Four years after being the underdog to take Florida, President Donald Trump looks to have defied expectations again to win the Sunshine State in his hopes to secure a second term in the White House.
Buoyed by a a strong showing in Miami-Dade County, the President is leading former Vice President Joe Biden in his adopted home state 51%-48% with most precincts reporting. Trump has received 5,638,286 votes to Biden’s 5,257,442.
Early Wednesday morning, The Associated Press called Florida for the President. Following the call, the Trump campaign declared that the the state “is still Trump Country.”
“Joe Biden and his socialist agenda never stood a chance in the Sunshine State,” said Trump Victory spokeswoman Emma Vaughn. “President Trump’s ‘Promises Made, Promises Kept’ record resonated with Floridians statewide, accompanied by Trump Victory’s historic ground game operation, which could not be matched. Florida has once again delivered its 29 electoral votes for President Trump and is ready for ‘Four More Years.’”
Shortly after, Biden briefly spoke to supporters in Wilmington, Delaware. The country must wait till all votes are counted, he insisted.
“I’m here to tell you tonight that I believe we’re on track to win this election,” he said, predicting that Pennsylvania would end up in his column.
As Biden spoke, Trump tweeted for the first time since polls closed across the country.
“We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election. We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the Polls are closed!” the President tweeted, adding that he would make a statement later.
Twitter quickly flagged that tweet as misleading.
In a press conference at the White House after 2 a.m., the President declared victory in the Presidential election, calling the effort to continue counting ballots in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia “a fraud on the American public.”
“We were going to win this election,” Trump said. “Frankly, we did win this election.”
Trump also praised Florida for leaning his way.
“We didn’t win it, we won it by a lot,” Trump said.
The final polls before Tuesday showed Trump making up ground in Florida and other battleground states, but Biden was still favored to claim victory.
Entering Tuesday, Democrats held about a 100,000-vote lead in ballots cast by mail and early in person. When polls closed, that advantage had more than doubled, but in Republicans’ favor.
Republicans were optimistic early Tuesday based on high day-of turnout, but that was to be expected with a larger share of Democrats having voted early. By the afternoon, Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said the President’s day-of turnout erased the gap Biden had in Florida and other battleground states.
Asked on Fox News whether Trump would win Florida, Murtaugh was confident.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Florida looks good.”
Before Florida Politics called the race for Trump, the Republican Party of Florida, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, claimed victory on behalf of the President. Republicans also won contested races throughout the Legislature.
“I am proud to announce that Florida has once again delivered for President Donald J. Trump and that Florida Republicans will retain control of both chambers of the Florida Legislature,” he said. “Tonight’s results are the culmination of our efforts to drive historic Republican voter registration, mobilize a grassroots get out the vote initiative, and raise more than $20 million to support President Trump’s campaign, as well as congressional, legislative and down ballot races.”
DeSantis raised more than $12 million for the President’s reelection effort.
Added the Governor: “To all Republican voters who showed up and voted in record numbers: Thank you for performing your civic duty and doing your part to help President Trump secure four more years in the White House.”
Both sides recorded historic turnout achievements, but it proved not enough for Democrats, even with politically unaffiliated voters breaking for Biden.
Four years ago, Trump beat Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Florida by 1.3 percentage points on his way to the White House. Trump took 4,605,515 votes to 4,485,745 votes in the state that year, along with its 29 crucial electoral votes.
Tuesday evening, all eyes were on the Democratic bastion of South Florida and the swing region of Pinellas County.
In the days leading up to Tuesday, Democrats signaled fears that minority voters, who are more inclined to vote on Election Day, might not turn out in Miami-Dade County in the numbers Democrats expected. By the afternoon, Republicans were pointing to strong day-of turnout from their party in Palm Beach County.
Democrats’ fears came true, with Biden only taking 610,470 votes to Trump’s 526,502 with 94% of precincts reporting — a 54%-46% margin. Clinton easily took Miami-Dade in 2016 with 623,006 to Trump’s 33,666 for a 64%-34% margin.
With all precincts reporting in Broward County, Biden lost ground slightly on Clinton’s 67%-31% advantage, that gap falling to 64%-35%. Biden recorded 611,503 votes to Trump’s 329,047 while Clinton received 546,956 votes to the President’s 258,521 four years ago.
Palm Beach County went to Biden as expected, his margin shrinking slightly from Clinton’s 57%-41% to his 56%-43% with 83% of precincts reporting. Clinton took it with 371,411 votes to Trump’s 270,762 votes, and Biden repeated with 421,041 votes to Trump’s 323,955 votes the second time around.
Biden managed to eke a win in Pinellas County, which went to Trump by 1 point in 2016, by 1,070 votes — 276,113 to 275,043. Trump received 238,746 votes in his 2016 win to Clinton’s 233,327
Florida, Georgia and North Carolina were considered must-win states if the President hopes to win reelection. Georgia looks likely to stay in the President’s column, but North Carolina remains close.
