April 20, 2024

Against all odds, Joe Biden’s campaign says it has a shot in Florida.

Donald Trump has won the state twice, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ near 20-point victory in 2022 seemed to solidify the state as a safe haven for Republicans. But Biden’s campaign says it has a pathway to victory there in November — built in large part on the state’s unique place in the abortion debate — and it plans to contrast the administration’s policies with what it’s calling the GOP’s “toxic political agenda” there.

“Make no mistake: Florida is not an easy state to win, but it is a winnable one for President Biden, especially given Trump’s weak, cash-strapped campaign, and serious vulnerabilities within his coalition,” Julie Chávez Rodríguez, Biden’s campaign manager, wrote in a memo shared first with NBC News.

Between DeSantis’ historically large re-election win in the 2022 midterms and the fact that Republicans have quickly amassed a more than 800,000-person voter registration lead over Democrats, Florida has lost its long-held moniker as “the nation’s largest swing state” and is no longer perceived as being a heavily contested battleground state.

Biden’s team, however, believes that abortion, among other issues, gives it the ability to be more competitive in the state. On Monday, the state’s high court approved a ballot measure that would allow abortion up to 24 weeks, when there is viability outside the womb, and said Florida’s current 15-week abortion ban is constitutional, which means that a newly passed six-week abortion ban can now be enacted.

The memo notes that “abortion rights will be front and center in Florida this election cycle.”

“This new, extreme abortion ban — one that Donald Trump personally paved the way for — will now amount to a ban for the entire Southeast,” read the memo regarding the six-week abortion ban now coming to Florida. “Women in need of reproductive care throughout the region now face a choice between putting their lives at risk or traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to get care.”

Democrats hope the abortion issue will help their candidates in Florida up and down the ballot. A University of North Florida poll in November found 62% of respondents said they would vote “yes” on the abortion ballot measure, which would need 60% approval for passage.

Last week, the Biden campaign rolled out its leadership team in the state, including Florida veterans Jasmine Burney Clark, Phillip Jerez and Jackie Lee. But top-level Trump aides also have significant Florida experience — most notably senior adviser Susie Wiles and James Blair, a longtime Trump aide who was recently made political director of the Republican National Committee.

Florida Republicans have grown increasingly confident as they control all aspects of political power in the state and their overwhelming voter registration advantage continues to grow.

“It seems the only thing consistent in the world these days is Democrats claiming they will somehow have a shot at winning Florida,” the state’s GOP chairman, Evan Power, said. “Floridians have rejected the radical left policies of Joe Biden. It’s why Republicans have gone from down 100,000 net voters to nearly a 900,000 advantage in just four years.”

“Rest assured, Florida will deliver a resounding victory for President Trump and our Republican team in November,” he added.

A Biden campaign spokesman would not break out a specific budget or the exact amount the campaign has spent to date in Florida, but it did include TV and digital ads focused on the state’s key Hispanic population as part of a $30 million battleground state ad buy earlier this year, and it says it has multiple pathways to winning re-election.

“That includes investing in Florida as a pathway to victory: a state where President Biden has a compelling story of results to tell,” wrote Chavez Rodriguez. 

The campaign plans to try to tether Trump to a series of policy measures enacted by DeSantis and Florida’s GOP-dominated Legislature in recent years, including the state’s abortion bans, a rewiring of the state’s education system — which made it easier for people to flag books in school libraries they want banned — and those that targeted the state’s LGBTQ communities.

Biden’s team wants to juxtapose those measures against things like Florida leading the nation in Affordable Care Act enrollment, and that the state received $15.6 billion from the president’s infrastructure bill to fund 581 projects.

Bolstering Biden’s efforts in a state that many see as not being in play is Democrat’s massive cash advantage over Trump and national Republican committees. At the start of March, Democrats had $155 million in the bank, compared with $42 million available to Trump’s operation.

It allows Biden to at least entertain the idea of trying to expand the map in Florida and force Republicans to potentially spend resources they do not have in the state.

“From a cruel and dangerous abortion ban and overt attacks on seniors to soaring costs caused by Republican politics, Donald Trump’s platform is uniquely unpopular with the voters who will decide this election in the Sunshine State,” Chávez Rodríguez wrote. “Our campaign is primed and ready to seize on the opportunity.”