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Image: President Joe Biden and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, during a briefing with first responders and local officials in Miami on the condo tower that collapsed in Surfside, Fla., on July 1, 2021.
President Joe Biden and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, during a briefing with first responders and local officials in Miami on the condo tower that collapsed in Surfside, Fla., on July 1, 2021.Susan Walsh / AP file

For Biden, Florida becomes the elephant in the campaign room

White House memo: Hurricane Ian postpones trip to a state where a lot has changed since the last time he was there.


Eyeing the track of Hurricane Ian, the White House for the second time in three months had to postpone a presidential trip to Florida. A lot has changed since President Biden’s first. 

In July 2021, the president flew to Surfside to visit with families and first responders dealing with an apartment building collapse there. He sat side-by-side with the state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, and the two praised one another for their quick response to the unfolding tragedy. 

“Your team has been amazing, but you personally have been amazing. You’ve been a steady, calming, reassuring, but forceful voice every step of the way,” Biden said then. DeSantis in turn thanked Biden for how he “recognized the severity of this tragedy from day one,” and had “been very supportive.”

That was expected to change this week when Biden joined Rep. Charlie Crist, DeSantis’ November opponent, at a rally in Orlando. Until now, rather than DeSantis or Sen. Marco Rubio, who is also up for re-election, Biden’s main political foil of late was actually Sen. Rick Scott, who’s not even on the ballot. 

Scott, the chairman of the Senate campaign committee, has been name-checked by the president on 10 separate occasions in the last month, focused on an 11-point plan he put forward earlier this year that called for, among other things, requiring all federal legislation to sunset in five years. 

Democrats have seized on that to suggest that it would put Medicare and Social Security “on the chopping block.” And Biden was set to tee off on Scott again during remarks focused on entitlement programs in Fort Lauderdale.

“If Republicans control the Congress, Social Security will be on the chopping block. But if you support the Democrats — and I promise you this — Social Security will be protected.  Period,” Biden said Friday at a DNC rally in Washington. 

For weeks, there has been a debate among Biden advisers about whether to elevate DeSantis at a time he clearly welcomes engaging in the national conversation. And of late, one of Biden’s top advisers has argued that the governor’s decision to fly migrants — particularly those fleeing Venezuela — to places like Martha’s Vineyard has created an opportunity for the president to address a major political liability in south Florida with Latino voters. 

Another said this weekend that they think DeSantis recognized his own error, scrapping a plan to send another flight of migrants to Biden’s home state of Delaware. 

The White House says the Florida trip with Crist has just been postponed, not canceled outright. So he’ll have a chance to revive the remarks in person. 

Of course, the potential 2024 rival the White House has eyed most is Donald Trump. His primetime speech in Philadelphia last month bluntly said he and his fellow “MAGA Republicans,” represented “an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.” But as White House officials were plotting this trip in recent weeks, they quickly had to scrap one suggestion for a location — Palm Beach. Mar-a-lago would have been too close for comfort. 

Battle of the Beltways 

Biden’s relative absence from Florida is a sharp break from his predecessors and seemingly at odds with its electoral clout. But stepping back, it reflects where the Biden team sits in something of an internal Democratic debate — of whether the party’s future rests in the increasingly diverse, growing populations of the Sun Belt or with its working-class base in the industrial Midwest.  

Consider this stat, based on NBC News data: Through Sunday, Biden has visited four “Rust Belt” states — Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania — a total of 28 times. He’s been to five key Sun Belt states — Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Georgia and Florida — just seven times. 

Biden’s political stump speech of late has emphasized American manufacturing and his support for union workers of late, showing Team Biden’s borderline obsession with keeping that political constituency in Democratic hands. 

“My economic agenda has ignited a historic manufacturing boom here in America,” Biden said in Michigan recently. 

The “A” Word

Abortion rights may be one of the biggest election issues for Democrats this year. But for a devout Catholic, the issue has not been an easy one for Biden to talk about. In a speech immediately after the Dobbs decision came down, Biden used the term itself rarely, and sought to broaden the focus for his administration to a larger right he warned was now at risk: privacy.

When he met with a group of Democratic governors a week later, they used the term over and over again but Biden did only to talk about federal funding “not for abortion, but for family planning.” Since then, it’s appeared in presidential remarks sparingly, only to warn about bans on the practice coming into effect in certain states.

But a White House official pointed out that Biden used the term five times in his remarks at a DNC event Friday, more than any single speech he’s delivered since the Supreme Court decision. The speech Friday is expected to mirror his political stump speech for the remaining weeks of the midterm campaign, and reflects, the adviser says, a greater degree of comfort on Biden’s part in talking about it explicitly.