President Donald Trump will kick off his 2020 presidential campaign Tuesday in Florida, a swing state that 20 Democratic presidential hopefuls will head to, days later, for the launch of the party’s high-stakes national debates.
Trump’s choice to use Orlando as the backdrop for his 2020 launch — far from the gilded Trump Tower lobby that served as the springboard for his 2016 run — and the Democratic National Committee’s decision to begin its highly anticipated series of debates in Miami on June 26-27, underscore how key both parties view Floridato their 2020 victory strategy.
“The road to the White House almost inevitably now includes Florida,” said J. Edwin Benton, a political science professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa. “Very rarely has a candidate won the presidency without Florida.”
Since 1948, only two presidential candidates — John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Bill Clinton in 1992 — have won the presidency without winning the popular vote in Florida, said Benton. Trump narrowly defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton there, by 1.2 percentage points, but Democrats say they are looking to build on the results of the 2018 midterm election that saw the GOP candidates for governor and U.S. Senate win by a less than 1 percent margin.
“History is on the side of the candidate that can win Florida and its 29 Electoral College votes, and Donald Trump and every Democrat and Republican knows it,” Benton said.
Trump, backed by the perks of incumbency and a nearly two-year fundraising head start over the wide field of Democratic challengers, will declare his re-election bid from the stage of Orlando’s Amway Center, a nearly 20,000-seat sports arena situated just off Interstate 4.
The I-4 corridor, which stretches across Central Florida from Tampa in the west to Daytona Beach in the east, is regarded as must-win territory for all presidential hopefuls, said Aubrey Jewett, professor of political science at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
“It’s the most important swing region in the most important swing state,” said Jewett. “South Florida is more heavily Democratic and North Florida is more heavily Republican, and so Central Florida is the swing area. It’s very competitive here … symbolically, to hold the event here suggests the Trump campaign knows that.”
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, speaking to reporters after an Orlando-area Republican Party event last month, noted the importance of the I-4 region and of Florida as a whole.
“Obviously this part of the state has such an important factor into what we do for 2020 to win the state and it’s why we have so many rallies on this corridor from Tampa to Orlando and on both sides,” Parscale said, according to The Tampa Bay Times.
Parscale added: “We’re still going to have to fight in Arizona [and] Florida, and we’re going to have to fight in North Carolina [and] Pennsylvania.”
An internal Trump campaign poll conducted in March found former Vice President Joe Biden defeating Trump by 7 percentage points among polled Florida voters, according to a copy of the poll obtained by ABC News. The internal poll, coupled with other recent public polls that show Trump trailing Biden in other swing states including Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, adds to the pressure on the Trump campaign to shore up support in Florida early, said Benton.
“Early favorability polling shows that Trump could be in trouble in those three states ... Even with or without those states he desperately needs to win Florida for the 29 electoral votes ... Without Florida it means he would have to pick up two or three states that would make up for that loss,” Benton said.
Not far from where Trump will hold his campaign rally, Florida Democratic Party leaders gathered recently for their annual state conference in Orlando, where Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez told eventgoers the national party planned to redouble its efforts in Florida, heading in 2020.
“Some reporter asked me the other day when I was up in Tallahassee, ‘Are you going to give up on Florida because you lost in 2016?’ ” Perez said. “I told him, ‘Hell, no!’ We are redoubling our efforts in Florida. And what we are doing, and how we are doing it, is how we will win.”
Florida Democrats are looking to close the razor-thin victory gap that favored Republican candidates for governor and Senate in the midterm elections, by boosting voter registration efforts. A party strategist, speaking at the state party’s summer conference, said the party needs to register at least 500,000 new Democrats leading up to 2020 to close the gap, according to The Associated Press.