PENSACOLA — President Donald Trump is going to win the Florida Panhandle. That’s safe to say.
But if the president plans to win Florida, he may need to win by as much or more in the deep red counties that helped carry him to victory in 2016.
That’s part of the reason why, with just a week and a half until America begins counting votes, Trump made a stop Friday evening in Pensacola for one of his signature rallies.
The scene was a familiar one: thousands of adoring supporters packed into an airfield near Pensacola International Airport. At about 7 p.m. Central Time (8 p.m. Eastern Time), Trump descended from Air Force One to raucous applause. He took the stage as Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the U.S.A. blared from the speakers.
Then the president predicted he would sail to victory in November.
“We have a great red wave, and that comes at the end when everybody votes,” Trump said. “We’re doing so much better than we were four years ago.”
In red counties like Escambia, which is home to Pensacola, Trump may need to prove prescient. He carried the county by some 31,000 votes over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. In nearby counties like Santa Rosa and Walton, he netted another 66,000 votes as his supporters streamed to the polls. In some panhandle counties, three in four eligible voters cast a vote.
The Republican president will need those counties to turn out for him once again if he’s to offset what is likely to be substantial Democratic victories in south Florida.
The election forecasting website FiveThirtyEight has the Democratic candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, leading Trump by three points in the Sunshine State.
The Republicans who took the stage before Trump underscored the importance of the panhandle on Nov. 3.
“If the Eastern Time zone can keep it close, we can bring it home in the fourth quarter,” said State Rep. Alex Andrade, R-Pensacola.
“This is the most important spot for him to win in Florida,” said State Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Pensacola.
“This is where we won the White House in 2016. And this is where we’re going to win it in 2020, too!” said U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Florida.
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The evening rally in Pensacola was Trump’s second of the day in Florida. He also spoke earlier that afternoon at The Villages.
Trump hit on similar themes at both rallies. He bashed Biden’s debate performance from Thursday night. And he criticized his opponent for what Trump called corrupt foreign dealings by the former vice president’s family in China, Russia and the Ukraine.
It was a message that hit home with his supporters. Charity Zierten, the sister of Michelle Salzman, the Republican nominee for state representative in Pensacola, traveled to the rally all the way from Georgia with her support dog, Bucky. She said she supports President Trump because he’s not in it for the profit.
“I feel like all of these establishment politicians make so much money being in office,” Zierten said. “It’s kind of like, do you trust a preacher who’s paid to preach?”
Biden’s tax returns show that he made millions after leaving office in 2017, mostly from a lucrative book deal and speaking fees. It’s unclear how exactly the president’s financial status has been affected by his service, because he has not released his tax returns — breaking with decades of American political precedent.
The president has also not divested himself of his vast personal business holdings. Reporting by the New York Times shows that Trump has collected some $12 million from businesses with “interests at stake before the Trump administration.”
And at both rallies, the president played a clip of Sen. Bernie Sanders pressing Biden during a Democratic presidential primary debate about the former Vice President’s record on Medicare and Social Security. Trump said Biden has fought to take away government benefits from Floridians who depend on them.
During Biden’s career in the Senate, he did back cutting back on Social Security spending at times in the 1980s and 1990s in order to balance the federal budget.
Biden is now campaigning on expanding safety net benefits, however.
For Trump’s part, the president’s 2021 budget proposal included half a trillion less in Medicare spending over the next decade, according to the progressive leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities — although much of those cuts might not affect beneficiaries, the Center said.
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