As early in-person voting kicked off Monday for the first time at Jacksonville’s University of North Florida, Democratic chances were jolted by a tested commodity at the lecturn: former Vice President Joe Biden.
Biden, leading many polls of 2020 hopefuls for the party’s nomination for President, isn’t the only potential top-of-the-ticket presence to hit the state. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker was here this weekend.
Just as with Booker, who is barnstorming battleground states ahead of Nov. 6, Biden’s two-day, three-stop Florida swing is intended to boost candidates and remind Florida voters that despite his age, the Delaware Democrat is a major player.
The language: familiar.
“This election is bigger than politics,” Biden said, as he has said in battlegrounds coast to coast.
“We used to be the shining city on the hill,” Biden said, driven “by the power of our example.”
That soft power, said Biden, is “being shredded … all for the purposes of a [President] amassing power, abusing power.”
This is, per the VP, driving a cultural nadir: Biden described the alt-right in Charlottesville last year, “chanting the same type of anti-Semitic bile” as in Nuremberg or Berlin.
“It’s gotten worse, calling refugees animals,” Biden lamented, noting that the rhetorical approach has driven even conservatives out of the GOP.
The Biden visit is yet another reminder that Gillum is in the mainstream of the party, a message that will be further impressed when Hillary Clinton comes to Florida for fundraising events Tuesday.
Biden, as he said early on, has been traveling the country giving the same speech with regional variations: a textbook anti-Trump message designed to drive the vote out.
And in Jacksonville, it spurred some enthusiasm, with a brief “Run Joe Run” change breaking out at one point. Though as the speech bled past thirty minutes, the crowd started to trickle out.
Still, for Democrats, seeking to blend the moderate approach of Bill Nelson with a more 21st century appeal of Gillum, introducing the united “winning” ticket is key if they want to reverse the trends of the last two decades.
Biden’s speech was a trip down memory lane for many Democrats, including the former VP and longtime Senator himself.
“I served with a lot of people in the U.S. Senate. But I’ve never served with anyone with the integrity, character, and decency of Bill Nelson. Whatever Bill Nelson told you he’d do, he will do and has done,” Biden said.
Biden bashed Republican Ron DeSantis for voting for the President Donald Trump tax bill, which created a “debt which any economist will tell you can’t be paid.”
“They’re saying we have a debt,” Biden said, “and there’s only one way to [pay it], go where the money is, Medicare and Social Security.”
Biden moved on to hurricanes, spotlighting climate change as a threat to Florida. Per one embedded reporter, this was a rhetorical appeal for the storm-ravaged Sunshine State.
Regarding Rick Scott, Biden noted “do you want that know nothing to join the know nothing in the White House?”
It was a rhetorical question (and also a rare new line in a refined speech).
Biden moved on to another part of the ticket soon enough.
“You have one of the most exciting, bright leaders in the country,” Biden said, “in Andrew Gillum.”
Biden noted that Gillum could expand Medicaid “with a stroke of a pen,” and would deal with climate change issues.
Moreover, “you’ll never see his budget cut over a billion dollars in education.”
Sen. Nelson enthused: “The last time in Jacksonville I saw this big of a crowd was the election that put Barack Obama in the WH.”
While that was hyperbole, with the UNF crowd of roughly 1,000 well below the draw Obama had in 2008, Democrats weren’t disputing the read.
Nelson, bemoaning today’s “smackdown politics,” drew parallels between his race with Gov. Rick Scott and the Gillum/DeSantis race.
Among those parallels: answers to red tide, as well as economic issues that lead to people working multiple jobs and still falling behind.
Nelson voiced an interest in STEM programs, being sure to brand around the space program.
“Just two days ago, the Republican leader of the Senate said we’re running up too much debt,” Nelson said, noting that Sen. McConnell said Social Security and Medicare may be on the table.
“As long as I’m around, they’re not touching Social Security or Medicare,” Nelson said, powering a chant of his name that lasted about half a minute.
Democrats, conscious of the pool of voters who are much warmer toward one candidate than the other, understand all too well the need to sell the whole package.
“It’s time to send Rick Scott packing,” Gillum said.
For his part, the Mayor vowed to “put some decency and common sense in the Governor’s Office,” some partisan red meat less than 24 hours after trumpeting cooperation with Scott after Hurricane Michael in the debate Sunday night.
“Did y’all see that whooping we put on Ron DeSantis? This brother can’t get off the stage soon enough,” Gillum said, vowing to “retire him soon enough.”
Gillum hit on policy issues, including the Equal Rights Amendment, access to reproductive rights, and a firm stance against the National Rifle Association. For those following this campaign, these positions are familiar.
Lt. Gov. candidate Chris King brought the fire, hyping up VP Biden as “looking good” in the back.
King, who drew roughly 2 percent in the primary, has become an energetic running mate.
“When he chose me, this wasn’t a political marriage,” King said, saying that Gillum wanted him to be his “friend, brother, and to have my back.”
Among an example of having his back: King speaking, at Gillum’s request, at a Bethune Cookman pep rally. That went well until he called them the Rattlers, the mascot for Florida A&M.
Agriculture Commissioner hopeful Nikki Fried noted that the “Blue Wave” is being driven by a “Pink Wave,” a reflection of the women running this year.
Her biggest crowdpopping line: advocacy for medical marijuana.
“Seeing how Tallahassee messed up [enacting] the will of the people,” Fried said, got her to run.
And “getting this medicine to patients who are suffering” drives her mission, she said.
“We need you voting like our lives, our state depend on it,” Fried said, “because it does.”
Beyond the statewide candidates, Duval County Tax Collector hopeful Mia Jones, state House hopeful Tracye Polson, state Sen. Audrey Gibson, and Congressional candidate Nancy Soderberg all hyped the crowd.
Gibson, a moderate Democrat by most reckonings, noted that if concerns about early childhood education and health coverage for people with pre-existing concerns “made [her] radical, then so be it.”
Soderberg, a Clinton administration alum running in a Congressional District centered around Daytona Beach, hammered opponent Mike Waltz for opposing coverage of people with pre-existing conditions.
Republicans disclaimed the importance of the rally.
“Joe Biden is wasting his time in Florida. The Republican Party is more unified than ever in the Sunshine State thanks to the success of economic growth under Governor Scott’s leadership. While Biden was attempting to gin up support for an unhinged Democratic Party, Republicans were rallying behind our proven Republican leaders who have fought hard to get Floridians back to work,” asserted Taryn Fenske, RNC spox.
However, the GOP is also bringing out the big guns, with Vice President Mike Pence in town for DeSantis Thursday afternoon.
Meanwhile, another potential Presidential hopeful, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, will be back in the state for Nelson before the election.
Cover Photo Credit: Daniel Henry.