President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Tampa Thursday, the second time in two months that either he or the vice president has come to the Sunshine State.
The event comes at an inflection point both for him and for the national political landscape. On Tuesday, Biden delivered his second State of the Union address, a speech that likely foreshadowed the major themes of his potential reelection campaign. In it, he called for unity and delivering results for the American people on bipartisan issues like creating manufacturing jobs, reducing the cost of health care and shrinking the national deficit — while also leaning into several Democratic priorities on abortion, labor unions and banning assault weapons.
Meanwhile, the country is gearing up for yet another contentious election in 2024, one in which Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is likely to be a key player. Neither Biden nor DeSantis has officially announced their intentions, but both are expected to run. DeSantis’ office declined to comment on Biden’s visit.
Despite Biden’s emphasis on bipartisanship Tuesday, Republicans show no signs of backing off their portrayal of Democrats as the “radical left” who threaten to destroy American culture. DeSantis, who has frequently railed against “woke” ideology and a federal government that “looms over us and imposes its will,” on Wednesday reiterated that his focus is “delivering results for the people of Florida and fighting against Joe Biden.”
Biden’s stop in Tampa is part of a nationwide “blitz” around the country by the president, vice president and the Cabinet “to showcase how the President’s plan is creating jobs, rebuilding our infrastructure, lowering costs ... and delivering for families too often left behind,” according to the White House.
Biden is expected to land at Tampa International Airport just after noon and will speak at the University of Tampa starting at 1:30 p.m., according to an advisory provided by the White House.
Democratic strategists said they expect the purpose of the event to be two-pronged: to draw a contrast between his agenda and one pursued by Republicans as Florida lurches rightward, and to highlight his accomplishments while in office to set the stage for what could come in a second Biden term.
Florida, long a purple state, now looks to be firmly red; DeSantis won reelection in 2022 by a landslide 19 points, and Democrats don’t hold a single statewide elected office. But some Democrats privately acknowledge that they can’t afford for Republicans to view it as a freebie in 2024. With its vast geography and multiple media markets that make it highly expensive for campaigns, Democrats say the GOP will likely need to feel threatened enough to still spend money here to give Democrats enough financial firepower to compete in their must-win states in the Midwest.
Despite some recovery since the summer, polling shows Biden’s approval ratings remain low for this point in his presidency, and the majority of Americans don’t think he has accomplished much despite the passage of multiple priority bills.
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”They’re getting on the road, taking their message directly to the people and that’s what needs to be done,” said Ashley Walker, a veteran Democratic consultant in South Florida who worked on former President Barack Obama’s campaigns. “With Ron DeSantis looking at a possible 2024 run, he’s taking the message straight to the battleground.”
Brad Coker, a Jacksonville pollster with the nonpartisan Mason-Dixon Polling and Strategy firm, said Biden’s messaging on economic recovery carries some risk.
“They’re gambling that the economy is going to recover ... (and) interest rates, inflation will start to come down,” he said. “I don’t know if they have a Plan B, so that’s really what they have to do: Run on the economy, hope the economy catches up to the rhetoric and if it does, they’ll capitalize.”
Maya Brown, a Tampa Democratic strategist, said Biden’s best bet when speaking about the economy is to focus on solutions and concrete actions he’s taken.
“There are probably 100 different ideas about how we got here,” Brown said. “Folks want to know, how are you going to fix it.”
Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott is slated to hit the airwaves Thursday with a TV ad that coincides with Biden’s visit. In it, Scott calls for Biden to resign. Scott is running for reelection in 2024.
The ad comes after Biden all but singled out Scott during his State of the Union, when he said that “some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset.” It was a reference to a plan Scott released that called for all federal legislation to have to be re-passed every five years to avoid expiring.
The line elicited loud protests from the Republican caucus, many of whom have declined to fully endorse Scott’s proposal, prompting Biden to declare that “we all apparently agree.” In a statement, Scott called Biden’s characterization of his plan “lies.”
It’s possible Biden will use this talking point again Thursday. The White House news release states that the president will “discuss his plan to protect and strengthen Social Security and Medicare.”