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Joe Biden visits South Florida, rips Trump — and keeps his distance

As Democrats push to bank ballots ahead of Election Day — a key part of their Florida strategy — few regions are more important than deep blue South Florida.

MIRAMAR — With Florida Democrats voting by mail at a record pace, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden dove into deep blue Broward County Tuesday in the hope of expanding his pre-Election Day lead over President Donald Trump.

The former vice president reveled in the sound of car horns as dozens of supporters in the heavily Caribbean-American city of Miramar gathered at an amphitheatre for a drive-in rally — a socially distanced version of the campaign gatherings the Biden campaign has sworn off since the coronavirus pandemic emerged in March.

“It’s go time!” Biden shouted from a stage at Memorial Regional Park overlooking sedans draped in Biden covers and carrying American flags. “Here in Florida, you can determine the outcome of this election. We win Florida and it’s all over.”

The location of the event — part of a national campaign by Democrats to encourage voters to “make a plan to vote” — was a nod to both the importance of battleground Florida and to the growing influence of the state’s Caribbean Black community, which has been energized since Biden selected Jamaican-American U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate. Miramar is home to a large, politically active Jamaican-American community and the host of one of Broward County’s busiest early voting centers, where people lined up for hours in 2008 to cast ballots to elect Barack Obama as president.

On Tuesday, Broward County Mayor Dale Holness, who is Jamaican-American, urged Broward’s Black voters to repeat that turnout.

“Too many people will not vote,” he said. “When we brought Barack Obama home as president, Broward County voted at 72 percent. The African American community in Broward County voted at 75 percent. Broward County, Miramar, you have to lead the way.”

Biden’s return to South Florida — following stops early this month in Little Haiti and Little Havana — comes just a few days before the Oct. 19 start of early in-person voting and amid a drive rush by Democrats to quickly return mail ballots. Statewide returns are coming in at an unprecedented rate, with nearly 1.8 million voters having cast mail ballots as of Tuesday morning. Democrats have so far have cast nearly 400,000 more mail ballots than Republicans.

And as Democrats push to bank ballots ahead of Election Day — a key part of their Florida strategy — few regions are more important than South Florida. So far, in Broward County, the most left-leaning county in the state, more than 100,000 Democrats have voted by mail.

“That is just record-breaking,” said Eric Johnson, a Broward-based Democratic political strategist.

In Miramar, Biden’s supporters came from all over South Florida. They included Adelys Ferro, 52, who held up a sign that read, “OBAMACARE SAVED MY SON.” Her son, Arturo, 21, is voting for the first time Wednesday and he’s voting for Biden, said Ferro, a native of Venezuela.

Glenn Joseph, 69, also welcomed Biden’s speech and said he believes it will help motivate Caribbean Americans.

“He was consistent and on point and it should make a difference because he finally came to where it matters,” said Joseph, a Miramar resident and vice president of the Caribbean Democratic Caucus. “Hopefully it will motivate our folks to get to the polls to go vote.”

“We’re leaving no stone unturned. We are going to make sure we carry people to the polls by any means necessary,” he said.

The invite-only crowd repeatedly laid on their horns Tuesday, in a new kind of call and response, as Biden hammered Trump’s handling of the coronavirus. Biden also criticized the Trump campaign for taking Coronairus Task Force adviser Anthony Fauci’s comments on the federal response to the pandemic out of context in a new political ad. And he promised to “break the cycle” of disenfranchisement for America’s Black communities while speaking of meeting with the family of George Floyd, the Minneapolis man whose killing by police was the tipping point that sparked a summer of civil unrest.

“There are three more weeks before we end this madness,” Biden said.

Biden had started his Tuesday trip to Broward County — where he declared “this election will be determined” — in Pembroke Pines with a speech designed to undercut Trump among senior voters.

At the Southwest Focal Point Community Center, Biden told a small group of about two dozen invited activists and supporters that Trump’s handling of the pandemic had cost tens of thousands of lives and forced older Americans to isolate far longer than should have been necessary.

“Donald Trump’s chaotic and divisive leadership has cost us far too much: 216,000 dead from COVID-19 and rising,” Biden said, in a speech delivered with a mask still on his face.

