Trump wins Florida soundly, but the presidential race still up in the air

Check out how the presidential race unfolded in real time.
Democratic candidate for president Joe Biden, left, speaks to a crowd of supporters during a drive-in rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020 in Tampa. President Donald Trump, right, speaks at a re-election rally outside Raymond James Stadium  in Tampa on Thursday, October 29, 2020.
Democratic candidate for president Joe Biden, left, speaks to a crowd of supporters during a drive-in rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020 in Tampa. President Donald Trump, right, speaks at a re-election rally outside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on Thursday, October 29, 2020. [ LUIS SANTANA AND IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Nov. 3, 2020|Updated Nov. 4, 2020

At 12:36 a.m., the Associated Press called Florida for President Donald Trump. The Tampa Bay Times team of political editor Steve Contorno, veteran columnist John Romano and Tallahassee bureau reporter Kirby Wilson provided analysis all night to help readers make sense of Election Day in Florida and beyond. Here’s what transpired.

Check out our election results page here.

1:25 a.m.

Steve Contorno: With Florida now decided and the count in critical swing states likely to continue through the morning, I think we’re going to sign off on this blog. Final thoughts before we go, Kirby?

Kirby Wilson: Even if Biden cobbles together enough electoral votes in Georgia, Arizona and the Midwest, it’s clear that President Trump has legions of supporters all over the country who revere him and his message. And nowhere, it seems, is this more true than the Sunshine State.

Florida Democrats will have major challenges in the coming months and years whether Biden wins or not. I think Florida Sen. Jason Pizzo summarized the Democratic perspective well here:


Steve Contorno: There will be new voices emerging for Democrats in Florida, but it’s unclear what their path forward is. They’ve now lost low turnout statewide races with moderate candidates (Alex Sink, Charlie Crist), a high turnout race with a moderate candidate (Biden) and a high turnout race with , progressive candidate (Gillum). Is it a problem with strategy or messaging or both?

Tomorrow the country may not yet know the president, but in Florida, the consequences of tonight are clear: Republicans have the numbers in Tallahassee to solidify their power for perhaps another decade through redistricting, and they have a conservative state and federal court system that will look more favorably on their economic and social agenda. Those things have not aligned in Florida until this moment, and that could be significant for women’s health, for the future of public education, for tax policy and for the environment.

KW: Well said. Something to sleep on. Thanks for following along, everybody!

1:05 a.m.

John Romano: Milwaukee County had more than 428,000 votes in 2016 with 65.5 percent going for Clinton. So far, only 216,000 votes have been counted for 2020 with Biden at 59.17 percent. That suggests there are at least 200,000 votes still to be counted in a Democratic stronghold in Wisconsin.

The Milwaukee County elections supervisor announced earlier this evening that voting would not be completed until 5 a.m. Central time. All of this is to say: this race is far from over.

12:54 a.m.

Kirby Wilson: In what could be a defining moment, President Trump tweeted, without evidence, that Democrats are trying to “steal” the presidential election from him.

There’s no evidence of of the president’s claims of votes being cast after the polls close. Some of the votes in the Midwest have yet to be counted, but they will be in the coming hours and days.

Twitter flagged the tweet as misleading.

A screengrab of a tweet by President Donald Trump in the early hours of Nov. 4, 2020.
A screengrab of a tweet by President Donald Trump in the early hours of Nov. 4, 2020. [ Twitter ]

12:48 a.m.

Steve Contorno: I would like to point out that our esteemed Florida Insiders, who have a, shall we say, mixed track record, predicted Trump would win the Sunshine State.

They also said they think Biden will go on to win the White House. Will they go for 2 for 2?

12:43 a.m.

Steve Contorno: Biden is now speaking to supporters in Delaware. He is cautioning that it’s going to take “a little longer” to know the outcome of the election, perhaps beyond just tomorrow morning. He urged for all votes to be counted.

“We feel good about where we are,” Biden said. “I really do. I’m here to tell you tonight I believe we’re on track to win the election.”

Biden did not address the loss in Florida, but did say he remains bullish about his chances in Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. He also said Georgia was looking better than expected.

“Keep the faith, guys, we’re going to win this,” he said.

12:40 a.m.

Steve Contorno: BREAKING NEWS: President Donald Trump is declared the winner in Florida by the Associated Press. Read our story.

12:30 a.m.

Kirby Wilson: Also, for what it’s worth, this is why the AP hasn’t called Florida yet:

"President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden were locked in a tight race in Florida late Tuesday, and it was too early for The Associated Press to call the perennial battleground state.

Florida has a history of close elections, including the state’s 2018 governor’s race, which went to a recount. The AP was waiting on more vote count to come in from south Florida, including Miami-Dade County, the largest county in the state."

