'I voted for a guy named Trump,' the president says after voting in person in Florida

©Miami Herald

Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/TNS

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Donald Trump has voted twice by mail since becoming a Palm Beach County resident one year ago. But on Saturday, like so many other Florida Republicans, Donald Trump voted for Donald Trump in person.

Trump cast his ballot at the Palm Beach County main library in West Palm Beach at around 10 a.m. Trump voted alone in a private room at the library, according to White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany. Outside, Trump supporters waved flags and chanted, hoping to catch glimpse of the president.

He emerged from his private voting room around 10:17 a.m. With library stacks behind him, he quickly stopped to tell reporters he felt more secure voting in person, as opposed to mailing in his ballot. He also shared his predictable pick for the presidency.

“I voted for a guy named Trump,” he said, before leaving in a motorcade for the airport.

The president’s campaign organized events outside early voting locations in Miami-Dade, Naples, Jacksonville, Pensacola and Tampa. Large screens streamed the moments after Trump’s vote.

Outside the Westchester Regional Library in West Miami-Dade County, about 50 people gathered on the lawn of Francisco Human Rights Park, where a big screen showed Trump moments after he cast his ballot and as he addressed reporters, eliciting cheers from the Westchester crowd.

Many of them waited to cast an early ballot Saturday morning, just hours before the president cast his own. They cheered the president and other Republican candidates down the ballot.

“We’re here especially for Maria Elvira Salazar, Esteban Bovo and Donald Trump, who is the priority. We’re here for the main thing, which is him, honestly,” said Gloria Molina, a 58-year-old Nicaraguan voter who cast her early ballot Saturday. Salazar is a Republican running for Congress in Miami. Bovo is a Republican running for Miami-Dade mayor.

Molina and her husband, Eduardo Jorge, both said they wanted to see their vote being counted in person, as opposed to sending a mail ballot, because they didn’t trust vote-by-mail, a process the president has repeatedly sought to brand as untrustworthy.

“I know there’s a lot of tricky stuff with the vote-by-mail, that’s why I don’t trust it,” said Jorge, 56, who is Cuban American.

On the other side of the library — and political spectrum — local Democratic candidates and a crowd of about 50 supporters gathered near a colorful Colombian chiva bus, as a few women danced cumbia, a Latin American folk dance, and wore full white pollera skirts decorated in red, yellow and blue. A musician was banging on a caja vallenata, a drum made with cow-skin.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Miami-Dade commissioner and mayoral candidate Daniella Levine Cava also made appearances, using the opportunity to blast Mayor Carlos’ Gimenez’s decision to veto the idea of turning the American Airlines Arena into a voter precinct. Gimenez is Mucarsel-Powell’s challenger for the District 26 congressional seat.

Many of the Democratic supporters said they had already voted — by mail. Lisandra Miller, 48, said her whole family had voted by mail.

“I work for the post office so I know it is [trustworthy],” she said. “We don’t sell votes … We put everything in the mail stream and everything goes straight to the Department of Elections, so we don’t throw anything away. That’s just rhetoric.”

Miller, who wore a Mucarsel-Powell face mask, added that she voted Democratic all the way down the ballot because she felt it was important to keep Democrats in power at the congressional level.

“[Trump] hasn’t changed anything,” Miller said. “He’s just made everything worse.”

More than 12,000 people had already voted at the Westchester library, which serves a largely Cuban-American community in West Miami-Dade County. It has been one of the busiest voting centers in South Florida and an indicator of Trump’s support among Cuban-Americans and Republicans’ zeal to vote in person at the polls before Election Day.

Trump is banking on big Republican turnout at early voting centers before Nov. 3 to help minimize Florida Democrats’ mail voting edge.

Around 575,000 more Democrats than Republicans have voted by mail since late September in Florida. But Republicans have outnumbered Democrats at early voting locations by around 190,000 during five days of early voting.

The numbers are a reversal of nearly two decades early and mail voting trends in Florida, in which Republicans have built advantages through the mail and Democrats popularized early voting centers. The coronavirus pandemic fueled the transition, as the response to COVID-19 pushed Democrats to view mail ballots as a safer option — and Trump to attack the security of mail voting, at times repeating falsities about discarded mail ballots.

Trump’s inaccurate characterizations of mail voting, though, don’t appear to have diminished the party’s mail voting numbers. Florida Republicans were likely to set a party record Saturday for number of mail ballots cast in an election at more than 1.1 million, topping their 2016 numbers with 10 days still to go before Election Day.

Republicans didn’t keep pace with Democrats as the pandemic fueled record vote-by-mail ballots cast.

Instead, Republicans are showing up big during early voting. And Trump wants them to show up to avoid needing a massive Election Day push to win his home state — a battleground he can’t afford to lose.

Democrats, who tend to vote in greater numbers on weekends, are also looking for a big South Florida Saturday. Former President Barack Obama planned a drive-in rally Saturday in North Miami, and Biden’s campaign organized a series of events around the state.

Trump cast his ballot the morning after campaigning in The Villages retirement community in Central Florida and in Pensacola.

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©2020 Miami Herald

Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/TNS