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Biden Appeals To Florida Latinos As Polls Show Trump Gaining

Recent polls show a close race in the state as former vice president seeks more support from voting bloc. Biden Appeals To Florida Latinos As Polls Show Trump Gaining

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is stepping up his outreach to Florida Latinos, a key voting bloc in a battleground state where polls show President Trump has made gains.

Mr. Biden was set to campaign Tuesday at a National Hispanic Heritage Month event near Orlando, making his first trip to Florida since securing the nomination. Mr. Trump won Florida by slightly more than 1 percentage point in 2016 and polls there show a close race this year.

“I am going to work like the devil to make sure I turn every Latino and Hispanic vote,” Mr. Biden said Monday. He was quick to point out that some surveys showed he had higher numbers than his opponent. But, he added, “they gotta go higher.”

Latinos make up about 20% of Florida’s electorate, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2016, exit polls showed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton beat Mr. Trump among that group by about 27 percentage points.

Last week, an NBC News/Marist poll showed Mr. Trump with a narrow edge over Mr. Biden among Latino voters in Florida, earning 50% of their support compared with 46% for Mr. Biden. An August survey of Latino voters by Equis Lab, a Democratic polling firm, found Mr. Biden with a 16-point lead over Mr. Trump among that group in the state, substantially less than Mrs. Clinton’s exit-poll advantage in 2016.

Several recent polls in Florida show Mr. Biden with a narrow overall lead, in part because he is appealing to more older voters than Mrs. Clinton did. President Obama won Florida twice with Mr. Biden as his running mate. Still, the former vice president’s campaign is taking steps to shore up his performance among Latino voters.

The Biden campaign recently hired more staff in Florida and unveiled several new Spanish-language ads over the weekend that hammer Mr. Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, campaigned in Miami last week and stopped at a Venezuelan restaurant in Doral, where she mingled with voters and ordered arepas to go.

“What we know, that the pollsters don’t appear to, is that Florida’s Hispanic community is incredibly diverse, and our robust, microtargeted outreach is working,” said Christian Ulvert, a strategic adviser for Mr. Biden’s Florida operation. “What we’re doing in Florida, and across the country, is giving Hispanic voters a reason to vote for Joe—from finally addressing the Covid-19 crisis that has disproportionately impacted Hispanic families, to his commitment to protecting Dreamers—and we’re doing it in Spanish and in English, on TV, radio, digital and in the mail, and through culturally targeted outreach that has already grown a large and vibrant Hispanics for Biden coalition.”

Cuban-Americans—who make up about a third of eligible Latino voters in Florida, according to a 2018 Pew analysis—have long been avid Republicans in Florida, drawn to a platform that has extolled capitalism and kept a hard line on the economic embargo. Mr. Trump has strengthened that support by reversing parts of an Obama-era thaw with Cuba, and the president has sought to widen that appeal with other Latino groups—including Venezuelan-Americans—with tough rhetoric and policies toward leaders in their native countries. Mr. Trump has for months sought to portray Democrats as socialists and a barrage of campaign ads portray Mr. Biden as beholden to the party’s increasingly influential liberal wing.

On Tuesday, the president is wrapping up a swing through Nevada and Arizona, where he is also focused on securing Latino support.

“Hispanic Americans embody the American dream and they are great businesspeople,” Mr. Trump said at a roundtable in Phoenix on Monday. “Hispanic Americans strengthen our nation beyond description, you protect our nation as brave members of the military and as members of law enforcement … you uplift the communities and promote our shared values of faith and family, community, hard work and patriotism.”

He also highlighted actions his administration has taken related to religious freedom, law enforcement and the economy.

“What’s clear is the Trump campaign has taken the Hispanic vote more seriously and has out-hustled the Biden campaign,” said Fernand Amandi, a Miami-based Democratic pollster. “Democrats continue to stubbornly think you can parachute into Florida weeks or months before an election and still be able to contend with the permanent Republican campaign machinery.”

Last week, a poll conducted by Mr. Amandi’s group and the Miami Herald showed Mr. Biden splitting Latino voters with Mr. Trump in Miami-Dade County, a Democratic stronghold that Mrs. Clinton carried by 30 points in 2016. According to the survey, Mr. Trump has narrowed his deficit among likely Miami-Dade voters to 17 points by increasing his lead among Cuban-Americans in the county to 38 points.

Latinos have been one of the groups hit hardest by the coronavirus, for both health and economic reasons, according to Pew and government data. But a Wall Street Journal poll in August found that 48% of Hispanic voters said Mr. Trump would be better on the economy, compared with 38% of Hispanic voters who said the same about Mr. Biden.

“President Trump has a record to run on,” said Mercedes Schlapp, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign and a Cuban-American from Miami. She said the campaign was also finding other ways to appeal to Hispanics in Florida, on topics including school choice and abortion.

Some Democrats are also concerned that they will struggle to turn out their supporters during the pandemic. While the party is emphasizing mail-in voting this year, a recent survey by the nonpartisan Voter Participation Center, which seeks to register new voters, found that nearly two-thirds of Latino voters prefer to vote in person.

“This election is going to be so different from anything we’ve ever seen,” said Julián Castro, who was the only Latino candidate in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary and served as Housing and Urban Development secretary under Mr. Obama. “The Latino community has less confidence in mail-in voting than other communities.…We have to make sure that we don’t leave any stone unturned.”

The Biden campaign has outspent the Trump campaign on TV advertising in Florida during this cycle to date, $42 million to $30 million, according to political ad tracker Kantar/CMAG. But the Trump campaign has about $16 million more television ad time reserved through Election Day than its counterpart, Kantar/CMAG data shows.

Mr. Biden’s campaign will receive a boost from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who on Sunday unveiled plans to spend at least $100 million in Florida to help the Democratic nominee. Mr. Bloomberg’s spending, which will be distributed through his super PAC Independence USA and other Democratic groups, will primarily go toward digital and television ads in both Spanish and English. A Bloomberg aide said communicating with Latino voters is a key part of the strategy.

A Biden campaign aide acknowledged Mr. Trump has solidified support among Cuban-Americans but said the team feels that can be made up by getting a larger share of other Latinos in the state, particularly in the Orlando area. Because of population growth in central Florida, Puerto Ricans now represent about a third of eligible Hispanic voters in Florida, according to the 2018 Pew analysis, roughly the same as Cubans.

“He ought to really run up the score,” said former Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who has urged the Biden campaign to put more focus on that vote. Mr. Nelson narrowly lost his 2018 re-election race in Florida to former Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who aggressively courted the Puerto Rican vote.

Mr. Trump’s response to Hurricane Maria, the 2017 storm that devastated Puerto Rico, remains a sore spot for many who relocated to Florida. Mr. Trump criticized Puerto Rico’s leaders as inept and sought to curb the U.S. territory’s access to federal funds, saying it hadn’t properly spent money that had already been received for hurricane recovery efforts.

He also accused Democrats of inflating the number of deaths from the hurricane. Researchers at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health estimated in August 2018 that there were 2,975 excess deaths in Puerto Rico from September 2017 through February 2018 stemming from the hurricane, a number that far surpassed the original official count.

Mr. Biden’s itinerary Tuesday includes a stop in the heavily Puerto Rican city of Kissimmee. A new radio ad from the Biden campaign invokes a chant that protesters have used in Puerto Rico and criticizes Mr. Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith said the challenge is to convince Puerto Ricans that their votes matter.

Turnout, he said, “is going to be absolutely critical. I’ve just been disappointed on election night in Florida so many times that I know better than to take any vote for granted. We’re doing everything we can.”

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