TAMPA, Fla. - Thousands waited hours outside of Raymond James Stadium – also a polling place and COVID-19 testing center – to attend a rally for President Donald Trump late Thursday afternoon. Some wore masks, but there was little social distancing among his supporters. A few passed out from the heat, officials said.
Across town, at the Florida State Fairgrounds, a different kind of event took shape. The drive-in style rally, set to begin just a few hours after the president's, would host a limited number of socially distant supporters who stayed in their vehicles while the candidate delivered his message.
One thing both campaigns have in common is their belief that Florida could be a winner-take-all state.
During his hour-long rally, the president went directly for his opponent, saying if Joe Biden is elected, “there will be a depression like on one’s ever seen.”
He also called Joe Biden “corrupt” and went after the former vice president’s son, Hunter Biden, prompting the crowd to resurrect a chant popular during the run-up to the 2016 election: “lock him up, lock him up.”
Trump echoed his previous assertion that the COVID-19 pandemic is “rounding the curve,” despite record numbers of new cases in the United States in the past two weeks.
Casting positivity on the upcoming election, the president said “we’re doing incredibly in Florida,” but it’s still unclear if he can keep the Sunshine State in the red column come Election Day. He won the state by a narrow margin in 2016.
According to Mr. Trump, the turnout for his rallies is the true indication of how the vote will turn out.
As the president’s event ended, around 4 p.m., crews at the fairgrounds were putting the finishing touches on the Democratic candidate’s rally spot.
Biden’s camp says part of the campaign's message is that their candidate is being responsible when it comes to the coronavirus and hopes to cut a stark contrast to President Trump’s rally from earlier in the day.
Biden took the stage around 7:15 p.m. after attending a rally in Broward County. Despite his appearance being cut short by a downpour, the former vice president managed to get in talking points about jobs, unions and the economy, plus education and the pandemic.
Biden came to Florida to juice turnout in Hillsborough County, which has become more Democratic over time, and get media coverage across the crucial I-4 corridor.
Biden took shots at his opponent, bringing back his refrain on restoring "the soul of the country."
"He's spreading more than just the coronavirus, he's spreading division and discord," Biden said. "This is not who we are, we're more decent, honorable, respectful people than what we're seeing from this administration."
The Democratic candidate also took a positive tone about his chances of winning Florida and the election, overall.
"I've never been more optimistic about America and America's chances than I am today because I know the American people," Biden said. "On November third, we're going to unite the country and show the world who America really is."
For now, Democrats have led Republicans in the early vote and mail ballots returned. With five days until election day, the margin continues to narrow, and the campaigns are assuming this will be dead even by then.