Obama heads to FL for last campaign push before midterm elections
Ethan Miller/Getty Images(MIAMI) — In a final sprint to the finish line, former President Barack Obama seeks to energize the base for Democratic candidates on the ballot in two of the most consequential races this cycle, including purple Florida — a state pivotal to his party’s hopes of securing control of the Senate and making inroads at the state level, after President Donald Trump carried the state by a slim margin in the 2016 presidential election.
In recent weeks, the former president has ramped up his campaign presence, stumping for a slate of candidates across the country, and now will join rising Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, Senate incumbent Bill Nelson and several statewide candidates on the trail in Miami — Miami-Dade County, a Democratic stronghold, preferred Hillary Clinton in 2016 over Donald Trump by more than 30 points.
“Barack Obama has been my friend since I first introduced him to Florida in 2005, when he was a rising political star,” said Sen. Bill Nelson in a statement. “I cast a key vote in support of his healthcare reforms, and he and I fought for public schools and protecting Florida’s unique and treasured environment.”
“President Obama knows what’s at stake in this election — protections for people with pre-existing conditions, funding for public schools, and leadership to restore our environment,” Mayor Andrew Gillum added in a statement. “With President Obama’s help, we’re going to bring it home for Florida this November.”
In contrast to his successor, the former president’s message to voters has been one of hope as the party seeks to win back control of Congress.
Before voters head to the polls on Tuesday, Obama is poised to deliver his closing argument to the Sunshine State to help propel Gillum’s historic candidacy across the finish line — he’d be the first African-American governor of Florida if elected — and shore up support for Nelson, to keep his Senate seat as Democrats seek control there.
The Tallahassee mayor is running in one of this year’s most closely watched races against former GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Trump-endorsed and occasionally controversial opponent.
Gillum, who scored Obama’s endorsement last month and who was joined by former Vice President Joe Biden last week, is part of a progressive class of candidates who are dominating the Democratic ticket this cycle. More aligned with Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and liberal insurgent Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Tallahassee mayor surged onto the scene in the final weeks leading into his primary victory.
Florida voters delivered a major upset in August after sending Gillum onto the general ballot over establishment candidate Gwen Graham, a member of a Florida political dynasty. Her father, Bob Graham, was once the state’s governor and a U.S. senator. Gillum captured 75 percent of the youth vote in the primary, according to NextGen America, although that coalition of voters historically doesn’t participate in midterm elections.
The contentious governor’s race has cast a spotlight on a range of cultural issues, including gun control and race. Gillum and DeSantis are vying for the governor’s mansion in the wake of the shooting in Parkland — where 17 students and teachers were gunned down — that incited a national movement among young people, led by survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
This tight battle between Gillum and DeSantis has at-times become heated, particularly over race. The day after Gillum won the party’s nomination in the August primary, DeSantis came under fire for telling voters during a Fox News interview that they should not “monkey this up” by voting for Gillum.
This week, Trump entered into the fray to defend his staunch ally by relentlessly criticizing the Democratic hopeful over Twitter and at a Wednesday rally for DeSantis in Fort Myers. Branding Gillum as a “stone-cold thief” and a “radical socialist,” Trump has ignited tensions in the contest’s final days.
Gillum responded to Trump’s remarks on Thursday, telling CNN: “The President again is attempting to use scare tactics, fear mongering — this is a race to the bottom, the kind of politics they are used to. I just happen to believe they are sorely underestimating the people of my state.”
For his part, Gillum faced controversy earlier this year over an FBI probe into government corruption in Tallahassee and accepting a ticket to the Broadway musical Hamilton from an undercover FBI agent. Gillum said during a gubernatorial debate that he’s not the direct subject of the investigation.
Despite that, ABC News partner FiveThirtyEight forecasts Gillum with a three in four chance of winning. Recent polls showed a razor-thin advantage for Gillum, who holds a 49 to 48 percent lead over DeSantis among likely voters, in a CNN poll from Oct. 21. The race is rated as a toss-up.
Nelson, locked in a tight race with Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott, must hang onto his seat to keep the Democrats’ path to a Senate majority alive. The three-term incumbent is among 10 Democratic senators defending seats this cycle in a state Trump won two years ago. Nelson has a 49 to 47 percent lead over Scott among likely voters, according to the CNN poll.
In a year with unprecedented turnout and enthusiasm in a midterm election, Democrats are hoping to capitalize on key opportunities in the South. Obama has been on the trail casting this election as more important than any other contest in recent history, including in years that featured his own name on the ballot, sending a clear message to Democrats: Get out the vote.
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