Biden and Trump hold dueling Florida rallies as election and pandemic converge
(CNN) -- The battle for Florida and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic were at the forefront of the presidential race Thursday, as President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden held dueling rallies in the marquee swing state that has seen a significant increase in cases since it reopened one month ago.
The stakes in Florida are highest for Trump, who would have virtually no path to 270 electoral votes without winning the state where he defeated Hillary Clinton by 1.2 percentage points in 2016.
And five days from the election, the campaign and the surging coronavirus pandemic are converging, with Florida in the spotlight over how the White House and the state's Republican governor have handled the virus as cases there surge.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Trump ally, and Trump pandemic adviser Dr. Scott Atlas -- who is a neuroradiologist, not an infectious disease expert -- have in recent months pushed to de-emphasize testing for Covid-19.
Florida is now one month into DeSantis' move to reopen bars and restaurants at full service in Florida, and one week into easing restrictions on allowing visitors at long-term care facilities. At the same time, Florida has seen what could become a second surge, as new cases reach levels that have not been seen there since August.
Trump held an early-afternoon rally in Tampa, part of a crucial swing region in Florida. At the same time, Biden was in South Florida's Broward County -- home to an enormous Democratic electorate where he'll aim to run up a large advantage on election night. Then, at 6:30 p.m. ET, Biden, too, will visit Tampa.
For Biden, whose campaign's primary focus is rebuilding the "blue wall" of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, a win in fast-counting Florida would be a sign of strength on election night -- and could bring the contest to an early, decisive end.
"You hold the key," Biden said in Broward County's Coconut Creek. "The heart and soul of this country's at stake right in Florida. If Florida goes blue, it's over."
Biden slammed Trump for holding largely maskless "super-spreader events" during the pandemic.
"He's spreading more virus around the country, and here in Florida today," Biden said.
"He's spreading division in addition" to the virus," Biden added. "Division and discord. We need a president to bring us together, not pull us apart."
Trump, at his Tampa rally, argued against "lockdowns" during the pandemic, but told his largely maskless, shoulder-to-shoulder supporters that wearing a mask is appropriate when social distancing isn't possible.
"If you get close, wear a mask. 'Oh, it's controversial.' It's not controversial to me. You get close, you wear a mask. Social distance, social distance," Trump said.
But, ignoring the reality that more than 200,000 Americans have died from the virus, he added: "The bottom line, you're going to get better. If I can get better anyone can get better."
Biden, whom Trump and Republicans have sought to cast as a socialist despite the former vice president defeating more progressive rivals during the Democratic primary, sought Thursday to appeal to Cuban and Venezuelan communities in South Florida.
"We have to vote for new Cuba policy as well," Biden said. "This administration's approach isn't working. Cuba is no closer to freedom and democracy today than it was four years ago."
Trump and Biden are competing for an increasingly smaller pool of votes in Florida. By Wednesday morning, more than 6.9 million people had cast their votes in Florida, according to the state's Division of Elections -- a figure that is already approaching the 9.6 million votes cast in the 2016 presidential election, and is nearly half of the state's population of 14.4 million registered voters.
Recent polls in Florida have shown Biden a tight race. CNN's Poll of Polls tracking the average poll result in the race puts Biden at 49% to Trump's 45%.
Florida is also clear evidence that Trump's campaign and the Republican National Committee are feeling a cash pinch, reducing planned spending there by $2 million.
Biden is set to outspend the President and the national party in Florida during the final week of the campaign: The former vice president and the Democratic National Committee have reserved roughly $6.8 million in advertising in the state, more than double the $2.9 million currently that the Trump campaign and the RNC are on tap to spend, the data show.
Biden is also benefiting from a $100 million blitz by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in Florida through his super PAC, Independence USA. Bloomberg's PAC recently expanded its advertising efforts into Texas and Ohio, two more must-win states for Trump.
Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott, a former governor and potential 2024 presidential candidate, is making what Politico reported would be a six-figure ad buy -- a tiny fraction of what Bloomberg is spending -- on a direct-to-camera ad of his own boosting Trump.
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