The Trump campaign sought an essential victory in Florida by courting Latino voters and invoking red-scare visions of Joe Biden, whose wins in crucial counties fell significantly shorter than Hillary Clinton’s in 2016.
Polls predicted a tight race in the state – the former vice president was roughly 400,000 votes behind the president by the time the AP called its results.
Nine million Florida voters voted early, with more than 4.7 million of those votes from returned mail-in ballots returned and more than 4.3 million from in-person early voting. Republicans outnumbered Democrats during in-person early voting by roughly 500,000 votes, but Democrats returned 2.1 million mail-in ballots to Republicans’ 1.4 million.
The early vote turnout nearly eclipsed the state’s entire 2016 turnout, when 9.6 million people voted, according to the US Elections Project.
Florida’s election laws require county officials to report its early voting numbers, including mail-in votes, within 30 minutes of the polls closing. All in-person votes cast on Election Day must be reported by 2am.
Votes will continue to trickle in from overseas and from provisional ballots in the days that follow, before votes are officially certified.
Election analysts braced for a similar scenario that followed the 2000 presidential election, when the state was the subject of a massive GOP-led recount effort and protracted legal battle, ultimately determined by a split US Supreme Court that put George W Bush in the White House.
The president has visited the state more than a dozen times in recent days as part of his campaign rally blitz across several swing states.
Mr Biden has visited the state four times since he emerged as the Democratic nominee, and former president Barack Obama – who joined his former vice president’s in-person events last last month – delivered an Election Day eve campaign speech at a rally in Miami.
The 2020 presidential election marked the first in the state following a measure that restored voting rights to people with felony convictions – on the condition that they pay outstanding court costs, fines and fees.
After voters supported a ballot measure that restored their voting rights, a Republican-dominated state legislature imposed a requirement that they pay those fees before casting their ballots, effectively continuing to suppress thousands of votes.
A multi-million dollar effort from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, NBA star LeBron James and other high-profile donors offered to pay remaining fines and fees that disenfranchised thousands of people.
ProPublica found that 13,000 people would become newly eligible to vote from those efforts, enough to make a dent in some key areas as the race emerged as a toss-up between the candidates.
The Trump campaign has largely targeted the state’s Latino voters, invoking red-scare visions linking his Democratic opponent to communist regimes in a bid to attract support from Republican-leaning Cuban American voters.
In competing rallies in the state last week, the former vice president called Mr Trump “the worst possible standard-bearer for democracy” in Cuba and Venezuela, with Russia establishing a major presence in Havana while the administration was deporting immigrants back to autocratic regimes of South America.
“He won’t even grant temporary status for Venezuelans fleeing the oppressive regime of [Venezula president] Maduro, who I’ve met with and he’s a thug,” Mr Biden said.
Ms Clinton carried Miami-Dade County by roughly 30 points in 2016. Mr Biden’s margin was roughly 8 per cent more than Mr Trump’s.
That surge in Republican votes ousted two Democratic incumbents in Congress.
Miami-Dade’s Republican Mayor Carlos Gimenez defeated Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell for the state’s 26th District seat, which extends from the Miami suburbs to Key West.
Ms Mucarsel-Powell, the first Ecuadorean-American member of Congress, was elected to the US House during the 2018 midterm elections.
Republican Maria Elvira Salazar also defeated Democratic incumbent Donna Shalala in the race for Florida's 27th congressional district.
Congresswoman Shalala served as the Health and Human Services secretary under former president Bill Clinton.
New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who won her re-election, criticised the Democratic Party’s efforts to reach Latino voters.
“I won’t comment much on tonight’s results as they are evolving and ongoing, but I will say we’ve been sounding the alarm about Dem vulnerabilities [with] Latinos for a long, long time,” she said on Twitter. “There is a strategy and a path, but the necessary effort simply hasn’t been put in.”
“This is a huge victory for the president,” Republican Governor Ron DeSantis told the right-wing outlet One America News. “This is over. Book it, and let’s move on.”
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