Most Florida politicos have been heaping dirt on Biden’s Florida grave for hours, though.

12:27 a.m.

Steve Contorno: A mea culpa from Florida Democratic media strategist Kevin Cate:

12:22 a.m.

Kirby Wilson: Some bad news for Biden, and potentially good news for Trump. The president has won Ohio by 8 points. Fivethirtyeight had Ohio as essentially a tied state. It could behave much like its crucial neighbor, Pennsylvania, where Biden is favored by about 5 points, according to Fivethirtyeight’s model. Could the Democratic nominee be in trouble in the crucial Keystone State?

Steve Contorno: Could foreshadow trouble in Michigan and Wisconsin as well. BUT, the AP just called Minnesota for Biden relatively early in the night. There were some rumblings that Trump’s team thought he might have a chance there. So some mixed signals from the Midwest.

12:12 a.m.

Kirby Wilson: The New York Times election forecast needle is needling super hard right now. Had Trump favored heavily to win Georgia as recently as a few minutes ago. Now, Biden is ahead.

Check it out.

If Biden wins Georgia and its 16 electoral votes, Pennsylvania gets a whole lot less interesting.

12:07 a.m.

John Romano: Biden deputy campaign manager Rufus Gifford on Twitter at 11:55 p.m.:

“We’re going to win.”

12:00 a.m.

Steve Contorno: A lot of the focus right now is on Biden’s poor showing in Miami-Dade, and rightfully so. Democrats have a real problem with Cuban voters that will need to reconcile to be competitive in statewide elections again.

But Biden’s troubles with Hispanic and Latino voters don’t begin and end with Cubans. Look at Osceola Country, where there’s a large Puerto Rican population. Clinton won 60 percent of the vote there in 2016. But Biden is at about 56 percent. It’s one of the few heavily populated counties along the I-4 corridor where Biden did worse than Clinton.

Kirby Wilson: Steve, to what extent do you think the total lack of a Democratic ground game hurt Biden’s outreach with Hispanic voters?

SC: I think that was a part of it. The get out the vote operation in Florida was sidelined for most of the summer and fall because of coronavirus. Often, those efforts target minority communities. But I think Democrats also hit a messaging problem. When I talked to Puerto Ricans in Orlando earlier this summer, they said they were running up against very effective Republican operations as well as a well-funded, underground misinformation campaign that effectively reached Spanish-speaking voters on WhatsApp and Facebook. Democrats were slow to recognize it and snuff it out.

I think Democrats also have to reconcile with the fact many Latino voters are politically more conservative. They are more likely to be Catholic or Evangelical than the general population. They have also responded well to Republican messaging on the economy and small businesses. Highlighting Trump’s problematic characterizations of Mexicans and his draconian immigration policies can only get you so far.

11:43 p.m.

The New York Times' Nate Cohn is now saying Biden may not be totally finished in Georgia or North Carolina…

The midwest is a total mystery but these past few minutes have come with some better news for Biden.

11:39 p.m.

Steve Contorno: Dueling statements out from the proponents and opponents of Amendment 2, the minimum wage hike, with both assuming passage (it’s at 60.78 percent right now).

From Mark Wilson, President and CEO, of the Florida Chamber of Commerce: “Amendment 2 is bad for Florida and even worse for Floridians. In these difficult times, this costly amendment hurts the very local businesses trying to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.”

And from Gail Rogers, a 60-year-old McDonald’s worker in Tampa and Florida for $15 leader who is currently paid $9.50 per hour: “Our nationwide movement of fast-food workers brought the fight for $15 to the South and won. Since 2012, Florida fast-food workers have gone on strike more than twenty times to demand higher wages and union rights for all working Floridians. Our efforts were worth it as Florida today became the eighth state to pass a $15 minimum wage. Because of the worker power we built, 2.5 million Floridians will get a raise. It’s time for corporations like McDonald’s and our national leaders to take note and finally bring wages to at least $15/hr for every worker across the country.”

11:32 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: Wow. Arizona to Biden, per Fox News.

But a Trump campaign advisor is pushing back!

11:30 p.m.

John Romano: Hello, Florida Man? Meet Pennsylvania Man. There’s a chance this election could drag on for a while, and this time it won’t be our fault. Pennsylvania election workers were not allowed to open mail ballots until this morning. That means they had to simultaneously handle in-person voting on Election Day while trying to sort through hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots.

Here’s how the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette explained it:

"Election workers can’t legally start pre-canvassing mail ballots - opening the envelopes, extracting the ballots, and placing them in a tabulation scanner - until 7 a.m. on Nov. 3. But nothing requires them to begin counting them that day, either.

Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar said Friday she would be ‘having a conversation’ with those counties, but ultimately they will have the final call.

‘The outcome of Tuesday’s election could well depend on Pennsylvania,’ she said. ‘It is vitally important that the more than 3 million ballots cast by mail here be counted on as soon as possible. The country will be looking to Pennsylvania for accurate and timely results.’

11:25 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: It’s worth noting that part of the Democrats' big strategy in Florida this cycle was to field a candidate in every state House District and Senate District race. I spoke with Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo earlier this summer, and she said having a candidate in every race could have a reverse coattails effect, in which down ballot candidates provide support to the top of the ticket.

That super didn’t happen in Florida in 2020! Biden got destroyed (by Florida standards) and Democrats lost five seats in the state House. They may lose ground in the state Senate too.

11:17 p.m.

Steve Contorno: Can we talk about turnout fallacy that it’s always good for Democrats?

Kirby Wilson: I think the last two elections show that a high turnout lifts all boats. Rick Scott won low turnout affairs in 2010 and 2014, seducing Democrats into thinking the only voters who stayed home were theirs. The skyscraping turnout numbers of 2016, 2018 and now 2020 have laid all of that talk to rest.

11:09 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: Steve, this tweet by former Florida GOP Chair Blaise Ingoglia got me thinking: what’s a better outcome for Gov. Ron DeSantis? Trump winning or Biden winning?

Steve Contorno: If Trump lost Florida, it would’ve put a big cloud over DeSantis' future ambitions. As I alluded to earlier, Trump made some jokes that he would break things off with DeSantis if he lost, and I think he was only half kidding. Don’t forget, Trump made DeSantis, and he can take it away with a tweet. DeSantis is now very popular among Trump’s base, but he didn’t have a strong network of support here.

Before COVID-19 hit, when DeSantis was still a governing as a populist with some bipartisan support, there was probably a case that there were fewer roadblocks in his future if Trump suddenly went away. A Trump loss probably dimmed the political futures of Trump’s children and former Vice President Mike Pence. DeSantis had put enough distance between himself and Trump to avoid being tainted. But since coronavirus hit, DeSantis has become a more polarizing figure in Florida and he has closely mimicked Trump’s response to the virus.

KW: DeSantis did a hit on One American News Network today, which is so pro-Trump I bet it makes Trump uncomfortable sometimes.

SC: Right, and DeSantis is on Fox News all the time which he avoided during his first year in office. This cycle, he was at all of Trump’s closing rallies after shunning the president at times in 2019. It will be hard for DeSantis to go back to leading as anything other than a Trump-aligned Republican. So the governor’s presidential path in 2024 probably looks stronger if Trump proves he can hold his coalition in the Midwest and these other swing states.

10:58 p.m.

Steve Contorno: Trump’s Florida field general, Susie Wiles weighs in on Twitter.

Wiles has now successfully guided Republicans to victory in four consecutive statewide races — Rick Scott’s 2014 governor’s race, the 2016 Trump campaign, DeSantis' narrow win two years ago, and Trump’s re-election.

At one point, Wiles, the daughter of New York Giants kicker and broadcast legend Pat Summerall, was booted from his re-election team here after a very public falling out with DeSantis. However, when Trump’s poll numbers turned in the wrong direction earlier this year, he brought Wiles back into the fold and forced DeSantis to check his ego.

10:47 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: It wouldn’t be an Election Day in Florida without a recount. And it looks like we’re headed for a recount in the Miami-Dade state Senate District 37, in which incumbent Democrat Jose Javier-Rodriguez is down by just over 100 votes to Republican Ileana Garcia.

10:40 p.m.

John Romano: While you’re still waiting for the final call on Florida, consider this: Measuring by recent standards, it doesn’t look like Biden was even competitive in the Sunshine State. He’s on pace to finish 3.49 points behind Trump, which is the biggest margin in a presidential election in Florida since incumbent George W. Bush beat John Kerry by 5 points in 2004.

Hillary Clinton came within 1.2 points of beating Trump in the last election and Mitt Romney was only 0.9 points behind incumbent Barack Obama in 2012. The Biden campaign claimed Florida was not a must-win state, but spent a ton of money on TV advertising.

Steve Contorno: It was the most expensive ad race in the country. Tampa, Orlando and Miami media markets consistently ranked in the top 10 most expensive and had more ads than almost anywhere in the country.

10:34 p.m.

Steve Contorno: In 2018, Democrats narrowly lost the governor’s race but could at least claim the Blue Wave splashed in a handful of places. The aren’t many of those tonight for Democrats. They lost the Seminole County state Senate seat, they haven’t made the House pickups some projected, they lost a Sarasota House seat they won in a special election just two years ago. It’s hard to do well in swing districts when the top of ticket goes to the other team by 300,000.

