Donald Trump is coming to a different Florida on Friday — a Florida where he’s on the upswing.
Last time he visited the southeastern end of the state, for a Sunrise rally a little more than a month ago, Hillary Clinton continued to edge him in Florida polling averages. He’d suffered a spate of bad press over his campaign’s criticism of the Gold Star Khan family. He falsely accused President Barack Obama of “founding” ISIS.
When he returns Friday, to hold a rally at downtown Miami’s James L. Knight Center, Trump will be fresh off a batch of new polls showing him tied with Clinton in Florida — or ever so narrowly ahead. Florida’s a swing state because it moves with the country; his uptick here is also reflected nationally, and in other battlegrounds like Nevada and Ohio.
Trump has noticed. At a Wednesday night rally in Ohio, the Republican nominee went back to his old self from the primaries, ditching his TelePrompTer and bragging about the Florida and Ohio numbers. A Real Clear Politics average of recent Florida polls shows him leading Clinton by 0.7 percent, even when Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein are taken into account.
“It feels good — there’s momentum,” said Brian Ballard, a Trump Florida finance chairman. “In the finance part of the campaign, you can always feel it. Calls get returned faster.”
Florida is essentially a must-win for Trump, who has fewer ways than Clinton to capture the Electoral College without the state’s 29 votes. He’s scheduled to travel back to the state Monday for a rally in Estero. His running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, will go to The Villages on Saturday.
Miami-Dade County is the most hostile territory for Trump. Mostly Hispanic and mostly Democratic, it was the only county Trump lost in the March 15 primary. And it’s a hub of anti-Trump sentiment among elected Republicans, including U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado.
A Florida International University poll completed a month ago showed Trump besting Clinton by only 5 percentage points among Miami-Dade Cuban Americans, who comprise the bulk of local Republicans.
No one expects any Republican — much less Trump, whose immigration rhetoric is offensive to many Hispanics — to come close to victory in Miami-Dade. What he needs to do is keep Clinton from building such a big lead that the state moves out of his grasp.
To do so, Trump is reaching out to a traditionally Democratic demographic: Haitian Americans. Before the rally, Trump plans to sit down with invited guests at the Little Haiti Cultural Center.
“It’s a coalition group that got overlooked in 2012,” said Karen Giorno, Trump’s former Florida campaign chief who now directs coalition-building for him out of New York. “It’s the right thing to do for Mr. Trump to go out there and address them. They’re Haitian Americans, but they’re Americans.”
Trump’s outreach to black voters has not been as sophisticated as Clinton’s. Obama himself called into a Miami R&B radio station this week to appeal to African Americans.
Dwight Bullard, a Cutler Bay state senator and Miami-Dade Democratic Party chairman, said he expects little to come of Trump’s meeting — which is not to say his latest move shouldn’t worry Democrats a little bit.
“He’s a political anomaly,” said Bullard, who is African American and who backs Clinton after having first supported Bernie Sanders. “He gives all of us a level of concern.”
“It’s kind of a perfect-storm scenario: You have segments of various communities feeling levels of neglect,” he said. “With any two-term president, you’re going to experience fatigue, not matter how successful their tenure may have been.”
Polls tightening as Election Day nears is typical. Yet Clinton’s also had a rough week, what with her swoon caught on camera and her comment at a fundraiser that “half” of Trump’s supporters fell into what she called a “basket of deplorables.” She was forced to admit she had pneumonia and to apologize for deriding “half” of Trump’s backers.
Clinton is expected back in the Orlando area next week, to attend a fundraiser hosted by attorney John Morgan, and in Miami Beach on Sept. 30, for a fundraiser hosted by Sprint chief executive Marcelo Claure and his wife, Jordan.
Clinton has spent far more in TV advertising, usually crucial in a state with 10 media markets. She’s opened many more campaign offices: 57. The Trump team now has offices of its own; the campaign has recently come under the leadership of Susie Wiles, who helped get Gov. Rick Scott elected.
Though Republicans claim they’ve outpaced Democrats in registrations, because the Democratic voter advantage in Florida has shrunk, an analysis by Daniel Smith of the University of Florida shows Democrats have registered more new voters since January. More than a fifth are Hispanic.
“Hispanics, up until this year, were registering more as no party affiliation,” Smith said. “This year may be the first in a decade where more Hispanics register as Democrats.”
Still, the GOP has helped Trump conduct grunt field work: The Republican National Committee has been organizing in the state for two years. Last week, the party said it has more than 200 staffers.
“Things are consolidating,” Ballard said. “Maybe it took a little longer on our side of the business than it has in previous years. Good poll numbers always help.”