With more than 3 million votes already cast in Florida’s midterm elections, President Joe Biden touched down Tuesday afternoon in South Florida, where he planned to slam U.S. Sen. Rick Scott over his GOP policy agenda during a last minute trip seeking to give a boost to Florida Democrats on the ballot.
Air Force One landed at 1:45 p.m. at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where the president was greeted by the mayor of Fort Lauderdale and Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
From there, Biden will head to a Hallandale Beach event to promote his administration’s efforts to reduce prescription costs as part of his closing message to voters before the Nov. 8 election. Then, he’ll participate in a private reception for gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist in the tiny town of Golden Beach, followed by an evening campaign rally at Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens for Crist and U.S. Senate candidate Val Demings.
The day trip — coming a week before Election Day — is Biden’s first political visit to the state since he came into office. Two past attempts to campaign here were canceled at the last minute after being announced by the White House: once when Biden contracted COVID-19 and again when Hurricane Ian threatened to make landfall in the southwest part of the state.
At Biden’s stop at the Oreste Blake Johnson Park Community Center, he is expected to attack Republicans over what Democrats say are efforts to do away with social programs.
In February, Scott, the chairman of the Republicans’ U.S. Senate campaign arm, released an 11-point policy plan that, among other measures, suggested the roughly 50% of American households that don’t pay income tax should pay at least some. His plan also called for all federal programs to automatically end after five years unless Congress reauthorizes them.
Democrats immediately seized on the plan, saying that it was proof that Scott and other Republicans wanted to raise taxes on low and middle-income Americans while threatening entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. Even before Tuesday’s visit to Florida, Biden and other White House officials regularly brought attention to Scott’s agenda, contrasting it with their own economic policies.
But Scott’s decision to reveal his own policy agenda wasn’t controversial with just Democrats: Some Republicans also criticized it, arguing that it was an unnecessary political drag on GOP candidates this year. Shortly after the former Florida governor published his plan, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell distanced his party from it, saying Republicans planned to neither raise taxes nor “sunset” Social Security and Medicare.
In June, Scott himself would back away from his income tax proposal, emphasizing that he did not want retired seniors to have to pay more in taxes while still encouraging younger Americans to find work.
At Hallandale Beach’s OB Johnson Park community center, the White House handed out pamphlets highlighting a portion of Scott’s plan and touting Biden’s efforts under the Inflation Reduction Act to lower the cost of prescription medicine and access to for additional free vaccines for seniors.
Looming over Biden’s message, however, is the growing evidence that voter enthusiasm in Florida is not on Democrats’ side. With a popular governor stumping for other Republicans across the country, the Florida GOP has increased its voter registration edge over Democrats for the first time in state history. Some pollsters believe DeSantis could be on track to win Miami-Dade County, last won by a Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2002.
And while Democrats continue to lead Republicans in vote-by-mail, with over 850,000 Democratic votes cast compared to 742,000 Republicans, early voting numbers as of Tuesday morning show GOP voters have overtaken Democrats in early voting. According to the state Division of Elections, about 1.3 million Republicans, 1.2 million Democrats and 572,000 voters with no party affiliation or other minor parties have voted so far.
In mail ballot turnout, a voting method that in recent election cycles trended in favor of Democrats, over a million Democrats who have requested ballots have still not returned them.
McClatchy DC staff writers Alex Roarty and Michael Wilner contributed to this story.