Kirby Wilson: I mean, the Democratic candidate won in the race for Miami-Dade mayor.

SC: And they took a 5-2lead on the Hillsborough County commission. Is that all the good news tonight for them?

KW: There’s the progressive minimum wage amendment that none of the party infrastructure supported!

SC: And that’s hanging on by a thread. One precinct could shift that.

KW: Speaking of, let’s say Amendment 2 passes. Do you think Republicans in the Legislature will try to gut it the way they gutted 2018′s Amendment 4, which allowed felons to register to vote in Florida, or 2016′s medical marijuana amendment?

SC: There’s a lot less that’s ambiguous about this amendment than Amendment 4 and the medical marijuana amendment, both of which required bureaucratic implementation to fully realize. This is more cut and dry. The Amendment language is clear. But nothing surprises me these days.

KW: Except a competent Florida Democratic Party. That would surprise one of these cycles.

10:14 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: The nation turns its eyes to Pennsylvania:

10:04 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: Gov. Ron DeSantis says the media’s refusal to call Florida for Trump is indicative of bias. (The Tampa Bay Times is not making a call in this or any other race.)

9:59 p.m.

John Romano: An anonymous Biden aide in the Washington Post tries to downplay the serious drop in support in Miami-Dade: “There are not places in other states that look like Miami-Dade. And we have seen throughout this campaign that other Latino voters don’t vote like Cuban-Americans.”

9:55 p.m.

John Romano: Hillsborough County is now reporting 390 of 390 precincts counted. Biden wins by 6.5 points at 52.6-45.9. In real numbers, he finishes 47,688 votes ahead of Trump. Four years ago, Clinton was ahead by 41,096. That’s practically a wash in terms of percentages. Once again, Biden needed a bigger margin of victory in a predominantly blue market.

Steve Contorno: The Trump campaign put a lot of emphasis on Hillsborough County. They brought the county GOP chair to the White House numerous times for strategy sessions. Trump spent a lot of time along the I-4 corridor. Biden’s only rally in Tampa came last week. The Democratic machine there turned out for their local candidates (Harry Cohen and Pat Kemp won to make the commission 5-2 in their favor when it was 5-2 Republican just a few years ago). And on paper did they did what they needed to do for Biden, but it’s not yet a place where Democrats are running up the score.

9:49 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: A progressive state rep. calls for changes to the Florida Democratic Party:

9:44 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: Amendment 2 check! (The $15 minimum wage amendment.)

9:35 p.m.

Steve Contorno: Our in-house poll watcher and data journalist Langston Taylor weighs in on the miscalculation in polling in Florida this year.

Kirby Wilson: Florida is different from other states. But if Trump outperforms his polls by five point across the board, Republicans could have a great night.

9:28 p.m.

Steve Contorno: The networks and AP still haven’t called Florida for Trump, but he’s up by 364,000 votes. Which is good news if you’re Gov. Ron DeSantis and state GOP chairman Joe Gruters, who Trump jokingly threatened to fire at recent campaign rallies in Florida.

Here’s Trump on Thursday in Tampa talking about Gruters: “He’ll be out of there so fast if we don’t win this election. He’ll be gone.”

And his feelings about DeSantis last month in The Villages: “If we don’t win, I’ll never speak to him again.”

9:25 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: This is reporting from the Times' Lawrence Mower, who’s my colleague in our Tallahassee bureau:

Florida’s top elections official declared the state’s turnout today “smooth and successful” and thanked Floridians for showing “respect and courtesy” at the polls.

No, seriously.

Just 30 minutes after the state’s Panhandle polls closed, Secretary of State Laurel Lee said there were hardly any issues across the state’s more than 6,000 polling sites today despite medium to heavy turnout for in-person voting.

“It has been a smooth and successful general Election Day here in Florida,” Lee said.

Despite fears of intimidation at the polls, long lines and other mayhem, Lee said Floridians set an “example” for the rest of the country today.

“Florida voters followed the law and treated one another with respect and courtesy at the polls,” Lee said.

And she urged that trend to continue Wednesday.

“Remember the respect and courtesy you showed to one another today, and let’s show it again tomorrow,” she added.

She said the state’s elections systems experienced cyber-related “attacks” like it does every day, but that none were successful on Tuesday. She would not say how many attacks were attempted.

9:20 p.m.

John Romano: The analytics site had Trump with a 10 percent chance of winning the election this afternoon. A victory in Florida would increase Trump’s chances of winning the election to 33 percent, according to the website’s models.

