TAMPA, Fla. - Democratic nominee Joe Biden touched down Tuesday afternoon at Tampa International Airport, and it didn't take long for it to feel like something less than a typical campaign stop.
His destination, a gymnasium on the campus of Hillsborough Community College, sat empty, but for some production lights and cameras, a lectern in front of a Biden-Harris backdrop, and tables arranged in a half rectangle. In a typical election year, the bleachers would be full of eager supporters ready to hear from their party's anointed standard bearer; instead, they remained folded into the wall.
And before Biden arrived, the few dozen attendees - mostly reporters and staff - were reminded: "Masks on the whole time and social distancing."
Less than an hour after he landed, Biden stepped to the lectern and removed his face mask.
"My wife Jill is a community college professor and I've known for a long time that community colleges are the best kept secret in America," he said into a camera, his voice echoing in the rafters.
And so began Biden's first visit to Florida as the Democratic presidential nominee and his first public sighting in the Tampa Bay area since the race for the White House began. He arrived in the Sunshine State amid the sixth month of a pandemic, with the West Coast on fire, racial tensions flaring and 49 days until voters decide whether all of that warrants a change in leadership.
Biden is running neck and neck with President Donald Trump in Florida, a critical swing state once again. A new poll from Florida Atlantic University released ahead of Biden's visit showed the Democrat running slightly ahead, with the few remaining undecideds breaking toward Trump.
Biden in his remarks soon hit upon the theme of his Tampa visit: the military.
Biden said Trump denigrates service members, and referencing his son, Beau, who served in Iraq, mentioned what he said was the most offensive part of Trump.
"He calls them 'suckers' and 'losers,'" Biden said, a reference to a story in The Atlantic that quoted anonymous sources who said Trump derided deceased and captured soldiers. "(Beau) is gone now. But he was no sucker."