WASHINGTON -- In dueling campaign rallies on Thursday, President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden did their best to energize and mobilize supporters to vote in key areas of must-win Florida.
Biden started the day with a socially distanced drive-in rally in Coconut Creek, outside Fort Lauderdale, and he was scheduled to hold a rally later in the day in Tampa.
Trump, meanwhile, began his trip to the Sunshine State in Tampa, with a packed rally for thousands of largely unmasked supporters that looked, for all intents and purposes, like a pre-coronavirus pandemic rally.
Polls show Trump and Biden running neck and neck in the state, with Biden leading by an average of 1.4 points, well within the margins of error for most polls.
Trump won Florida in 2016 by 1.2 points over Democrat Hillary Clinton, primarily on the strength of his performance among older voters and White voters.
This time around, however, Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic has cut deeply into his support among Florida's large population of retired voters, who have suffered disproportionately from serious and fatal cases of Covid-19.
Meanwhile, Biden's support appears to be lagging among Florida's Hispanic voters when compared with Clinton's margins in 2016. On a press call with reporters Thursday, a Biden campaign pollster said surveys of Hispanics often improperly weight the varied Latino communities, thereby skewing the results.
On Thursday morning, Biden announced that if he is elected president, he will create a federal task force "on day one" dedicated to reuniting the 545 children who were separated from their parents by immigration authorities at the southern border, and whose parents have yet to be located.
Speaking in Coconut Creek, Biden also appealed directly to two reliably Republican voting blocs, Cuban Americans and Venezuelan Americans, pledging that as president he will stand up to repressive regimes in Latin America.
"Cuba is no closer to freedom and democracy today than it was four years ago. In fact, there are more political prisoners and the secret police are as brutal as ever, and Russia once again is a major presence in Havana," he said.
Biden also attacked Trump directly, saying the president "can't advance democracy and human rights for the Cuban people, or the Venezuelan people, for that matter when he has embraced so many autocrats around the world."
But even Democrats acknowledge that Biden faces an uphill climb with these constituencies, which applauded Trump's reimposition of Cuba sanctions and his support for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.
While Biden was speaking on the eastern side of Florida, over on the Gulf side, Trump spoke for upward of 90 minutes in a Tampa parking lot, where thousands of MAGA-clad supporters cheered and booed and chanted slogans.
Trump's speech was very reminiscent of his 2016 rallies, only with different topics. There was his classic vitriol directed at the press, but also long riffs about his impeachment trial and tirades against China over the coronavirus and attacks on Biden.
Trump called for the prosecution of a former Department of Homeland Security staffer, Miles Taylor, who admitted Wednesday the he was behind an anonymous New York Times op-ed in 2018 that was unflattering to the president.
Many of the attendees at the rally had "Latinos for Trump" signs that the campaign had distributed, but Trump only spent a few minutes of the long rally appealing to Hispanic voters.
"Biden's agenda will devastate the Hispanic American community. He betrayed Hispanic Americans for 47 years. He has been very bad with Hispanic Americans, and what is happening with those polls, we have the highest numbers," Trump claimed. "We are now, according to the polls, the real polls, we are beating Democrats for the first time ever with Hispanic Americans. And I have always loved them. And I think they have always loved me."
Trump is not, in fact, leading Biden among Hispanic American voters nationwide or in Florida, according to major surveys. But he has made inroads on Clinton's high margins.
He also linked Biden to the far left of the Democratic Party, a rhetorical tactic to then try and tie Biden to the socialist regimes in Latin America.
"As long as I am president America will never be a socialist country, and I say it all the time," Trump said. "This election will decide whether our children will be condemned to the misery of socialism or whether they will inherit the glorious legacy of American freedom."
Biden has repeatedly responded to Trump's efforts to portray him as a pawn of the far left by reminding voters that Biden is the Democratic nominee precisely because he ran against, and defeated, candidates who were farther to the left than he in the Democratic presidential primary — most notably Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-identified "democratic socialist."