Florida’s significance in the 2020 presidential election will become apparent again this week as Democrats come to town, Miami to be specific.
A week after President Donald Trump held a rally in Orlando to officially launch his reelection campaign, 20 of his Democratic challengers are preparing to face-off in the first Democratic debate of the race. Because of the size of the field of candidates who qualified, the debate will be split into two events with 10 of the candidates meeting Wednesday night and the other 10 squaring-off Thursday evening.
It will not only provide an opportunity for the candidates to attack Trump’s record, but it will also provide the Democrats with a chance to chip away at the frontrunner status of former Vice President Joe Biden.
Many of the candidates will try to use the debate to make a name for themselves, allowing them to move up in the polls.
“There is an opportunity for someone to make a memorable moment in Miami and get their name tossed into the conversation,” Sean Foreman, a political scientist at Barry University, told the Sun-Sentinel on Tuesday. “But the challenge is how to do that properly. Is it to be the Trump attack dog? Is it to be the adult in the room? Is it to really capitalize on the key issues of right now: abortion policy, immigration, and gun policy?”
But, at the same time, the debate could also result in a verbal misstep that could derail a candidate’s political ambitions.
A poll released by Quinnipiac University last week, showed Biden leading the pack among Florida registered voters for the March 17 Democratic Primary.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has 14 percent, with 12 percent for Elizabeth Warren, 8 percent for Pete Buttigieg and 6 percent for Kamala Harris. The poll shows none of the other candidates.tops 1 percent, with 16 candidates polling at less than 1 percent.
“Vice President Biden is the big winner in this poll. He leads the Democratic pack by a considerable margin and he runs best of the Democratic candidates when matched up with President Trump,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.
The survey shows Biden leads President Trump 50 – 41 percent, while Sanders leads Trump 48 – 42 percent.
The debate will likely touch on issues of importance to Floridians: health care, gun violence and climate change.
“Climate change is really the issue that sits on all other issues,” Rachel Silverstein, executive director of Miami Waterkeeper, an environmental research and activist group, told the New York Times on Monday. “It affects security. It affects drinking water. It affects tourism. It affects public health. Property values. It’s a part of the discussion of almost any topic that might come up.”
But, South Florida Democrats have offered the presidential candidates advice: stay away from issues viewed as too liberal and focus on the issues that affect South Floridians on a daily basis.
“I want them to talk about issues that affect people on a day-to-day basis,” Rep. Donna Shalala, (D., Fla.), recently told the Miami Herald of the 2020 field. “I want them to talk about what a Democratic leader can do. That is, what’s the difference between Democrats and Republicans.”
“There are 29 million people that don’t have health insurance. We need to get them covered,” Shalala continued.
In a split debate in which 20 candidates will participate, there won’t be a lot of time for the candidates to get a lot of airtime during this week’s debates. That’s why it’s crucial for each candidate to get off to a strong start out of the gates and deliver a strong message, while avoiding the campaign-ending gaffes.