9:15 p.m.

Steve Contorno: Another Congressional race update: For as much as Democrats thought they could flip District 15 in Central Florida, their candidate, Alan Cohn, didn’t even win the bluest part of the district in Hillsborough. Without the embattled incumbent Ross Spano on the ticket, this seat just got so much harder for Democrats to win. Republican Scott Franklin looks likely to replace Spano in D.C.

Kirby Wilson: Similarly, incumbent Republican Vern Buchanan handled Democratic challenger Margaret Good in what Democrats hoped could be a pickup opportunity in District 16. Buchanan won by double digits this time around.

9:10 p.m. Some context from the New York Times' Nate Cohn. We may be in a bit of a “wait-and-see pattern” nationally:

9:05 p.m.

Steve Contorno: Just to put a bow on the Pinellas County conversation as 14 more states close polling: 65,000 more people voted in Pinellas this year than in 2016. Yet, the shift was only about 6,500 people in favor of Biden and Democrats. That means either Trump converted a lot of non-voters into Republican voters here and/or the people moving here are basically cancelling each other out almost one-for-one. It seems like that is happening statewide in Florida. For as fast as it is growing in ways that would seem to benefit Democrats, Republicans are finding or importing just as many older, white people to offset them.

8:59 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: Former Gov. and current U.S. Sen. Rick Scott calls Florida for Trump.

8:54 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: Steve, you hinted at this earlier, but Amendment 2 passing is looking like a real possibility. How does that square with the great night Republicans are having in Florida? (Most, if not all, high profile state Republicans, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, were against the amendment.)

Steve Contorno: Minimum wage amendments are incredibly popular. They are 23-0 across the country since 1996. Its success (or near success) tonight is another example of one-party Republican rule in Florida not necessarily reflecting the opinions of a divided state with a lot of independent voters — just like when Republicans were against medical marijuana and against expanding voting rights to felons and against Florida Forever. It also casts a harsh light on a questionable decision on the part of Democrats to not embrace a politically popular idea.

8:39 p.m.

Steve Contorno: Uh-oh. Tech issues in Osceola County:

Kirby Wilson: We have our first WTF, Florida moment of the night!

8:37 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: It’s looking like an absolute bloodbath for Democrats in south Florida tonight up and down the ballot.

Two incumbent Democratic Congresswomen who were thought to be favored in their races — Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala — are narrowly trailing their Republican challengers. Democratic state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez is up by just 1 percent in a district thought to be fairly well in hand — although Republicans had spent some money there. And Javier Fernandez, who was thought to be running in a potential pickup state Senate district, is losing by double digits.

8:28 p.m.

John Romano: It’s over in Pinellas County. Biden barely hangs on to win 49.46-49.22. That’s 1,300 votes out of more than 556,000 cast. Trump won Pinellas by 6,000 votes in 2016, so that’s a victory for Biden in name only. He needed a much larger margin of victory to offset losses elsewhere.

8:26 p.m.

Steve Contorno: Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is declared the winner in that Pinellas-based district over Repubnlican Anna Paulina Luna. Not a surprise. The margin is less than 7 points, though — much closer than his race against George Buck two years ago.

Related: Florida's 13th District: Crist takes early lead over Luna

I’m really interested in what’s next for Luna. She received a lot of love from the Trump crowd. This is a good profile of her.

8:20 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: Here’s a Constitutional amendments update, with some 9.5 million votes reported. (That’s about 90 percent of the vote.)

Amendment 1, which puts in the Constitution that you have to be a citizen in order to vote — this is already in state law — looks to be passing with flying colors. Nearly 80 percent of voters are for it so far.

Amendment 2, the all-important $15 minimum wage amendment, is narrowly on track to pass, with 61.35 percent of voters in support of it so far.

Amendment 3, which would create open primaries in state and Legislative elections, is on track to narrowly fail. Just about 57 percent of voters have said their for it so far.

Amendment 4, which would make it more difficult to amend the Florida Constitution, is failing badly. Amendments 5 and 6, which are non-controversial changes to certain local tax exemptions, are passing easily.

Amendments need 60 percent of the vote to pass.

8:16 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: Florida reliably votes for Republicans in statewide races — if by thin margins. It picks Republican presidential candidates (not named Barack Obama.) Republicans have run the state Legislature and served in the governor’s mansion essentially this entire century. Even as the Republican Party drifts rightward, the voters of the state seem to be following it.

Steve, John, is it fair to call Florida a purple state anymore?

