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Not done yet, Joe Biden announces Florida push

The former vice president’s campaign moved quickly Wednesday to announce the launch of several grassroots coalitions in Florida.
Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, speaks at a campaign event in Columbia, S.C., Tuesday.
Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, speaks at a campaign event in Columbia, S.C., Tuesday. [ GERALD HERBERT | AP ]
Published Feb. 13, 2020|Updated Feb. 14, 2020

Forget about New Hampshire. Joe Biden wants to talk about Florida.

Following a fifth-place finish in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, the former vice president’s campaign moved quickly Wednesday to announce the launch of several grassroots coalitions in Florida — a state where he leads in the polls thanks in large part to his standing with Hispanic and black voters.

The voter groups, to be led by some of Biden’s large group of surrogates — many from South Florida — include groups specifically aimed at reaching women, African Americans, Caribbean voters, the gay community, faith leaders, Hispanics and the young.

In Miami, Haitian-American physician Larry Pierre is heading up Biden’s Caribbean voter group. Broward state Rep. Shevrin Jones, the son of West Park pastor and Mayor Eric Jones, is helping lead Biden’s faith-based voter outreach group. Joe Falk, a gay rights activist and prominent Democratic fundraiser from Miami tapped to lead Biden’s LGBTQ coalition, said there are a number of gatherings planned in the roughly five weeks leading to the primary, starting with a Biden campaign presence at the Gay 8 festival this weekend in Little Havana.

Jackie Lee, a senior adviser to the Biden campaign in Florida, said the groups are both a reflection of the state’s diversity and an escalation of campaign events that are already under way.

“We’ve already had a [get-out-the-vote] phone bank. We’re chasing mail ballots. We have a Jewish surrogate call set up for next week,” she said. “This will be active and led by community members, and build upon our work here in the state.”

Biden’s coalition rollout comes as more than 1 million ballots are landing in mailboxes across the state, creating an extended primary election that tends to benefit campaigns with a large, organized presence and the ability to chase votes weeks before Election Day.

It’s also a precarious time for the Biden campaign.

Following his fourth-place finish in Iowa, his showing in New Hampshire threatened to damage a campaign built on the idea that he is the best pick for Democrats whose most important criteria for selecting a candidate is the ability to beat President Donald Trump in November. Biden has seen some defections from his large collection of Florida surrogates, with former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and North Miami Beach-area state Sen. Jason Pizzo switching their support from him to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Bloomberg is spending millions of dollars on TV commercials and online ads in the state, and paid two visits to Florida in January, rolling out his own Jewish and Hispanic voter coalitions. The campaigns of former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, billionaire activist Tom Steyer and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren have varying presences in the state, though Florida has seen relatively little campaigning so far from the candidates.

Biden, who has had less money to spend than most of his rivals, likely needs to perform well in Florida to become the party’s nominee.

Polls in January showed Biden’s lead slipping a little in the state heading into the Iowa caucuses. But a poll of likely Democratic voters conducted last week by SEA Polling and Strategic Design in Miami-Dade County — a firm that conducts polls for Democrats — found that Biden, even after his loss in Iowa, maintained a comfortable lead in the county, which has the largest number of registered Democratic voters in the state. His numbers — keeping him ahead of a surging Bloomberg — relied in no small part on his support from black and Hispanic voters.

“We wouldn’t have the presence here that we have if [Florida] weren’t important to the campaign,” Lee said.

But first, Biden needs to perform well in the Feb. 22 Nevada caucuses and the Feb. 29 South Carolina primary in order to survive through the March 3 Super Tuesday primaries. And in order to shift the focus forward toward more diverse states in which he continues to lead in polls, Biden spent Tuesday night rallying voters in South Carolina, where he dismissed results in the first two Democratic contests as merely the “starting bell.”

“We need to hear from Nevada and South Carolina and Super Tuesday states and beyond,” Biden told the crowd. “This is an especially important phase.”


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