ORLANDO – As early voting began in Florida on Monday, Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominee for vice president, dropped by Orlando and urged supporters to stand among the “first to put our country back on the right track.”
Moments later, a thunderous storm passed over the regionarea, drenching long lines outside polling places and casting a pall over the first day of in-person voting. Winning elections never comes easy in Florida.
With 15 days until Election Day, the presidential campaigns have prioritized turning out voters in and around Orlando, one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country.
Harris' brief stop at the Central Florida Fairgrounds followed visits earlier this month by President Donald Trump, who held tarmac rallies in nearby Sanford and Ocala, and Vice President Mike Pence, who has visited Orlando and The Villages in recent weeks. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, held a Hispanic Heritage Month event in Kissimmee in September.
The Republican events drew large crowds with thousands of people standing and sitting shoulder to shoulder, most of them not wearing masks. Meanwhile, in Orlando on Monday, dozens of cars crowded around the stage where Harris spoke. Supporters wore masks that said “Vote” or “Biden Harris” and waved signs or honked horns from a distance.
The state and the country will soon know whether the gap in crowd support reflects the energy from each side or widespread deference to a deadly virus that has killed more than 16,000 Floridians. Recent polls suggest the race is tight heading into the final stretch.
Just as she did in her debate against Pence, Harris focused much of her 15-minute presentation on the public health crisis. She accused Trump of engaging in a cover-up when he downplayed coronavirus even as he knew of its destructive potential.
“Can you imagine what parents and families and each of us might have been able to do to prepare for this?” Harris said.
Harris' swing through the state marked a return to the campaign trail for the Democratic nominee for vice president. She spent last week in Washington, D.C., where she participated remotely in the Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. Harris’ campaign also briefly paused because a member of her staff contracted the coronavirus.
From Orlando, Harris headed to Jacksonville for another rally to mobilize voters. She was joined at the fairgrounds by two local congresswomen, U.S. Reps. Val Demings and Stephanie Murphy. Biden considered Demings as a possible running mate before settling on Harris.
Trump campaign spokeswoman Emma Vaughn said Harris' “last-minute efforts in Florida are too little, too late.”
“Floridians will soundly reject Biden’s platform that will destroy jobs, pack the courts, and hike taxes,” she said.
Monday’s early voting totals will offer a glimpse into whether that is true.
So far, Democrats have voted in force, with more than 1.2 million casting ballots by mail, outpacing Republicans by nearly half a million. Republicans, though, insist their voters prefer to vote in person, a trend that has intensified amid Trump’s summer-long criticism of voting by mail.
It’s not just mail-in ballots that have raised Trump’s ire. The president has made baseless or inaccurate statements about voter fraud and election interference for months, laying the foundation for a protracted legal fight over the results and undermining confidence in the outcome.
Harris likened Trump’s rhetoric to a fear of the majority among Republicans.
“Why are so many powerful people trying to get in the way of us voting?” Harris said. “They know, when we vote, we win. When we vote, we change things. We make it better. We know our power. They know our power.”