FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden offered dueling styles and differing priorities in simultaneous Florida rallies Thursday as the coronavirus pandemic worsened just five days before Election Day.
The outcome of the deadlocked fight for Florida could determine who holds the keys to the White House.
The candidates mocked each other in events that gave dramatically different optics to the ever-shrinking pool of voters left to cast their ballots in Florida.
Biden blasted Trump’s handling of the virus at a drive-in event at Broward College’s north campus in Coconut Creek.
“Donald Trump has waved the white flag, abandoned our families, and surrendered to this virus,” said Biden, who was wearing his signature aviator sunglasses and a blue-collared shirt.
Biden promised to listen to science in tackling the virus.
“I am not going shut down the economy,” Biden said. “I am not going to shut down the country. But I am going to shut down the virus.”
About 200 cars assembled at Broward College. Many were festooned with Biden signs. Mask wearing was almost universal, and the lectern was sanitized between speakers.
The college’s Building No. 46 served as the backdrop. If elected, Biden will be the nation’s 46th president.
Across the state in Tampa, a MAGA-clad and mostly maskless crowd stood shoulder-to-shoulder. They chanted “lock him up” and “where is Hunter?” when Trump referenced Biden’s son. Trump has used Hunter Biden’s past to attack his opponent on the campaign trail. Trump promised the United States would “never lock down again,” a public health tactic he says leads to economic misery, suicides and drug overdoses.
He made fun of Biden’s purposely small and socially distanced campaign events.
“They say the fact that he has nobody at all show up is because of COVID,” Trump said. “No. It is because nobody shows up. I think that is the ultimate poll.”
He talked about his own bout with COVID — “If I can get better, anybody can get better,” Trump said.
Trump held his rally outside Raymond James Stadium, where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play. A firetruck sprayed water into the air to cool off the crowd baking under the Florida sun. Several people needed assistance from medical personnel because of the heat.
Under storm clouds later in the day, Biden held a second drive-in rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa, where he referenced the president’s earlier event.
“Donald Trump just had a super spreader event here again,” Biden said. “They’re spreading more than coronavirus; they’re spreading division.”
About 18 minutes into his speech, as Biden was talking about the need to address climate change and the importance of unity, the skies opened up and it began raining heavily, prompting audience members to seek cover. “Guess what, it’s starting to rain, I’m going to shorten this for you all,” Biden said.
Time is running out for the candidates to make their case. More than 7 million Floridians have already voted early either in person or by mail.
The candidates clashed on other issues. In Broward, Biden said a Trump victory would mean the end of Obamacare, no action on climate change, policies that favor the rich and the toleration of white supremacy. He took aim at Trump’s policies on Cuba and Venezuela, issues of importance to many South Florida voters.
Trump hasn’t advanced democracy in Cuba, and he has resisted policies that would allow Venezuelans to stay in the United States, Biden said.
“President Trump can’t advance democracy and human rights for the Cuban people or the Venezuelan people when he has embraced so many autocrats around the world — Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un of North Korea,” Biden said. “President Trump is the worst possible standard-bearer for democracy.”
Biden said the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the high court heightens the need for Democrats to vote.
“We need to vote for the legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” Biden said.
In Tampa, Trump outlined what he thinks a Biden victory would mean. He said a Biden win would mean a “crippling Depression,” higher energy prices, gun control, surrendering to China on trade and the “misery of socialism.” He promised a coronavirus vaccine would arrive soon.
“If Biden wins, China wins,” Trump said. “When we win, Florida wins, and America wins. It is very simple.”
This was Biden’s second campaign visit to Broward County, which has the largest number of Democratic voters in Florida. He’s certain to win the state’s second-most populous county, but he’ll need to run up the numbers if he wants to win Florida.
Broward County Mayor Dale Holness awaited Biden’s speech while wearing a Biden-Harris mask.
“If we’re able to turn the voters out for Broward County as we did in 2008 for Obama, Broward can deliver the state for the Biden-Harris ticket,” he said. “Decency will be brought back to the presidency.”
Biden was last in Broward on Oct. 13, where he held an event aimed at senior voters in Pembroke Pines and an event aimed at the Black community in Miramar.
The Miami Heat’s Udonis Haslem warmed up the crowd on Thursday, along with retired NBA player Matt Barnes and Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“For me, voter suppression is real,” Haslem said. “Coming together collectively we can win.”
Manuel and Patricia Oliver introduced Biden. Their teenage son, Joaquin Oliver, was one of the 17 people killed in the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
After the rally, Biden visited a predominantly Black neighborhood along Sistrunk Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, where he and Haslem and Barnes encouraged people to vote.
In Tampa, Trump’s wife, Melania, joined him at his rally, along with Gov. Ron DeSantis and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núnez.
“Every single time the state of Florida needed help from the federal government, without exception the president was there,” DeSantis said.
The push for Florida votes will continue ahead of Election Day on Tuesday.
Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris will campaign in South Florida on Saturday, the final weekend of early voting. Stops are planned in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Biden explained why the campaign is putting so much of its resources into the Sunshine State.
“If Florida goes blue, it’s over,” Biden said.
Trump left his rally dancing to the Village People’s “YMCA.”
“Get your friends. Get your family. Get your neighbors. Get your boss. Pull them out of the chair. … You got to get out to vote,” Trump told his supporters.
Florida is expected to be close as usual. During the last seven presidential contests from 1992 to 2016, fewer than 20,000 votes have separated the candidates out of nearly 51 million votes cast.
©2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)