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Florida Democrats look to increase Black voter turnout as Biden visits Florida

Black voters are casting ballots at lower rates than their white counterparts, setting up a crucial final five days heading into Nov. 3.
Jennifer Wright listens as former President Barack Obama speaks while campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden at Florida International University, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in North Miami, Fla.
Jennifer Wright listens as former President Barack Obama speaks while campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden at Florida International University, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in North Miami, Fla. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
Published Oct. 29, 2020

Locked in a battle to turn out as many voters as possible in battleground Florida before Election Day, President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden are returning today to the Sunshine State.

Trump woke up in Doral — having flown in the night before from Arizona — before heading to Tampa for a Make America Great Again Rally at Raymond James Stadium. Biden will also be in Tampa, which for a day will exist as the center of the political universe.

But before heading to Central Florida, Biden will hold a get-out-the-vote rally in Democrat-heavy Broward County, his second “drive-in” rally there this month. The county is Florida’s bluest, and home to 310,000 mostly Democratic Black voters — a critical voting bloc in Biden’s base.

“There’s still a lot of work left to do to mobilize black voters,” Josh Mendelsohn, CEO of Democrat tech firm Hawkfish, told reporters on a call Wednesday.

So far, Black voter turnout is up statewide over the same period in 2016, as is most every other demographic in an election that has already seen a record number of early votes cast. But it’s also true that Black voters are casting ballots at lower rates than their white counterparts, setting up a crucial final five days heading into Nov. 3.

“As history will tell us, Black people prefer to vote in person,” said Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of BlackPAC, which is working with Hawkfish founder Michael Bloomberg in Florida to turn out Black voters for Biden.

Four years ago, 72.6 percent of Broward County’s Black voters participated in the presidential election, and 57 percent of all eligible Black voters cast a ballot early or by mail. As of Wednesday morning, total Black voter turnout in Broward County was at 45 percent, according to a Hawkfish analysis for the Miami Herald.

Statewide, Black voters had nearly matched their entire 2016 output by Wednesday, according to Shropshire, similar to other voting groups. But Hawkfish’s analysis found that in Broward, Black voters had cast only 74 percent of their total 2016 Black vote.

“We’re seeing some gaps in young Black voter turnout,” Shropshire said. “The top five counties with the largest number of Black voters have some under-performance. In Broward and Duval, it’s off by a percentage point... In Miami Dade, it’s off by 5 percentage points. There’s a lot of work to do.”

Biden’s drive-in rally — similar to one he held in Miramar on Oct. 13 — will be at Broward College’s Coconut Creek campus, according to a person familiar with the campaign’s plans. About one-third of the college’s enrollment is Black.

South Florida is home to a large and politically influential Caribbean Black community. And Biden’s decision to select Jamaican-American U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate has raised expectations of an energized Black vote this year, though it now appears that if that arrives, it will arrive late.

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A late surge in Black voters at the polls could help Democrats counteract a wave of Republicans voting early. Democrats and progressive groups tried last weekend to organize a Souls to the Polls event, geared around turning out voters at Black churches to head to the polls. But last Sunday — when a deluge soaked parts of Broward County for much of the day — turnout dropped.

“The weather, I think, affected turnout this weekend,” said Broward County Chairwoman Cynthia Busch.

Democrats will try again this Sunday with another Souls to the Polls push on what is typically the biggest day of early voting in an election.

The Trump campaign, meanwhile, has talked up its efforts to reach Black voters, including the president’s recent work with celebrity rappers. They’ve also tried to brand Biden as bad for the Black community due to his involvement in a 1994 crime bill blamed by some for contributing to mass incarceration.

“This is a level of connection and a level of enthusiasm that voters in the African American and Latino community have for President Trump,” senior Trump adviser Jason Miller told the Miami Herald last week when asked about the campaign’s outreach to Black voters.

Miller did not address a question about whether the campaign has repeated its 2016 efforts to dissuade hundreds of thousands of left-leaning Black voters in Florida from voting. A Miami Herald investigation, in cooperation with the U.K.'s Channel 4, found that the Trump campaign four years ago labeled 658,000 Black Floridians for “deterrence.”

“We’re excited and look forward to earning their votes, and I think Joe Biden has lots of explaining to do,” Miller said.

Early voter turnout has been largely older and white for Democrats so far. But Steve Schale, the Florida campaign strategist who led former President Barack Obama’s efforts in the state 12 years ago, said there are positive signs that Biden will be able to create a new-look coalition similar to the one that helped Obama win the state twice.

“I think a Biden win is going to look a lot like an Obama win in 2012, except with a more diverse electorate,” Schale said.

Trump and Biden’s dueling appearances Thursday in Florida once again reemphasize the importance of the state to the election. Trump must win his newly declared home state to be reelected, and polls show a tight race. A record number of ballots cast before Election Day also suggest that Democrats and Republicans are enthused about the election.

Through Wednesday morning, more than 6.9 million Floridians had voted by mail and at early voting centers, equal to about 48 percent of Florida’s 14.4 million registered voters. Democrats had cast roughly 245,000 more ballots than Republicans, though no one will know until Election Night how much of those votes — or the 1.4 million cast so far by independent voters — went to either candidate..

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