Election 2020 Politics

Biden visits Florida as Democrats worry about his standing in the state

In criticizing Trump, Biden referred to his late son Beau Biden, who served in Iraq and died of cancer in 2015.

“He’s gone now — but he was no sucker,” Biden said.

Biden also attended a Hispanic Heritage Month event in Kissimmee and sat down for an interview with Jose Diaz-Balart of Telemundo, his first one-on-one session with a national Spanish-language network since clinching the nomination. This comes amid increasingly vocal criticism from Latino leaders that the Biden campaign’s outreach to their community has been lackluster, which they say could potentially cost him badly on Election Day.

In meeting with veterans, Biden was highlighting an area where he has been able to siphon support from Trump, in part because many elderly voters are unhappy with the president’s handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic. In addressing Latinos, in contrast, Biden was trying to stem Trump’s gains among a traditionally Democratic group.

Biden is favored to win the Latino vote — in Florida and nationally — but some recent polls show his margins lagging behind Hillary Clinton’s support from Latinos in 2016, and speaking to reporters Tuesday, he acknowledged that he has work to do.

“Look, what I have to do is make the case why it will be so much better for the Hispanic community, the Latino community, if in fact Trump is no longer president,” he said. That case, he added, includes “education, health care, immigration, the whole notion of dealing with covid in a way that doesn’t so damage the Hispanic community, which is hurt very badly, much worse than the Caucasian community.”

He suggested that Trump is doing little to help pass legislation that could benefit Latino and other voters. “He should get off the damn golf course and sit down in the Oval Office and sit with both Republicans and Democrats and get something done,” Biden said.

Trump and his supporters argue that his presidency has been highly beneficial for Latinos, especially when in job creation, an assertion that sidesteps the pandemic’s significant economic impact on minority communities.

On Tuesday, Trump’s allies sought to make the case that Democrats pose as friends of Latinos but do little to help then. Former Puerto Rico attorney general Jose Fuentes accused Biden of viewing the Latino community as a “political prop.”

Regarding polls suggesting that Biden has ground to make up in the Latino community, activists and leaders cite several reasons. They note a lingering displeasure with Barack Obama’s deportation policies, a lack of detail in Biden’s own immigration plans, an inner circle that lacks a large number of Latinos, and a perception that Biden’s campaign has placed a priority on attracting White suburbanites and African Americans, rather than courting Latinos.

Biden’s campaign has defended his efforts, saying the former vice president is pursuing a diverse electoral coalition like the one that rallied behind Obama in 2008 and 2012. Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), has spoken or met several times with Latino groups.

On the bright side for Biden, he appears to be eating into Trump’s once dominant advantage among older voters, and on Tuesday he slammed Trump over his talk of a payroll tax cut, framing such a move as a danger to Social Security.

“It’s just absolutely foolish. What we should be is increasing Social Security for people,” Biden said in an interview with WFLA TV in Tampa.

In a state with many retirees, Biden’s strength with the group has put him in a position to win, and polls suggest Florida is now a toss-up. With 29 electoral votes, it is the largest true battleground, and Trump’s path to victory narrows considerably if Biden can capture it. Trump narrowly won the state in 2016.

Biden chose Central Florida for his first big Florida trip, a battleground area with a large Puerto Rican population. Puerto Rican voters have tended to favor Democrats, and Biden is wagering that he can continue that trend.

In contrast, Biden did not travel Tuesday to South Florida, where there are signs he is struggling with the Cuban American community.

Republicans have unleashed an onslaught of GOP attacks branding Democrats as socialists, and that appears to have had some effect despite Biden’s longtime political identity as a centrist.

Further roiling the political waters in Florida, former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg recently promised to spend $100 million to bolster Biden in the state. A significant amount of that will go toward Spanish-language advertising.

Ahead of his event in Kissimmee, where many residents of Puerto Rico moved after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, Biden’s campaign unveiled a plan to create a federal working group for Puerto Rico, which aides said would help with recovery efforts and economic advancement.

The plan calls for accelerating access to reconstruction funding, forgiving disaster relief loans to municipalities and bolstering local businesses.

It does not endorse statehood for Puerto Rico, however, stopping short of a change many Democrats have demanded. Puerto Rico will have statehood a referendum on its ballot in November.

Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.

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