Joe Biden made his first trip to Florida as the Democratic presidential nominee on Tuesday with an urgent mission to boost support among Latinos who could decide the election in one of the nation’s fiercest battleground states.
“More than any other time, the Hispanic community, Latino community holds in the palm of their hand the destiny of this country,” Mr Biden said during a Hispanic Heritage Month kickoff event in Kissimmee.
“You can decide the direction of this country.”
An NBC-Marist poll released last week found Latinos in the state were roughly evenly divided between Mr Biden and Mr Trump. Democrat Hillary Clinton led Mr Trump by a 59% to 36% margin among Latinos in the same poll in 2016 — and Mr Trump won Florida by about 1 percentage point.
To regain lost ground, Mr Biden made the case on Tuesday that he would be a better president for Hispanics than Mr Trump, touting his commitment to immigration reform and a new plan to support Puerto Rico’s economy.
“Whether it’s in his heinous act of separating children from their families at our border, or his repeated attacks on Dreamers, or his neglect of the people of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, or his repeated failures to make sure essential workers have the personal protective equipment they need.”
Still, Hispanic voters in Florida tend to be somewhat more Republican-leaning than Hispanic voters nationwide because of the state’s Cuban American population. Nationally, little public polling is available to measure the opinions of Latino voters this year and whether they differ from four years ago.
But Democrats are taking no chances. Billionaire Mike Bloomberg has pledged to spend at least 100 million dollars (£77 million) to defeat Mr Trump in Florida.
While Republicans typically post big numbers in the northern and southwestern parts of the state and Democrats are strong in coastal cities, campaigns typically battle it out for every vote in central Florida.
Mr Biden’s first event, in Tampa, focused on veterans and was aimed at pushing a potential opening with military voters, who broadly supported Mr Trump in 2016 but are seen as potentially persuadable because of controversial remarks the president reportedly made mocking American war dead as “losers” and “suckers”.
“Nowhere are his faults more glaring and more offensive, to me at least, than when it comes to his denigration of our service members, veterans, wounded warriors who have fallen,” Mr Biden said.
Speaking of his late son Beau, who served overseas as a Delaware Army National Guard member, Mr Biden said, “He’s gone now, but he’s no sucker.”
Mr Biden’s decision to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in Kissimmee reflects a focus on the state’s rapidly growing Puerto Rican community. Many Puerto Ricans relocated to Florida after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017.