Joe Biden’s best chance of swiftly capturing the White House slipped away when the Latino voters of Miami handed Florida back to Donald Trump by an increased margin though the overall national race remained tight.
The Florida loss meant Biden’s team was left looking for victory elsewhere in the US as election night on Tuesday moved into election morning on Wednesday and the focus switched to the rust belt states of the midwest and the south-western state of Arizona.
A win in Florida would have given the Democratic party challenger an almost unassailable advantage in the chase for the electoral college, but a “bloodbath” in Miami-Dade county, home to 2 million Latinos, left him with too much to do elsewhere in Florida.
Biden still won the county, but by fewer than 84,000 votes. His lead there was eclipsed by strong support for Trump in the more rural, white counties of south-west Florida and the Panhandle, and not even the flipping back blue of Pinellas, the bellwether west coast county the president captured in 2016, could recover the losses.
The Associated Press called the race for Trump at 12.35am local time, with 96% of votes tallied and the Republican holding a 377,346 vote and 3.78 percentage point lead over Biden, almost 2.6 points better than his 113,000-vote, 1.2 percentage point triumph over Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Ultimately, it was Trump’s oft-repeated falsehoods likening Biden to the despised leaders of socialist South American countries that appeared to have resonated with Miami-Dade’s diverse Latino community, comprising mostly Cuban Americans, Venezuelans and Colombians.
It tallied with CNN exit polls indicating a 35% surge in support statewide for Trump from Florida’s Latino voters, and an early New York Times analysis showing massive swings to Republicans above 12% in both majority Hispanic and Cuban-American neighborhoods in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.
“Hillary Clinton won Miami-Dade by 30 points four years ago, and while nobody thought that Biden was going to match that he should have been up by 20 instead of around seven,” said Charles Zelden, professor of political science at Nova Southeastern University, who has analysed presidential elections in Florida for decades.
“There were two things going on, one was Trump was more effective in his messaging with the Hispanic vote than the Democrats thought he was going to be. The other was the vote, especially early voting in Miami-Dade county, was anemic compared to other parts of the state.”
“So you had this general lack of enthusiasm for Biden among Democrats, or at least a general lack of enthusiasm to get that vote in early. About half of that is the Cuban vote, and the other half was just underperforming in Miami-Dade county.”
With coronavirus continuing to rage across Florida Democrats were looking to pandemic ravaged senior voters to bolster their numbers.
According to the New York Times’ preliminary indications, those voters 65 and over that Trump won by a 17-point margin in Florida four years ago did lean away from Republicans. But the 1.5% swing was barely a blip as Trump consolidated or built on other demographics from 2016, including 2% swings in black and rural voters.
According to the CNN exit poll, little more than half of Florida’s senior voters supported Trump, down from 57% four years ago.
For Florida’s Democrats, another defeat in an election they entered with high hopes will spark another round of soul searching. Extensive autopsies were performed after Clinton’s loss to Trump here in 2016, and following the midterm disappointments in 2018 when Andrew Gillum, candidate for governor, and incumbent US senator Bill Nelson both narrowly lost races they were expected to win.
Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat re-elected Tuesday to the state house, was openly critical in a tweet after watching Biden and other Democrats, including two Democratic US congresswomen, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala, fall.
“I’m saying it now. We need a whole new direction for the @FlaDems. We are losing too many incredible down ballot elected officials and candidates right now and it’s not ok. I know we have the potential to be better and do better,” she wrote.