Steve Contorno: The make up of the state suggests yes. It’s still a 50-50 state in terms of registered voters. But where there’s inequity is in the capability of the two parties here. Republicans know how to win Florida. Democrats every two years claim to have the secret formula but continue to come up empty. This year, they were focused on trying to outperform 2016 results and rebuild the 2012 coalition that led Obama to victory. But they were not running against Mitt Romney. Donald Trump is a very different candidate with a much more enthusiastic base. Matching 2012 was likely not going to get it done.

John Romano: Compared to the rest of America? Oh, heck yes. Even if Florida has been reliably Republican in recent years, the state is still in play for national elections. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t have seen Obama hanging out here so much. The NPA portion of the electorate makes it interesting and challenging to predict. It’s a little harder to reconcile how Florida has swung so far to the right in state elections, but I would blame that more on an inept Democratic party rather than the voters.

8:05 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: Quietly, by the way, Biden’s margin in Pinellas is down to just about 2,500 votes with about 97% of precincts reporting. He might just barely carry the county — a Pyrrhic victory in Florida if there ever was one.

8:03 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: Also in non-presidential news, things are not going great for Democrats down the ballot either! State Democrats hoped to pick up two state seats in that legislative chamber, and in the process, narrow their minority to the razor-thin margin of 19 Democrats and 21 Republicans. But their candidate in one of the key pickup opportunities, Javier Fernandez of Senate District 39, just conceded.

8:00 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: Here comes the Panhandle!

7:59 p.m.

John Romano: If Biden manages to win Florida – and that’s still very much in doubt – he can probably thank the increased turnout. Just in the I-4 corridor counties of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Orange and Duval, there have already been 260,000 more votes cast than in 2016. And more are still being counted.

7:55 p.m.

Steve Contorno: Biden is up only 57,000 votes and voting in the Panhandle is about to close at 8 p.m. Those will be mostly Trump votes. The farther north you go in Florida, the further South you are.

7:50 p.m.

Steve Contorno: In non-presidential race news, Amendment 2 is right now past the threshold for it to pass at 62.7. This is the amendment to increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2016.

Whether or not it passes, it’s going to perform better than Biden or Trump. Yet, Democrats did not embrace it. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried didn’t say if she would vote for it. I talked to quite a few people who said the minimum wage increase was their most effective tool for registering voters in Black communities. Missed opportunity?

7:47 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: So for Democrats who might be freaking out, that makes sense. Florida is a huge deal, and Biden is not looking good there.

However, Florida’s demographics are unique. For four years, President Trump has tailored his foreign policy strategy in Latin-America almost exclusively around winning the Venezuelan-American and Cuban-American vote in South Florida. The anti-socialism message of his campaign clearly struck a chord with Latino and Latina voters who have had traumatic personal experiences with authoritarian socialist regimes.

The upside for Democrats: There aren’t very many Cuban voters in Pennsylvania.

Steve Contorno: If the Miami results hold, what did the $100 million Michael Bloomberg spent in Florida even do?

Kirby Wilson: It’s already looking like another long two years of soul searching for Florida Democrats, who haven’t won a presidential race in the state with a candidate not named Barack Obama this century.

7:42 p.m.

Steve Contorno: Updated results out of Hillsborough County. Biden’s lead is now about 53,000 with only a little more than half of the precincts reporting. Again, Clinton won there by 40,000. Anything equal to or less than that would be a loss for Biden. Many of the outstanding precincts are in the fast-growing East Hillsborough communities outside Tampa that are hard to figure out politically. They are trending Democrat but they swing. These are not Tampa Democrats.

7:40 p.m.

Steve Contorno: DUUUUUVAL

7:36 p.m.

John Romano: Biden is under-performing in south Florida, but is doing surprisingly well in Duval County. He’s already got 247,000 votes in the Jacksonville area. Clinton got 205,000 total in 2016. Right now, Biden has a 51.4-47.0 lead on Trump in Duval. Trump won this county by a small margin in ’16.

7:34 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: It’s a bipartisan consensus: Miami-Dade is not delivering enough votes to Joe Biden.

GOP U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz:

7:31 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: Democratic strategist and mapmaker extraordinaire Matthew Isbell says he’d be “shocked” if Biden wins Florida given what we’ve seen so far.

7:28 p.m.

John Romano: Wow. Early returns in Miami-Dade do not look good for Biden. He leads Trump by nine points, but Hillary Clinton won that county by nearly 30 points in 2016. That’s about 1 million votes cast out of 1.5 million registered voters.

Steve Contorno: I think that’s probably why the New York Times election needle (NO NOT THE NEEDLE) is giving Trump a 91 percent chance of winning Florida at this point.

Trump has made incredible gains in the Cuban communities down there. Biden tried to blunt that late in the race with visits from President Barack Obama. Too little, too late?

