By WILL WEISSERT Associated Press
WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Joe Biden is making his first trip to Florida as the Democratic presidential nominee, while his campaign is acknowledging concerns about his appeal with Latinos, a voting bloc likely to prove pivotal against President Donald Trump in one of the nation’s fiercest battleground states.
On Tuesday, the former vice president will hold a roundtable with veterans in Tampa before marking Hispanic Heritage Month with an event in Kissimmee near Orlando. The visit comes as some Democrats worry that Biden’s standing among Hispanics is slipping in a state where they make up one-fifth of eligible voters.
“I will talk about how I am going to work like the devil to make sure I turn every Latino and Hispanic vote,” Biden said after a Monday speech on climate change in his home state of Delaware.
Biden doesn’t need to win Florida to capture the White House as long as he reclaims the upper Midwestern states that Trump flipped in 2016. But Trump’s path to reelection is virtually nonexistent if he loses Florida, which is why Democrats are focused on it.
A recent NBC-Marist poll found Latinos in the state about evenly divided between Biden and Trump.
Democrat Hillary Clinton led Trump by a 59% to 36% margin among Latinos in the same poll in 2016 — and Trump won Florida by about 1 percentage point.
Biden, who hasn’t been to Florida since last October, has struggles with Latinos that stem in part from the policies of the Obama administration. The former vice president said during the Democratic primary that he regretted the record-setting number of deportations when President Barack Obama was in the White House.
And, unlike his Democratic rival Bernie Sanders, who used strong support among Latinos to notch key primary victories in Nevada and California, Biden has refused to adopt the most liberal positions in his party — especially when it comes to calling for decriminalizing illegal crossings of the U.S.-Mexico border and halting all deportations.
As for Trump, despite many of his anti-immigration policies, some Latino voters have responded positively to the president’s embrace of religious conservative positions and his warnings of protest-related violence and socialism. Trump also frequently visits his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, and the president votes absentee in the state.
Biden said Monday that overall his ratings with Latinos were “much higher” than Trump’s, “but they gotta go higher.”
Carlos Odio, a co-founder of the Democratic polling firm Equis Labs, said that, like Obama in 2008, Biden didn’t need the Latino vote to win the primary. But the coronavirus has limited Biden’s ability to get out and actively court Hispanic voters in the way that Obama could for the general election.
That means Biden is “racing against the clock” to persuade Latinos to vote for him rather than simply being an alternative to all of Trump’s negatives, which isn’t a strong motivator for turnout, Odio said.
Trump, meanwhile, has maintained an aggressive Hispanic outreach program for more than a year. That has succeeded in attracting the support of some Hispanics, mostly men, who have been swayed by the president’s brand as a businessman — an image that has proved durable despite the economic fallout from the pandemic, Odio said.
Trump also has continued to enjoy support among ardent anti-communists, especially Cuban Americans. But Felice Gorordo, a Miami entrepreneur who serves on Biden’s national finance committee, argued that the president’s hard-line stance toward the island has hurt its people rather than its leaders.
Gorordo also said Trump has ignored the plight of Venezuelans, whose country remains on the brink of economic collapse, and instead has openly questioned the results of the upcoming U.S. election to mask his failed leadership.
“Trump’s rejection of our democratic values and processes comes right out of an authoritarian’s playbook,” Gorordo said on a press call Monday.
In a further effort to promote Biden, Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny and Mexican singer Alejandro Fernandez have recorded ads decrying Trump with songs in Spanish. Those are airing in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Florida, where Tampa and Orlando have large Puerto Rican communities.
Biden has repeatedly criticized Trump for the slow federal response in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated it in 2017. During Monday’s speech on climate change, it was no accident that Biden repeatedly mentioned Puerto Rico, noting that it also was damaged by Tropical Storm Laura last month.
“Our fellow Americans are still putting things back together from the last big storm,” he said, “as they face the next one.”