In the clearest sign of the national consequences of Florida’s races for governor and Congress, former President Barack Obama will join Democrats Andrew Gillum and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on Friday in Miami for an appearance that will be sandwiched between visits to the state by President Donald Trump.
Obama, whose Miami stop was announced Monday, is scheduled to stump with the two top-of-ticket candidates and other Democrats at the Ice Palace film studios near Overtown only four days before the Nov. 6 election. Democrats are hoping to win back the Florida Governor’s Mansion for the first time in two decades, and need to keep Nelson’s seat in the Senate if they hope to also claw back Congress’ upper chamber.
Obama’s appearance is part of his party’s get-out-the-vote effort, as are Trump’s. But the dueling visits set up a clash between the parties’ highest profile figures, with Trump in Fort Myers on Halloween with GOP gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis and Gov. Rick Scott, and in Pensacola on Saturday.
“What they both know, what Trump knows and what Obama knows, is whoever’s governor has a powerful say in 2020,” said John Morgan, a wealthy attorney who for a time contemplated a run for governor as a Democrat. “Trump knows that if Nancy Pelosi is the speaker of the House, his life just got worse. And he knows that if DeSantis is elected governor, his life just got better.”
Trump seemed to set the table for this presidential clash when he endorsed DeSantis and helped the former congressman win the Republican primary by holding a rally in Tampa. Since then, he’s been tweeting about DeSantis and Gillum. Trump added another log to the fire Monday by calling the latter a “thief” and the “mayor of poorly run Tallahassee.”
Gillum, meanwhile, has been surrounded by 2020 hopefuls and premier party rainmakers going back to the primaries. Hillary Clinton raised millions for Gillum last week in Miami, Joe Biden stumped for him and Nelson, and former Obama housing secretary Julian Castro has made regular appearances on the campaign trail. California Sen. Kamala Harris, another presidential possible, was in South Florida on Monday stumping with Gillum. “He is a man of substance,” she said of Gillum, predicting victory to the roughly 200 people gathered at the Miami Dade College North Campus to hear her and Gillum speak.
“He is a man of substance,” she said of Gillum, predicting victory to the roughly 200 people gathered at the Miami Dade College North Campus to hear her and Gillum speak.
Tom Steyer — who calls Florida’s election the most important in the country and may run for president in 2020 — has put millions behind the Democrat’s campaign, which according to a McClatchy analysis of campaign finance reports owes about 55 percent of its $48.5 million haul to out-of-state donors. DeSantis has raised about $52.2 million, about 35 percent of which came from outside Florida. And just like the country’s presidents, the money is flooding in as Election Day nears. Just two weeks ago, Gillum’s campaign had about $33 million while DeSantis’ had $44 million.
And just like the country’s presidents, the money is flooding in as Election Day nears. Just two weeks ago, Gillum’s campaign had about $33 million while DeSantis’ had $44 million.
But Trump and Obama are appearing in Florida largely in a play to turn out their parties’ base voters.
Trump, appearing in Southwest Florida and the Panhandle, is parachuting into reliably red territory. Obama, in Miami, is appearing in the state’s largest media market, and in a region that is heavily Democratic but comprised largely of Hispanic voters, who turn out in lower numbers in midterm elections.
“There are a lot of arguments you could make that Miami won the 2012 election for Barack Obama,” said Ashley Walker, the Florida state director for Obama’s campaign that year. “In order for Democrats to win in 2018 we need strong margins coming out of Miami-Dade.”
As of Monday morning, 2.7 million voters had cast mail-in ballots or voted early. Republicans held a 60,000-vote edge. But Democrats were surging, according to former Obama strategist Steve Schale, and Republicans’ advantage this year is smaller than it was in 2014.
An Obama appearance with Gillum has always seemed likely: the country’s first black president campaigning with Florida’s first black major-party nominee. But sources familiar with Obama’s visit said it has been expected and planned for some time. The choice of region was not an accident, but the timing — falling between two Trump visits — was more likely coincidence.
“How awesome a choice and contrast, to have Trump and Obama sharing headlines and trading clips on the nightly news,” said one Democratic strategist, who expects Trump to watch Obama’s visit on TV. “It will be triggering.”
McClatchy reporter Caitlin Ostroff and Miami Herald reporter Jimena Tavel contributed to this report.