President Donald Trump is coming home for Thanksgiving. And he’s bringing Americans together.
But like many holiday gatherings, this one will have its share of friction.
Trump’s “homecoming rally” Tuesday in Sunrise should lure both supporters and critics of the president to the BB&T Center. Thousands of Trump supporters are expected to join in a celebration of the commander-in-chief and his quiet decision last month to switch his place of residency from Manhattan to Palm Beach, while outside, Democratic Party staffers and activists plan to greet them with a giant inflatable Trump baby.
The rally — the first of three South Florida Trump events over the next two weeks — is the latest example of the close attention Trump has paid to a battleground state he likely must carry to win reelection. And it’s a reminder that, while Trump’s potential 2020 rivals spend little time in Florida, Democrats are also relying on the president to motivate their base.
“He is the main motivator on both sides,” Democratic strategist Craig Smith, who set up a GoFundMe account to pay for the giant Trump balloon, said Tuesday in an interview. “He will be the issue in 2020.”
Trump’s visit to Broward County — the bluest county in the state — comes on the heels of an active summer in Florida in which the president made repeated campaign stops and declared his Mar-a-Lago resort his full-time home. He traveled to The Villages retirement community in Central Florida early last month, and will return again to Florida Dec. 7 to speak at an Israeli-American conference in Hollywood and a Republican Party of Florida fundraiser in Miami-Dade County.
All those appearances underscore the Trump campaign’s belief that the president must win Florida to win reelection. And they help to galvanize foot soldiers tasked with doing the grunt work of registering voters, knocking on doors and talking up the economy and labor numbers under Trump’s first term.
Trump Victory Spokesman Emerson George said in a statement that the campaign is in “every corner of Florida” as both the Republican and Democratic national committees work to get an early start on the 2020 election season.
“While Democrats are busy coming up with impeachment conspiracy theories and radical socialist policies that would raise taxes and kill jobs, President Trump has delivered for Florida with historic low unemployment and a foreign policy that stands up for democratic values and human rights,” Emerson said.
But Trump’s cult of personality is also a motivator of another kind.
His increasing presence in Florida is working on Democrats, too, pushing them to get to work in a state with such importance for Trump’s reelection that Smith, the party strategist, says it has what amounts to “one-state veto” power.
Juan Peñalosa, executive director for the Florida Democratic Party, said volunteerism is up about 400 percent from this time four years ago and fundraising has jumped as much as 15 percent since Trump announced he was moving to Florida. Those numbers aren’t possible, Peñalosa said, “unless there’s a whole lot of enthusiasm on our side to get him out of office.”
In Broward, local party Chairwoman Cynthia Busch told the Miami Herald recently that volunteers have increased notably in 2019, and have been showing up with minimal recruiting efforts ever since the Democratic party’s demoralizing losses of the 2018 midterms.
“This is the county that’s the linchpin of Florida for turnout and when Broward County turns out in huge numbers as we’re likely to do, then it’s difficult for Republicans to win Florida,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democrat who represents Sunrise, told reporters Monday. “I can assure you how we feel about Donald Trump will be very clear when he arrives.”
For Democrats, those sentiments have been a unifying factor even though the still-sprawling field of presidential hopefuls has largely skipped Florida in favor of campaigns in cheaper states with earlier primary date.
And though that has left Democratic organizers without a Democrat to rally around, they’ve rallied against Trump, as they did in Orlando when the president held a campaign kickoff last June.
“We organized a major ‘Win with Love’ rally. One thousand people attended. There was no candidate there,” said state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando. “The values in opposition of President Trump is what helps us still inspire people at this point on the campaign trail.”
But there are strongly motivated Republicans as well, supporting Trump against impeachment-minded Democrats and following the president even into the deepest of blue areas to welcome him to his new home.
“It might be the bluest county but it has the second-most registered Republicans in the state,” said Broward GOP Chairman George Moraitis. “So it’s still a very important county.”