President Donald Trump just wrapped up a visit to Florida earlier this week and the Sunshine State can expect to see more of him in the months to come as the 2020 presidential election draws near.

With the 2018 election cycle now in the rearview mirror, the 2020 contest is now taking shape. The Democrats, no matter who their challenger to Trump turns out to be, will be targeting a few other states ahead of Florida–namely flipping Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. The Democrats don’t need to carry Florida to win the White House but it’s almost impossible for Trump to win a second term without it.

All that being the case, both sides are starting to look at Florida which is still the largest swing state in the Electoral College.

Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., took to the national stage this week, writing a piece in the USA Today, to weigh in on what’s at stake in Florida and calling on his party to follow a different game plan in 2020.

“The immense size of the state makes it nearly impossible to campaign without tens of millions of dollars committed. With 10 TV markets across two time zones, it’ll cost upwards of $2 million a week to hit each of them with campaign ads. And that’s before you take into account digital ads, radio ads and campaign mail,” Murphy wrote. “Second, Florida has an extremely diverse population, and turnout among voters of color is unpredictable — especially in midterm years. Cubans have been historically loyal to the Republican Party, while newer Democratic-leaning voters from Puerto Rico and Central and South America are still growing in political clout. These groups are not monolithic, certainly not on the subject of immigration, and they require more than an election-year touch to stay active. African-American voters, many of whom live in major metro areas like Miami and Jacksonville, are also often ignored until October of the election year.

“Third, it takes a disciplined candidate to deliver a message that resonates in the many disparate regions of Florida. One might think of Florida as an amalgam of six or seven states, each with its own distinct attributes and cultures. There are Democratic-leaning snowbirds In Palm Beach, Republican-leaning retirees in the Villages and millions combined in the Panhandle, Central Florida and the Keys in between,” Murphy added. “Democrats thought they had found the winning combination in 2018 — the stalwart Nelson would appeal to the moderates and rural voters who had kept him in office for a generation, while the liberal Gillum would turn out progressives and minority voters at a historic rate. Yet despite a national electorate that leaned almost 9 points Democratic, both fell short.

“There’s no silver bullet to this dilemma, but Democrats must solve it soon if we hope to remain competitive. We need to engage minority voters effectively, and not just in election years. We need to sustain a grassroots volunteer and fundraising base that can be tapped into every cycle. We need to support a bench of future statewide candidates who can appeal to the myriad communities across the state. We must register thousands of ex-felons whose voting rights were recently restored via ballot initiative,” Murphy continued. “And we need to fight for votes in the small towns that dot Florida along Interstate 95 and the I-4 corridor, not just in the major population centers. Is it any wonder voters there have turned so completely to the GOP? There is no reason the Democrats’ economic message can’t compete with the Republican pitch. Until we find a formula that works, Florida Democrats will slink behind our counterparts in Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina on the presidential swing-state circuit. The 2020 race is just around the corner, and we can’t afford another heartbreaking loss with so much at stake both here in Florida and across the country.”

In the meantime, other parts of the left are also looking at the role Florida could play in 2020. Over at the New Republic–which has certainly drifted even more to the left since the days of Marty PeretzLauren Kaori Gurley weighed in on Trump’s increasingly close relationship with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., especially on foreign policy. Kaori Gurley suspects Trump will be courting the Cuban and Venezuelan communities in South Florida as the election draws closer.

“For Trump, pleasing Rubio and his Miami base—a stronghold of conservative Latino voters—is key to a 2020 victory in the battleground state of Florida, where he beat Hillary Clinton by a mere 113,000 votes in 2016,” she wrote. “Florida is home to some 1.2 million Cubans and 190,000 Venezuelans.”

“Trump doesn’t care about Latin America. It’s all about domestic politics,” William LeoGrande, an expert in U.S.-Latin American relations at American University, told Kaori Gurley. “Trump thinks he won Florida because of the Cuban American vote. Rubio convinced him that that’s what made the big difference in Florida.”

Trump’s focus on South Florida could help other Republicans in the area, including whoever the GOP nominates to take on U.S. Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., and Donna Shalala, D-Fla., who flipped seats held by the GOP in November. That helps explain why the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is already targeting those races though, admittedly, the odds will not be in the GOPs favor in those districts come November 2020.

Florida has been important in recent decades but, increasingly, the Sunshine State is as close as possible in recent elections: the 2010, 2014 and 2018 gubernatorial contests, the 2012 and 2016 presidential races and last year’s U.S. Senate battle. With no other statewide race in 2020, the presidential contest will get a lot of Florida’s attention in the coming months. Both sides look ready to begin.


Kevin Derby can be reached at

Kevin Derby
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