MIAMI — Democrats are sounding the alarm about weak voterturnout rates in Florida’s biggest county, Miami-Dade, where a strong Republican showing is endangering Joe Biden’s chances in the nation’s biggest swing state.
No Democrat can win Florida without a huge turnout and big winning margins here to offset losses elsewhere in the state. But Democrats are turning out at lower rates than Republicans and at lower rates than at this point in 2016, when Hillary Clinton won by 29 percentage points here and still lost the state to Donald Trump.
One particular area of concern is the relative share of ballots cast by young voters of color and less-reliable Democratic voters. Part of the problem, according to interviews with a dozen Democratic elected officials and operatives, is the Biden campaign‘s decision to discourage field staff from knocking on doors during the pandemic and its subsequent delay in greenlighting — and funding — a return to door-to-door canvassing.
Georgia’s 2018 election was Exhibit A of voter suppression. POLITICO’s Maya King reports on how fear of a repeat is fueling record turnout among Black voters, giving Democrats the opportunity to turn the Deep South battleground state blue.
“We did not get the kind of funding for different vendors who would do that type of work until late in the campaign,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson, a party institution who represents Miami’s heavily Black congressional district.
Wilson said the good news is that Biden’s running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, is working with her on a turnout event for this weekend geared toward young Black men. But the veteran congresswomansaid there are still skilled operatives in her district who excel at turnout work who have yet to get approved by the campaign, a puzzling delay for an operation that raised a record $363 million the month before.
“I screamed. Hollered. I called. I lobbied from the top to the bottom,” Wilson said of her efforts to get turnout operations started in the community, including sending written proposals to Biden’s campaign and having virtual Zoom meetings with his advisers.
In a sign of the state’s importance, Biden and Trump both campaigned in Florida on Thursday. Biden held an event in Broward County, which is located within the Miami-Fort Lauderdale media market, and then held a rally in Tampa, where Trump held his own event to boost early voting turnout.
Wilson and other Democrats aren’t panicking yet. Theytake comfort in the fact that huge swaths of Democratic voters cast absentee ballots by mail statewide, and that Bidennarrowly leads in most Florida polls, including a Monmouth University likely voter survey released Thursday that put the former vice president up by 6 percentage points. That margin is far bigger than in Democratic internal polls.
Party officials also point out that Black churches are planning “Souls to the Polls” events Sunday that encourage voting after church. However, in the era of coronavirus, church services are virtual and organizing those events is more difficult than in the past election years.
The NAACP is helping Wilson produce a video for the virtual church services that talks about the dual threats of coronavirus and not voting.
“There is not the turnout here [Miami] in the black community that I’ve seen in the past. I can speculate about the reasons, but the fact is it remains concerning,” said state Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Black Miami Democrat who held a get-out-the-vote event Wednesday with rapper Fat Joe Wednesday.
To date, Republicans have turned out 59 percent of their voters in Miami-Dade and Democrats have turned out 53 percent, a 6-point margin. That’s twice the margin Republicans had at this point in 2016.
Among Hispanic voters, who make up nearly 70 percent of the county’s population, the deficit is even bigger — 9 points.
“Democrats have a big turnout issue in the Hispanic community in Miami-Dade,” said Florida-based Democratic data analyst Matt Isbell. “Hispanic Democrat turnout is only 48% while the Republican Hispanics are at 57%. This large of a gap doesn’t exist in Broward or Orange. It is a Miami problem.”
Polling of Florida’s Hispanics has been all over the board. A Mason-Dixon poll conducted for Telemundo and released Thursday showed Biden leading Trump 48-43 percent among Florida Hispanics, a margin that could be disastrous for Democrats.
A Univision poll released one day earlier painted a different picture: It showed Biden faring much better among Florida Hispanic voters, leading Trump by 20 points, 57 to 37 percent.
Most polls show Cuban-Americans, who comprise about 74 percent of the registered Republicans in the county, have broken hard for Trump, although Biden might be clawing some of them back. Voters with roots in Puerto Rico and other places in Latin America support Biden by big margins.
While polling of Miami-Dade and Florida Hispanics has fluctuated wildly, Democrats long ago resigned themselves to the fact that Trump was making inroads with them and that Biden would not perform as well with them as Clinton, who won 65 percent of the state’s Hispanic vote in 2016, according to exit polls.
One positive trend, however, is the fact that Biden is doing better statewide than Clinton with seniors and white voters, who make up about two-thirds of likely voters.
Miami-Dade County was a bright spot for Democrats in 2016, when Clinton rolled up historic margins and raw votes in the county. But it wasn’t enough to help her carry the state because of Trump’s strong performance in many othercounties, especially those with older white suburban and rural voters.
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