Biden's potential lifeline for Florida Democrats
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — President Joe Biden is swinging into Florida on Thursday and he’s bringing more than just talking points.
Fresh off his State of the Union address, Biden is giving beleaguered Florida Democrats a glimmer of hope that the rest of the party hasn’t written off the nation’s third most populous state after a crushing midterm.
“It’s very clear to me he can win the state of Florida and it’s very clear to the White House,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a South Florida Democrat and former chair of the Democratic National Committee. “They are coming down to underscore what they accomplished and how they can build on it.”
Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat who will accompany Biden during his brief visit, said she “cheered” when she heard that the president was coming.
“That means they are going to continue to invest in Florida,” Castor said. “They have not given up. To the contrary, they are going to fight.”
This marks the second trip of the year to Florida by the Biden White House. Vice President Kamala Harris came to Tallahassee last month to mark the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that was undone by the U.S. Supreme Court last summer. Their visits also coincide with the recently launched presidential campaign of one Floridian — former President Donald Trump — and the widely anticipated campaign of another, Gov. Ron DeSantis’.
Biden, who visited the battleground state of Wisconsin on Wednesday, is on a post-State of the Union push ahead of his expected reelection bid. WhileBiden’s advisers view Florida as a longshot after his 3.4 percent loss there in 2020, if the president doesn’t win the Sunshine State, it greatly narrows his path to victory.
During his short speech at the University of Tampa on Thursday, Biden touched on the tense exchange he had with Republicans on the House floor during his State of the Union address over cutting Medicare and Social Security, bringing up Sen. Rick Scott’s proposal to sunset the two programs in five years. Biden showed the pamphlet and read from it during the speech.
“I reminded them that Florida’s own Rick Scott is the guy who ran the Senate campaign committee for Republicans last year,” Biden said. “Had a plan to sunset, maybe he changed his mind, maybe he’s seen the Lord, but he wanted to sunset, meaning if you don’t reauthorize it, it goes away. Sunset social security and Medicare every five years.”
Castor noted that Tampa is located in a part of the state’s oft-discussed Interstate 4 corridor that has been critical in past statewide elections. But DeSantis completely flipped Hillsborough County during the midterms — a county that went for Biden in 2020 and which was won by Democrat Andrew Gillum in the governor’s race two years before that.
The November election has triggered a nearly existential crisis for Florida Democrats. Not only did DeSantis get re-elected by nearly 20 points but Republicans gained a supermajority in the Florida Legislature and picked up four congressional seats that helped flip the U.S. House to the GOP. It remains unclear where DeSantis will be Thursday during Biden’s visit since the governor routinely announces his schedule just hours before his events.
Key to the GOP wins last year was that Republican turnout was significantly higher than Democratic turnout – a nod to the drawing power of DeSantis, whose battles over race, gender and Covid-19 have made him a rising star among conservatives. Another factor was that national Democratic groupslargely ignored Florida and dramatically cut back the amount of money they spent in the state.
Florida Democratic Party chair Manny Diaz wound up abruptly resigning from his post in early January amid growing calls for his ouster. Democrats are scheduled to find a replacement later this month, but the bad news keeps adding up: New numbers show Republicans now hold a more than 400,000 person edge over Democrats in active registered voters, a stunning reversal from just four years ago, when Democrats had the lead.
“The Democratic Party has to understand we are at a crossroads,” said Nikki Fried, the former agriculture commissioner and the last Democrat to win a statewide election. “It’s going to take all hands on deck here but support from across the country to rebuild.”
Fried argued Democrats need to put together a plan for the next six to eight years that include “achievable goals.” But Fried, a persistent critic of DeSantis who lost in the Democratic primary for governor, contends that Democrats nationally also need to focus on Florida so that the “blueprint” laid out by DeSantis “doesn’t permeate across the country.”
Fried added that the presence of both Biden and Harris is a good sign and that their recent trips here are “more than they did during the midterms.”
One of the most talked about moments from Biden’s Tuesday night speech came when Biden said some Republicans were threatening to sunset Social Security and Medicare — a reference to a plan released by Scott last year but which most Republicans have rejected. Scott’s plan did call for taking a vote on all federal programs every five years, but he has insisted he would never back the elimination of Social Security.
Scott himself has gone on the offense, even launching a television ad that will air in Tampa the next two days that calls on Biden to resign.
“It’s telling that Joe Biden used his State of the Union speech to lie about my plan,” Scott said in a statement. “If Biden had a single accomplishment to speak of, he wouldn’t have to lie about me. These lies aren’t going to work in the Sunshine State.”
At this point, Scott has a clear path to another six-year term in 2024. While some names have been floated, no prominent Democrat has yet stepped up to challenge Scott, a multimillionaire who has spent millions of his own money to win three straight elections.
But Democrats say the bigger point is that Biden’s visit shows that Florida is still part of his re-election calculus.
“We have 30 electoral votes,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Florida is part of the math to 270 electoral votes.”
Kelly Hooper contributed to this report.