The essence of Trump's challenge in Florida was captured by an NBC News-Marist poll of likely voters early this month. It found Biden winning support from 41% of white voters, well above the 32% that Clinton won in 2016, according to exit polls.
The survey also found Biden narrowly ahead of Trump among seniors, with a statistical tie of 49% to 48%. That's a remarkable comedown for Trump, who clobbered Clinton 57% to 40% among Florida voters at least 65 years old.
Trump's ratings in Florida were slightly stronger in a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Wednesday, but still fell short of his 2016 numbers among whites and seniors. The survey found 52% of likely Florida voters disapproved of Trump's response to the coronavirus and 51% had an overall unfavorable view of the president.
The pandemic has dominated the campaign in Florida, where the collapse of tourism has devastated the economy. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, a Democrat, said that by playing down the severity of the threat, Trump had worsened the impact. Since February, more than 500,000 jobs have vanished in Florida, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"I lost everything," said Becky Fassett, 48, of Dunedin.
Fassett owned an in-home pet-sitting business for locals when they went on vacation. A staff of seven took care of cats, dogs and more exotic creatures - macaws, bearded dragons, potbellied pigs. The business came to a dead stop in March. Fassett has been unable to get unemployment benefits.
She is furious at Trump for understating the seriousness of COVID-19 and mocking the use of face coverings to stop the spread of a virus he labels with racist nicknames.
"The hatred and the division over a global health crisis - it's just disgusting," she said. "I blame Trump. Everyone wants to talk about their right not to wear a mask. What about my right for you not to kill me?"
Fassett has voted for Democrats and Republicans in presidential races, but disliked both Trump and Clinton, so she went with Libertarian Gary Johnson in 2016. A big advantage for Biden - in Florida and elsewhere - is not being loathed the way Clinton was by some.
Both campaigns are pouring enormous sums of money into Florida, the most populous battleground state. Since the party conventions ended in August, Biden and his allies have spent $39 million on Florida ads, many of them attacking Trump on the pandemic. Trump and his backers have spent $26 million on ads, including some stressing economic recovery and progress toward a vaccine, according to Advertising Analytics, an ad-tracking firm.
In Skalka's case, her opinion of Trump is already set when it comes to COVID-19. What she hopes to sort out is whether Biden would safeguard the veterans benefits of her husband, who served in the Air Force, and the couple's Social Security checks.
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