In the crowd, Carl Shechter, 93 — a former Pembroke Pines city commissioner and namesake of the community center in a senior housing complex — caught the former vice president’s eye.

“Hey Carl. How are you man?” Biden asked, squinting into the light as Shechter waved.

When Biden concluded, Shechter swiftly rose to his feet and applauded loudly. He told the Miami Herald he was as impressed with Biden’s pledge to save Obamacare.

“I think the Affordable Care Act is extremely important,” Schechter said.

Outside, more than 75 people waited to catch a glimpse of Biden. Norrine Scott-James, a 72-year old hospice nurse who emigrated to South Florida from Jamaica 30 years ago, said Trump’s policies and attitude, especially since the spread of COVID-19, have shown he is a “lowlife.” She said Biden takes the issues more seriously.

“Healthcare is an important issue, and the response to the pandemic is another very important issue,” she said

Public polling suggests that Trump’s support among seniors has slipped in Florida as his administration has dismissed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, which disproportionately sickens the elderly. Where exit polls suggest he won votes 65 and older by 17 points four years ago, surveys now find Trump splitting the demographic with Biden, and in some cases trailing his Democratic rival.

“Much has been made of the youth vote in Florida — and thank God for that,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who was at the event. “But it is residents 65 and older who still swing elections in the Sunshine State.”

Biden said during the Pembroke Pines speech that he thought Trump — who has intentionally downplayed the severity of the virus — would have been “chastened” by catching COVID-19. But instead, he said Trump has increased his “disinformation” about the virus as he has returned to campaigning, starting with a Monday rally at a Central Florida airport attended by thousands of people.

“People have been left to wonder an awful lot: ‘Who’s looking out for me?’ That’s been the entire story, in my view, of Donald Trump’s presidency,” Biden said, continuing to wear his mask. “He’s never been focused on what matters. He’s never been focused on you ... While you’re losing precious time with your loved ones, he’s been stuck in a sand trap at one of his precious golf clubs.”

The Trump campaign on Tuesday criticized Biden, saying he distorted Trump’s plans for Medicare and Social Security to make it sound as if Trump would slash the former and defund the latter. Fact-checkers at the Washington Post and PolitiFact have ruled Biden’s claims about the two safety net programs misleading.

“Biden is spreading disinformation in Florida today, trying to trick and scare seniors like the con artist and career politician that he is,” the campaign said in a press release. “Fact-checkers have debunked Biden’s shameless lies about Social Security and Medicare, but that hasn’t stopped Biden from repeating them anyway.”

Earlier Tuesday, Trump’s campaign criticized Biden as “unfit for office,” saying a series of gaffes by the former vice president have called into question whether he is showing signs of cognitive slippage. During a conference call hosted by the Trump campaign, former White House physician Ronny Jackson questioned Biden’s mental acumen, but stressed that he no longer practices medicine, and said he wasn’t engaging in ageism.

“We’re picking somebody who has to be able to think straight, multi-task and articulate and be at the top of their game mentally, and he’s really not,” Jackson said of Biden, though stressing that he never treated Biden at the White House and no longer practices medicine. “I’m not criticizing him because of his age. I’m obviously not.”

Biden is 77. Trump is 74.

Biden’s latest visit to Florida is sandwiched between trips by Trump, who is expected to return to the state Thursday with a stop in Miami and then another in Ocala on Friday. Polls show a tight race between Trump and Biden in Florida, and Trump is expected to pull closer to Biden as in-person voting begins.

Tampa Bay Times elections coverage

VOTER GUIDE IS COMING SOON: The Tampa Bay Times will publish a special election section Sunday, Oct. 18, with information on local races. You can also access our Know Your Candidates guide at tampabay.com/voterguide.

HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT VOTING IN FLORIDA? WE HAVE THE ANSWERS: We’ve compiled information on voter registration deadlines, rules for voting by mail and more.

AMENDMENTS: State constitutional amendments on the 2020 ballot, explained.

FELONY CONVICTION? Here are Florida’s rules for registering to vote.

MAIL-IN BALLOTS: So you want to vote by mail in Florida? Here’s what you need to know.

POSTAL SERVICE CONCERNS: What’s going on with the U.S. Postal Service and should Florida be worried?

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