Kirby Wilson: This is the story of the night so far. And we should note, Gov. Ron DeSantis, a close Trump ally, called this. He said earlier today that Trump had made enough inroads into the Hispanic community in Miami-Dade to flip the state.

7:25 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: Steve, the race in Pinellas is tightening. Some 64 percent voted in one form or another before Election Day. Did enough voters vote on Election Day to make up Biden’s early margin? It’s going to be close.

Steve Contorno: It’s a county Trump won in 2016, but only by 5,000 votes. Andrew Gillum won the county two years ago. Anything close is probably a win for Trump.

7:20 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: Sumter County check! Biden’s potentially promising numbers in the home of The Villages are holding strong. (I.e., he’s getting shellacked by less than expected.)

7:19 p.m.

Steve Contorno: Great point here by Politico’s Marc Caputo on the history of voting in Florida that really demonstrates how NPA’s are becoming the demominating force in elections here. A candidate could potentially win the state without, perhaps, being in the party that cast the most ballots.

7:18 p.m.

John Romano: Between Hillsborough and Pinellas, Biden is already up by more than 100,000 votes out of a little more than 1 million cast. That’s more than 60 percent of the registered voters in the two counties.

7:13 p.m.

Steve Contorno: Very strong performance for Joe Biden in Hillsborough County, a one-time swing county that looks more and more like a blue county going forward. He’s up 55 to 43.5 — 70,000 votes. That’s a lot of votes to make up with Election Day turnout. Clinton won it by 40,000 four years ago.

7:11 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: Pinellas County results are back, and they’re also looking good for Biden. He’s up in the crucial bellwether county by some 37,000 votes. But again, and forgive me for sounding like a broken record, will it be good enough?

Steve Contorno: Interesting that U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is outperforming Biden in his Pinellas County district by about 3 points. Crist is a Democrat running against conservative firebrand Anna Paulina Luna.

7:09 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: Sumter County’s early vote is back, and it looks decent for Biden. He’s won some 33 percent of the vote so far in that traditionally conservative, older-skewing county. If those results hold — a big if — that would be a three point improvement from Clinton’s margin in that county in 2016, and it could be indicative of a better performance among the critical elderly voter demographic for Biden.

7:07 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: We have some early vote and vote-by-mail results in from Pasco County. In 2016, Trump won that county by 21 points. With 60 percent of the total turnout back, Trump leads there by about 12 points. Steve, what do you make of that?

Steve Contorno: I think Pasco is going to be a fascinating county to watch, perhaps the next frontier for Democrats if the influx of people to the area continues to trend blue. It’s not a place Democrats will win this year, but will narrow from 2016? We know early voter tends to be favorable for Democrats, but if Trump loses ground there, that’s a sign repeating a win in the crucial I-4 corridor will be difficult.

7:00 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: It begins!


Kirby Wilson: Some programming note: I don’t think it will be responsible to discuss the ins and outs of exit polls, for reasons people smarter than me have articulated elsewhere:

Also, even though polls will close at 7 p.m. in parts of Florida, the state Division of Elections will not begin reporting results until 8 p.m., when we get results from the Panhandle counties in the central time zone.

6:53 p.m.

Steve Contorno: I’m hanging on the every tweet of Florida Times-Union reporter Andrew Pantazi, who has been breaking down turnout between Democrats and Republicans there all night. Is this the year Jacksonville goes blue?

6:52 p.m.

Steve Contorno: I’m watching ABC World News Tonight and the entire broadcast is focused on two states: Florida and Pennsylvania.

6:50 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: At the risk of stating the extremely obvious, Florida will be close; we won’t know the winner until all the votes are counted.

However, there are some counties that will give us an idea of how the state might lean as soon as they release their mail-in vote totals. Here are three counties to keep an eye on as soon as the awaited 7 p.m. hour strikes.

Sumter County

For the past two cycles, Democrats have gotten crushed in Sumter, the overwhelmingly elderly county that’s home to The Villages. Hillary Clinton and Andrew Gillum each lost the county by about 40 points in 2016 and 2018, respectively.

Biden doesn’t necessarily need to reverse that trend, but the Democrat’s fate in Florida could rest on his ability to make inroads with elderly voters.

We should know the vote by mail and early voting results in Sumter shortly after 7 p.m. If the county, which voted overwhelmingly by mail, doesn’t look as favorable for Republicans as it has in years past soon after polls close, that could tell us a lot about the state.

Pinellas County

Pinellas is one of just four Florida counties to have voted for Barack Obama in 2008, Obama again in 2012 and then Trump in 2016. Going into Election Day, Pinellas had reported about a 64 percent turnout in the early vote and mail-in ballots alone.

