By Jarrett Renshaw and Nandita Bose
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Joe Biden will hold a political rally for the first time as president in a state he lost in 2020 when he heads to Florida on Tuesday to face potential 2024 rival, fierce critic and possible Trump successor Ron DeSantis.
Biden is expected to make his most targeted attack yet on DeSantis, a combative governor who has used the power of office to gain national exposure by evading COVID-19 lockdowns, mocking Biden’s age and abilities, and Disney World for opposing a new state law limiting discussion of LGBTQ issues in schools, and recently flew Venezuelan immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.
Biden must fight fire with fire, some Democrats say.
“I think people are going to look for him aggressively. What DeSantis is doing is horrible. And there’s no greater juxtaposition than Joe Biden’s kindness and humanity than the, you know, horrible, inhumane bully that is Ron DeSantis,” Jennifer said. Holdsworth, a Democratic political adviser.
Biden has held political events in Democratic strongholds such as Maryland and New York in recent weeks, but Tuesday’s popular rally in Orlando is expected to show how he can build the case for his reelection. While former President Donald Trump has long been considered the Republican frontrunner in 2024, recent polls show DeSantis is higher in Florida.
Biden will use his meeting to brand extremist Republicans like DeSantis a threat to democracy as he tries to use anger at the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse the historic Roe vs. Wade decision, which Democratic officials say won’t allow access. of women to ensure abortion.
“I expect the president to throw some punches. There’s no way we can escape the elephant in the room,” a senior Democratic official told DeSantis.
DeSantis, whose campaign did not respond to requests for comment, has spent the past two years trying to turn Biden into a liberal villain for his handling of the COVID-19 crisis and record inflation. He has also questioned Biden’s mental competence.
Biden’s poll numbers remain under water in Florida, and Republicans say they welcome his journey.
“The more Biden comes to Florida, the better it is for the state’s Republican Party,” said Evan Power, chairman of the Leon County Republican Party.
Democrats in close contests in November’s midterm elections still outperform Biden in polls, and some have expressed concern that appearing with the president in their election will make a referendum on his popularity.
Democratic Senate candidate Val Demings will not be attending Tuesday to meet the president in her hometown of Orlando. Her campaign says this is due to obligations she has as a US representative. Democratic governor candidate Charlie Crist will attend the event.
“I think he’s great. I think he’s doing a great job. He’s my friend. And I’m very proud of him. And he’s going to give our campaign a real boost,” Crist said in an interview on Thursday.
Crist follows DeSantis by a wider margin than Demings in her race against incumbent US Senator Marco Rubio, recent polls show. Demings roughly equals Rubio in the fundraising race, while Crist takes on an incumbent with a whopping $120 million on hand, reportedly the highest in a state race in the country.
“I think it will shed a bright light on the state,” Crist said.
One message Biden and Democratic National Committee chairman Jaime Harrison want to get across is that the party hasn’t given up on the state that lately felt like it had given up on them. The last time a Democrat won a presidential or senate election in Florida was in 2012.
In Florida, Republicans have an advantage in voter registration, 5.2 million versus 4.9 million. But the number of unaffiliated voters stands at 3.9 million, an increasingly important part of the electorate.
“He had no choice. If he comes to Florida, it’s a story. If he doesn’t come to Florida, it’s a story,” said a Democrat involved in a statewide race.
(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw and Nandita Bose; editing by Heather Timmons and Alistair Bell)