President Donald Trump returned to the campaign trail Monday night, holding his first rally in Florida after contracting the coronavirus. AP Domestic
SANFORD — President Donald Trump chose his first campaign rally since contracting COVID-19 to be in Central Florida this week. And it won’t be his last.
Trump has similar events planned for Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday, Greenville, North Carolina on Thursday, and back in Florida — in Ocala — on Friday. His rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, made remarks Wednesday in Pembroke Pines and was also scheduled to appear at a voter-mobilization event in Miramar.
With 29 electoral votes and a track record of close statewide elections, Florida remains a big prize, so expect to see both candidates regularly before Nov. 3.
“Traditionally, we are the largest swing state,” said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida. “I qualify that a little bit because in the last three or four weeks, some polling have Texas as a competitive state. … I’ll believe that when it happens.”
At Orlando Sanford International Airport for the rallly Monday, Trump pointed to the pandemic as a great success.
With 215,000 Americans and counting having died after acquiring the coronavirus, and polls showing a majority of Americans disapproving of the president’s approach to battling the virus, Trump argued it would have been much worse if not for his handling, a claim many epidemiologists and physicians would dispute.
“The bottom line is we saved millions of lives,” Trump said. And the 74-year-old president cast his own recent bout with the virus as a triumph, made possible by his youth — and medical care.
“I went through it. Now they say I’m immune. I feel so powerful. … I’ll walk into that audience. I’ll walk in there, I’ll kiss everyone in that audience. I’ll kiss the guys and the beautiful women and everybody, I’ll just give you a big, fat kiss,” Trump said.
“Fortunately I’m not an older person,” he said. “I’m very young and I’m in such perfect shape.”
After speaking for an hour to a crowd of several thousand at Orlando Sanford International Airport, Trump danced his way off stage to the Village People song “Macho Man.”
It had to feel good for the president, a natural performer, to stand before a large crowd once again. His rallies have been a hallmark of his presidency, as has his ever-confident projection.
Trump talked about winning Florida, as he did in 2016 by 1.2 percentage points over Hillary Clinton.
“Everything I hear, we’re winning by a lot. Then you turn on the fake news and they say, ‘The polls are tied in Florida.’ I don’t get it,” Trump said.
More accurately, most polls in Florida have Biden ahead, although the margins vary widely enough to raise a fair dose of skepticism, said Jewett, of UCF.
“There’s no reason to think (the polls) are any worse than last time, and no reason to think they’re any better,” Jewett said. “We saw three or four state polls last time that had underestimated the president’s support because they didn’t have a good random sample. That’s the question this time around: Are the polls accurately capturing a good random sample of those who will turn out?”
Trump and his supporters are emboldened by the 2016 polls that had him behind Hillary Clinton in Florida and other key states.
“We’re winning by a lot more now than we were four years ago,” he said, despite the fact that recent polls also have Biden ahead other key states: Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Trump and his supporters spun a story of a man who has beaten a deadly disease and will, against all odds, survive for another term.
Webster Barnaby, a candidate for Florida House District 27 from Deltona, gave the invocation and applied biblical-sounding language to Trump.
“I thank God that Donald Trump has been raised again, and been given an extension of life,” Barnaby said.
Then Barnaby prayed: “So Father tonight we thank you that you’ve healed our land. You’ve removed the plague of corona in the name of Jesus. Tonight you will see evidence of a strong man, Donald J. Trump, a man that’s recovered. … Remove fear from this nation in the mighty name of Jesus.”
Much of the Sanford crowd sat or stood shoulder to shoulder, without social distancing and many without face coverings.
The spectacle concerned a number of physicians, including Dr. Candice Jones, an Orlando pediatrician for the past 14 years. She joined a panel of speakers at a Biden for President event before the rally.
“Science and health officials told us what to do to mitigate the spread of this virus, which includes robust testing and proven safety measures, like staying out of crowds and wearing a mask,” Jones said. “This president has continued to undermine those credible messages and instead spreads misinformation and distrust.”
Biden, meanwhile, visited a Pembroke Pines community center on Tuesday, where attendees were given N-95 masks and asked to stand in socially distanced circles. Only a few non-journalists were in attendance.
Mitchell Berger, 64, of Fort Lauderdale, said Biden has made significant inroads with seniors. He said Biden has a natural affinity with senior citizens and Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus has “grown it on steroids.”
But during his rally, Trump — who has mocked Biden for wearing a mask and avoiding large crowds — argued the cure cannot be worse than the problem.
“When you’re the president you can’t lock yourself in the basement and say ‘I can’t bother with the world.’ You have to get out and it’s risky, but you gotta get out,” Trump said.
The president said he sees an end in sight for COVID-19 with a vaccine and big things ahead in 2021 — so long as he is re-elected.
“With Operation Warp Speed we’re on track to have 100,000,000 (vaccine) doses by the end of this year. And they’ll be delivered by the military and they’re all set to go,” Trump said.
He promised a third-quarter “rapid recovery like you’d never even believe.”
And in Florida, Trump said the tourism and hospitality industries will reach “highs like they’ve never seen before,”
He compared his approach with that of Biden, who has said he is open to future lockdowns if necessary.
“Biden will terminate our recovery, delay the vaccine, prolong the pandemic and annihilate Florida’s economy with a draconian, unscientific lockdown,” Trump said. “That’s what he wants to do is lock it down.”
In the meantime, the president said he wants to see the treatment he received, including remdesivir, an experimental drug treatment shown to have reduced the number of days in hospital stays from 15 to 10.
Said Trump: “I said to my people: ‘We are going to take whatever the hell they gave me and we are going to distribute it around to hospitals.”
The warmup acts included Gov. Ron DeSantis, U.S. Reps. Michael Waltz and Matt Gaetz, as well as former Fox News personality Kimberly Guilfoyle, Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend.
Gaetz made note of the majority of news media wearing masks, where the Trump crowd was largely maskless. Gaetz said he has an election night request for the media: “Please take off your masks because we want to see the look on your face” when Trump wins.
Jason Williams, who attended the rally, said Trump’s strong stance against abortion is the main attraction for him.
“Do I like everything Trump does? No. Do I like everything Pence does? No,” Williams said. “But at the end of the day, they have continued to come out pro-life, so for me, that’s where I’m at.”
Williams said the president has about a 15-to-1 margin in yard signs in his Deltona neighborhood.
But Jewett notes that just as polls might not capture a complete picture of what might occur on Election Day, he cautions against reading too much into anecdotal evidence such as enthusiasm at rallies or yard signs.
“There’s definitely enthusiasm for Trump, but he also incites … a strong dislike among voters,” Jewett said.
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