In Pennsylvania, which many believed to be the tipping point state that could push either candidate to the necessary 270 electoral votes for victory, Trump currently leads with ballot counting expected to take days.
The last time a President won the White House without winning Florida was President Bill Clinton in 1992. But Biden still has paths to victory, including through Pennsylvania and the Midwest.
With some states anticipating long count times, possibly days long between the influx of mail ballots coupled with overhauled absentee systems, Florida provided an early look at how the rest of the swing states would go.
After floating the possibility of delaying the election over fears of voter fraud through mail-in voting, Trump endorsed Florida’s vote-by-mail system and encouraged supporters to trust it.
Elsewhere across the country, the President encouraged supporters to vote in person. In battleground Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign has suggested it might fight a court battle over mail-in ballots.
In what some strategists have coined the “red mirage,” early returns in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan from votes cast on Election Day show Trump ahead. But when all totals come in, including from the backlog of mail-in ballots, the President’s lead is expected to shrink.
Since overcoming COVID-19 in October, Trump made a half dozen campaign appearances and one televised townhall in the Sunshine State. His final campaign stop came Sunday evening outside Miami, less than 48 hours before polls closed across the state.
“They’re very worried, the Democrats, about Florida. The vote’s not there for them,” Trump said.
Last month, Biden held two rallies in Florida while former President Barack Obama held three. The Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris has also made multiple trips to the Sunshine State.
But amid Democrats’ push for minority voters, Trump noted that Hispanics couldn’t “vote for Sleepy Joe” and “the Black community, they’re voting for Donald Trump.”
In the last four years, White voters shrank from a share of 64% to 61% while 17% identified as Hispanic, up from 16% in 2016. The share of Black voters stayed even at 13%, as did Asian American or Pacific Islander at 2% and Native American at less than 1%.
There are 475,000 more Hispanic voters this year than there were in 2016. The independent rolls increased by about 201,000, Democrats by 149,000, and Republicans by 126,000.
Republicans have contended that Democrats lack the grassroots operation to compete in the state, particularly as Democrats focus on vote-by-mail ballots and emphasize social distancing more than Republicans.
On Fox News earlier in the day, DeSantis predicted that Democrats’ push for mail-in voting would be a mistake at the end of the day.
“You’re not going to convert 100% of those mail voters. Even if you drop off 3 or 4 percent, that’s crucial in these swing states, so I think that was probably a mistake,” he said. “Republicans really want to see that ballot go into the machine.”
In recent weeks, Trump has leaned on DeSantis for last-minute support. And DeSantis, helped to become Governor in large part because of the President’s endorsement in 2018, has tailed Trump throughout the state at his multiple appearances.
In Ocala three weeks ago, the President jokingly upped the heat on the Governor.
“He’s done a great job, and he’s been my friend. Hey Ron, are we going to win the state please?” Trump called out to him. “You know, if we don’t win it, I’m blaming the Governor. I’ll fire him somehow. I will find a way.”
Between 2016 and 2020, the population of registered voters in Florida grew by 12% to 14.4 million. Democrats’ 2.5-point registration advantage over Republicans dwindled to less than a point, prompting Republican Party of Florida Chair Joe Gruters in early October to declare an impending victory for Trump and Republicans.
“Increasing the size of your base is what matters, and we have no doubt that we’re going to be able to turn out our voters in Florida,” Gruters told Florida Politics.
With a larger share of Democrats having voted ahead of Election Day, Democratic strategist Steve Schale and others believed Biden’s key to victory was high turnout among low-propensity voters.
By Tuesday morning, the Florida Division of Elections reported that 3.5 million Democrats had voted already, 2.1 million by mail and 1.4 million early in person, while 3.4 million Republicans had cast ballots, 1.5 million by mail and nearly 2 million early.
On Tuesday morning, FiveThirtyEight’s final projection gave Trump a 31% chance to win Florida, anticipating a 2.5-point margin in Biden’s favor. Overall, their model predicted an 89% chance Biden would win the election versus Trump’s 10% chance.
In 2016, the election handicappers gave Trump a 45% chance to defeat Clinton in Florida and a 29% chance to take the White House.
Real Clear Politics’ polling average gave Biden a 0.9 percentage point lead in Florida a week after it gave Trump an 0.4-point lead.
The final St. Pete Polls survey on Sunday showed the two in a statistical tie, with Biden up 1 point over the incumbent President.
Instead of enjoying the evening in his new home state of Florida, the President planned to celebrate a what he expected to be a win from Washington, D.C.
The Governor deployed the Florida National Guard to assist with local law enforcement efforts and communities as needed. His office and the Guard elaborated earlier Tuesday, but the Governor told Fox News’ Bill Hemmer that he deployed the Guard “mainly for anything that may happen after the election.”
“I think people know in Florida we don’t tolerate that,” he said. “We had the Guard out for the protests in June and we were able to get through that. But we just want to be prepared and we just want to defend our citizens if we need to.”