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Florida’s top Republican, top Democrat agree on one thing: 2020 hinges on the Sunshine State

Republican Party of Florida chairman Joe Gruters and Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Terrie Rizzo join Times Political Editor Steve Contorno.
Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Terrie Rizzo (left) and Republican Party of Florida chairman state Sen. Joe Gruters (middle) talk about the 2020 election with Tampa Bay Times political editor Steve Contorno on Wednesday. [CHRIS URSO | Chris Urso]
Published Nov. 7
Updated Nov. 7

There wasn’t a ton that Republican Party of Florida Chairman Joe Gruters and Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Terrie Rizzo agreed on Wednesday night at the Chihuly Collection in St. Petersburg.

One subject their beliefs did align on: The 2020 election will hinge on Florida.

In a lightning round in the final quarter of Wednesday night’s reader event hosted by the Tampa Bay Times, both agreed the sunshine state could be the deciding factor in the 2020 presidential election — and potentially the closest battle.

“Donald Trump wins by 100,00 votes,” predicted Gruters for the state’s fate when asked by Times Political Editor Steve Contorno.

Rizzo agreed that the race will come down to the wire — just not on the same outcome.

“It’s definitely going to be close,” said Rizzo. “We are now a half-a-percent state, so we know the numbers are going to be tight and that's what we're preparing for. The Democratic nominee, whoever he or she may be, is gonna win."

Both believe the race will deliver the highest turnout in state history.

Before the lightning round, the two disagreed on nearly every other issue raised for discussion, but often did so with a smile.

Out of the gate, the two argued about the implications of Tuesday night’s elections in Kentucky and Virginia, two states where Democrats scored big wins in states that were Republican strongholds in the 2016 Presidential election.

Gruters blamed the Republicans gubernatorial defeat in Kentucky on the party running a bad candidate. He said losing the state house in Virginia was no surprise and was even expected.

“Candidates matter and the Republican governor that was defeated last night had the lowest approval rating in the entire country," Gruters said. “Virginia was no surprise.”

Rizzo joked back, applauding Gruters by saying “what a great spin.”

She continued: "I think blue is in the air and the results I think show it and it shows that candidates do matter. We had a major candidate, who had come in the day before and had a major rally, and we had a Democratic governor elected."

The night continued with much of the same.

They disagreed on whether Donald Trump would be removed from office, on whether there should be a state-wide minimum wage of $15 and whether there should be same-day registration offered to Florida voters.

The nation’s economy was a talking point throughout the night for Gruters, finding ways to inject into multiple topics, such as winning the Latino vote.

“Right now we have one of the lowest unemployment rates for minorities in the history of our country," Gruters said. “The case with Hispanics and across the board is the economy.”

Rizzo, meanwhile, did the same with healthcare throughout the night, championing it as the number one issue of the 2020 election — besides ensuring President Donald Trump is denied a second term.

“We’re running to win,” Rizzo said. “We’re going to run strong, we’re going to run hard. Our job here in the Florida Democratic Party is to organize and organize to win. That’s what we’ll do.”


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