When those votes — which will be the lionshare of the total vote — are posted around 7 p.m., Democrats should have a lead. If it’s a big enough lead, it provide a hint about which way the swingiest county in perhaps America’s swingiest state is leaning.

Hillsborough County

Hillary Clinton won Hillsborough by about seven points in 2016. Andrew Gillum won it by about nine points in 2018. If Democrats can keep turning what used to be a swing county into a party stronghold, it could help offset some of Biden’s expected losses elsewhere relative to Clinton. (For instance, Biden is not expected to do as well as the former secretary of state in Miami-Dade.)

Hillsborough had about a 64.7 percent voter turnout outside of Election Day as of this afternoon. We’ll see those votes counted almost immediately, and it will be a rush of blue. How big a rush could mean a lot.

6:41 p.m.

John Romano: Even before we have actual results, we should applaud the electorate. More than 100 million Americans voted early, which obviously shatters the record of 47 million from 2016. Naturally, a lot of that is due to the pandemic and the push for mail-in ballots. But it also appears a higher percentage of citizens are engaged in this election. Perhaps more than we’ve seen in a century.

If another 47 million voters head to the polls today, the rate of eligible voters participating will exceed 63 percent. The U.S. hasn’t seen numbers like that since the days of 1960s activism and the Vietnam War. If we get 51 million voters today (65 percent), it will be the highest percentage of voters since William Howard Taft defeated William Jennings Bryan in 1908.

More than a half-dozen states have already surpassed or are approaching their total number of votes from 2016 before they even reached Election Day. Interestingly, the states seem to lean more red (Wisconsin, Texas, Montana, North Carolina and Georgia) than blue (Washington, Nevada and Oregon) from 2016 results.

6:30 p.m.

Kirby Wilson: Greetings from The Most Important Election Of Our Lives! We’re coming to you from around the state of Florida: I am in Tallahassee, and Steve Contorno and John Romano are in St. Petersburg. But tonight, more than anything else, we’re all one nation, indivisible, extremely online.

Steve, I wanted to start this blog by asking you to give us a brief overview of Florida’s importance to the overall presidential race — and what it means if we can’t declare a presidential winner tonight.

Steve Contorno: There’s a reason why Republicans fight so hard to win Florida. As history has shown again and again, it’s crucial to their path to 270. Without Florida and its 29 Electoral College votes, Trump must run the table in all the states he won in 2016, an unlikely but not impossible task. If Trump loses Florida and any one of the Midwest states he won in 2016 — Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan — it’s over for him.

Biden, meanwhile, doesn’t need Florida to capture the White House, but it becomes more difficult for him if he loses the state. Focus would shift to the Rust Belt, where the so-called Blue Wall collapsed four years ago, and to Arizona, a state Democrats have not won since 1996. We have seen Biden make a late push for Texas and Georgia, too.

Because Florida is so important to Trump, a win for Biden here tonight could render moot any troubles counting votes in other swing states like Pennsylvania. That is why Michael Bloomberg injected $100 million here. That said, and this necessitates an all caps response, PRESIDENTIAL WINNERS ARE ALMOST NEVER DECLARED ON ELECTION NIGHT.

Technically, we have never had a winner decided on Election Night because states have weeks to finalize their tallies. But even from a practical standpoint, most of the elections in recent memory have taken until at least the following morning for independent news agencies to determine a presumptive winner, including Trump’s 2016 victory.

KW: Oh, also, don’t expect Florida results until 8 p.m., because there are a couple Panhandle counties in the central time zone.

SC: But we may have a sense of where this headed soon after because election offices have been counting early and mail-in ballots for weeks. If Florida is recount-level close, then we might have to wait a while. But if either candidate is heading toward a win of 1 point or more, I think we may get that picture early.

KW: Steve, do you have a sense of what the campaigns feel going into tonight?

SC: I felt a big sigh of relief from Democrats after the last weekend of early voting, when they made a big turnout push for voters of color. They entered today with their voters turning in 114,889 more ballots than Republicans. Crossing that six-figure threshold was important to them. I also heard some positive responses to the turnout they were seeing in Broward and Hillsborough counties so far.

Republicans, meanwhile, were looking at lower turnout in Black precincts in Duval and Miami-Dade counties as a likely win for them, and they remain bullish that more of their voters will show up to vote on Election Day, because that’s usually the case.

Also, there’s this:

Tampa Bay Times elections coverage

FLORIDA’S ELECTION NIGHT — AND BEYOND: Here’s what you need to know.

DECLARING WINNERS: How the Associated Press makes election calls, a Q&A

WHAT TO WATCH: What’s on TV for election night, from news to comedian commentators

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