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'I really don't think he has done a great job': COVID-19 puts Florida at risk for Trump

By Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

PINELLAS PARK, Fla. - Priscilla Skalka figured Donald Trump's experience as a businessman would serve him well as president, so the Florida retiree voted for him.

Four years later, she's convinced he lacks what it takes to run the country.

The pandemic has upended Skalka's life, first with depression as it kept family away, then with a terrifying case of COVID-19 that put her in intensive care at a St. Petersburg hospital. She believes Trump failed to take the threat seriously early on.

"I really don't think he has done a great job," said the 79-year-old independent voter, who was wearing a surgical mask as she leaned on her cane in the sweltering heat outside a home improvement store.

Skalka's souring on Trump illustrates how his failure to contain the coronavirus, which has killed more than 200,000 Americans, has undercut his standing among older white voters, imperiling the Republican's prospects for reelection. Skalka is weighing whether Democrat Joe Biden might make a better president.

Florida is a must-win state for Trump. Without its 29 electoral votes, he will likely have no path to victory in the Nov. 3 election, now less than six weeks away. Polls give Biden a slight edge in Florida, where Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by just 1% in 2016.

 

Republicans' even narrower wins in Florida's 2018 races for governor and the U.S. Senate strengthened the state's renown for extremely tight elections - like the one that made George W. Bush president after a ballot recount debacle in 2000 left him 537 votes ahead of Al Gore out of 6 million cast.

The battle to replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last Friday, could heighten what was already set to be record voter turnout in Florida.

Trump's popularity in the state dropped in June as COVID-19 deaths surged after Gov. Ron DeSantis - a fellow Republican following the president's lead - defied public health experts and rushed to lift stay-at-home orders. More recent polling shows a rebound for Trump.

"I think the politics of the pandemic really hurt Trump in Florida over the summer," said Republican strategist Alex Conant, a former adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. "Florida is a very senior-heavy state, and seniors were more concerned, understandably, than other voters about the pandemic."

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