ORLANDO — Former President Barack Obama rallied in Orlando on Tuesday to shore up votes in Democratic stronghold Orange County for his former vice president, Joe Biden.
Obama spent much of his noon speech lambasting President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying his closing argument is that “people are too focused on COVID.”
“COVID, COVID, COVID, he’s complaining,” Obama said, mimicking Trump. "He’s jealous of COVID’s media coverage.”
And he went after Trump’s temperament, referencing how the president in 2017 tossed rolls of paper towels to Puerto Rican residents reeling from the devastation enacted by Hurricane Maria.
“Imagine a president (who), when Puerto Rico gets hit by a hurricane, doesn’t respond just by throwing paper towels, but says ‘Those are Americans, and we’ve got to make sure that we get in the help they need as quickly as possible.’ That’s what you should expect from a president, and if you’re not getting that, then you have to go out there and vote to make it happen," Obama said as people cheered and honked their horns in support.
Obama’s visit, to a grassy field outside Camping World Stadium where about 270 vehicles lined up in a socially-distanced drive-in rally, is the latest campaign event in the critical swing state with just one week to go in the election and where millions have already voted.
It’s yet another example of how both presidential campaigns have shifted their efforts away from reaching independent and undecided voters and are instead focusing on trying to wring as much turnout as possible from their bases. Last week, President Donald Trump rallied his base in The Villages and Pensacola, places that already lean heavily red.
Obama’s direct appeal to Puerto Rican voters is part of a concerted effort by Democrats to compel those voters to the polls. While pre-Election Day turnout is higher than its ever been for Democrats, the party’s showing in the two Central Florida counties with the highest number of voting Puerto Ricans — Orange and Osceola — is lagging behind the party’s statewide average.
By Tuesday morning, more than 6.4 million Floridians have already voted. Democrats have dominated the mail-in ballot numbers, but Republicans are closing the gap with strong in-person voter turnout.
As Obama spoke, a few dozen Trump supporters who had gathered in Tinker Field History Plaza held Trump flags and chanted “Four more years.” The plaza honors Tinker Field, a baseball stadium that once served as a spring training facility for numerous big league ball clubs, and was where Martin Luther King Jr. once addressed thousands from the pitcher’s mound in 1964.
In a statement, Trump’s campaign said Biden’s “anemic efforts" in Florida won’t deliver him the state.
“Sending Barack Obama to stump for Biden for the second time in one week won’t make a dent in the advantage we’ve built thanks to our field army and frequent visits from President Trump and his family," said Trump Victory spokesperson Emma Vaughn.
Obama’s appearance is the first of two events Biden’s campaign has planned in Florida this week, the second scheduled for Thursday in the Tampa Bay area. That means he’ll have hit the two major cities on Interstate 4, the stretch of highway oft-cited as the most important corridor in presidential politics.
“We’ve got to vote like never before," Obama said. "Honk if you’re fired up.”
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