilous. While Democrats won big across the country in last year’s midterms, the party in Florida lost two high-profile statewide races — incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson was unseated by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, while Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum lost a close race for governor to Trump ally and former GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis

Democrats signaled Monday they have a sense of what Trump’s 2020 message will be in Orlando.

Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler said voters in his state will be watching the Florida rally closely and accused the president of having “divided people by race and nationality … while he picked our pockets.”

“This time around, when Donald Trump makes promises … voters will … hold him accountable for what he’s done to our state,” Wikler said on a call with reporters, adding that the GOP tax law and Trump’s trade policies have caused havoc across the country.

And the Democratic National Committee fired off a bulleted list charging the president with kicking off his second campaign without having fulfilled many of his 2016 promises.

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“Trump promised to save manufacturing jobs and plants — he didn’t,” the DNC list stated. “Trump promised to fight for the forgotten men and women — instead he gave huge tax cuts to the rich and big corporations at the expense of working families.”

‘45 Fest’

Tuesday’s campaign launch in Orlando will, at times, resemble “your typical Trump rally,” a White House official said Monday. But it will also “feature a few different things,” the official said, declining to describe any twists before his boss hits the stage.

The entire Trump family is expected to be in attendance. Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, are expected to appear onstage with Trump. The showman in chief, as he often does, predicted the event will be one for the history books.

“Big Rally tomorrow night in Orlando, Florida, looks to be setting records. We are building large movie screens outside to take care of everybody. Over 100,000 requests,” Trump tweeted Monday morning.

Outside the arena, the Trump campaign is planning an all-day affair — dubbed “45 Fest” — trying to keep his conservative base energized well over a year before Election Day. That event will offer “food trucks, live music courtesy of ‘The Guzzlers,’ big screens to see President Trump’s speech, and more,” according to a campaign statement.

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