Florida 2020: What’s at stake in a crucial swing state

Andrew Naughtie
·3-min read
Joe Biden in Tampa (REUTERS)
Joe Biden in Tampa (REUTERS)

Amidst the drama of a massive surge in mail-in voting, a surprising state could provide some sense of normality on election night.

What’s at stake

Others may come and go, but for now, Florida remains the ultimate swing state. Notwithstanding Texas’s entry this year into the toss-up column, it is the largest and therefore most valuable state in which both parties consistently have a very good chance.

It also has a reputation for chaos, largely because memories of the 2000 Bush v Gore recount farrago remain all too fresh – particularly for the Democrats. The state has never since provided anything like that level of drama, but with 29 electoral votes at stake, it should never be counted out.

Last time around

It was Hillary Clinton’s rust belt disaster that defined the election night in 2016, and Florida would not have made up for the 46 electoral votes she lost in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Still, her loss there was galling – a failure to close the gap in a state she had fought for long and hard.

Read more: The Electoral College, explained

There were less than 120,000 votes in it, a margin of 1.2 points, but by Florida standards, that hardly counts as a nail-biter.

On the ground

Florida is governed by a reliable Trump ally, Ron DeSantis, who has sided heartily with the president throughout the coronavirus pandemic, reopening his state early in the summer and battling criticism when cases spiked sharply shortly afterwards.

The governor and his administration have since faced criticism over the state’s assembly of its coronavirus data, which collates figures such as test positivity quite differently than most mainstream tracking projects.

Read more: Should you trust the polls in 2020?

Also a problem in Florida is the security of election systems. Mr DeSantis went to vote this week only to discover that his primary address had been changed without his knowledge. The change was investigated and a man shortly afterwards charged with voter fraud.

The home stretch

Mr Trump badly needs Florida, which he refers to as his home state and where he also votes (albeit usually by mail, although he voted in person this time around). But polls show Joe Biden clinging to a narrow lead, raising the prospect that the president will need to fill a 29-vote hole in his Electoral College total with many more states also in the balance.

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Florida may also play a key stabilising role on Election Night. Mr Trump has lately been demanding that the result of the election be known on the night, ignoring both the law and the realities of counting votes in a year where mail voting is surging dramatically.

But Florida is expected to count quickly – and if it is called for Mr Biden relatively early in the night, it will immediately become harder for Mr Trump to find a way to victory.