- The Washington Times - Monday, October 19, 2020

Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala D. Harris returned to the campaign trail on Monday to urge Floridians to vote early as she and the Biden campaign increasingly cast the stakes of the Nov. 3 election in apocalyptic terms.

Ms. Harris is representing the Democratic ticket’s in-person efforts this week as Joseph R. Biden hunkers down to prepare for Thursday’s debate and his team desperately urges supporters to avoid complacency in the closing stretch.

“You will be the first to put our country back on the right track,” Ms. Harris said at a “drive-in” rally in Orlando on Monday, when early voting started in parts of Florida. “Y’all are going to make it happen.” 

The California senator said President Trump and Democrats’ political opponents are trying to destroy democracy.

“There is so much at stake,” she said. “As much as they’ve been trying to destroy our democracy, the one thing I know is that when the people are prepared to fight for our country based on love of country, they can never do us any harm.”

Ms. Harris had suspended in-person campaign events for several days after a few people in her orbit tested positive for COVID-19 last week. She and Mr. Biden have continued to test negative for the coronavirus.

Introducing Ms. Harris, Rev. Randolph Bracy Jr. said the I-4 corridor that runs through the central part of the state will be critical.

Democrats have a lock on some parts of southern Florida, including Miami, while northern parts of the state and the panhandle near Alabama are more solidly in Mr. Trump’s camp.

“Central Florida ­— stretches the I-4 corridor from Tampa-St. Pete to Daytona Beach — is the key for winning the state of Florida,” Mr. Bracy said. “Democrats win Florida, game over.”

Mr. Biden has been leading Mr. Trump by close to double digits in much of the recent national public polling, though things are much closer in Florida and other battleground states.

“It’s going to be closer than people expect in these states we’ve been talking about,” Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said at a recent “grassroots summit” for donors.

She urged supporters to be a “nag” to their friends and family, if necessary, to avoid the kind of complacency that helped doom Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Mrs. Clinton had held similarly large leads over Mr. Trump in some polling and didn’t bother to campaign in Wisconsin after the party’s nominating convention, for example.

“If the doomsday, ‘this is the end of our democracy, so please don’t be responsible for that’ [message] doesn’t work, a little bit more subtle would be to [point] to what the vice president has been saying,” Ms. O’Malley Dillon said.

At the same time, she said the electoral map for Mr. Biden has expanded to the point where deep-red Texas and Georgia are in play.

She also said she’s “bullish” on winning Arizona, a traditionally red state where Mr. Trump was campaigning on Monday.

Ms. Harris is set to travel to North Carolina on Wednesday — the same day the Biden campaign is deploying former President Barack Obama to campaign for his former ticket-mate in Philadelphia.

Mr. Biden, meanwhile, is focused on debate prep ahead of Thursday’s showdown with Mr. Trump in Nashville, Tennessee.

Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said Monday that the Democratic ticket is being hurt by the strategy of campaigning mostly via TV ads, instead of holding in-person events and grassroots outreach.

“Joe Biden is putting it all on TV,” Mr. Stepien told reporters. “That’s his choice. That’s his strategy. We also have TV ads … but in addition to that, we’re actually running a real campaign — a campaign with voter contact, a campaign with events, a campaign with surrogates, a campaign with voter-registration drives. We like our plan better.”

Mr. Biden’s team is still adjusting to more robust in-person canvassing efforts after spending much of the campaign contacting supporters via phone or text because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Thanks in part to the Trump team’s ground game, Florida Republicans managed to close the Democratic voter registration advantage in the state to about 134,000 out of more than 14.4 million total registered voters when the pre-election books closed this month.

That’s down from about a 327,000 edge for Democrats at a similar point in 2016. The president ultimately carried Florida by about 113,000 votes, or a little more than 1%.

“We’re going to win Florida. Florida may be close, but statewide races always are close in Florida,” Mr. Stepien said.

Kerry Haynie, a political science professor at Duke University, said in-person outreach efforts are crucial when it comes to motivating Hispanic voters, a critical bloc in Florida and elsewhere, to get to the polls.

“If you don’t make a mobilization effort, you don’t get the turnout,” Mr. Haynie said. “And it tends to be efforts where you actually come into face-to-face contact with someone or at least can get them on the telephone and have a conversation — often in Spanish — and that will increase the vote.”

Florida is home to a significant Cuban American population and the Trump campaign has been warning against the dangers of communism and socialism in countries like Cuba to try to steer them away from Mr. Biden.

Mr. Haynie said there are also increasing numbers of Puerto Ricans and immigrants from Central America in Florida, which could benefit the Democrats.

“The Cuban proportion of that vote that’s typically a Republican vote is becoming a smaller share,” he said. “And there is some evidence that younger Cuban Americans are less likely to be tied to the Republican Party than their parents and grandparents are.” 

Ms. O’Malley Dillon said they’re not taking Hispanic voters for granted, either in Florida or other key battlegrounds like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

“We’re not just reaching Latino voters — or any voters, frankly — with an assumption that we have their support or just as a reminder to vote, but we’re going in there early and we’re making our case,” she said.

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