Early voting kicked off yesterday in Florida, a pivotal state fought over relentlessly by President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden as their contentious White House race enters its final 15-day stretch.
Record numbers of Americans have already cast ballots in person or by mail – 28.6mn, according to one tracker – ahead of the November 3 election, as the rivals race from one swing state to another to marshal support.
The election is rapidly boiling down to whether voters see Trump as best placed to revive an economy laid low by the coronavirus, or they believe the president has exacerbated the pandemic and want Biden to fulfil his pledge to unify a divided country.
The battle has played out in eight or nine swing states for months, but perhaps nowhere more intensely than Florida, the largest up-for-grabs prize of them all, delivering 29 of the state-by-state Electoral College votes that decide who wins the White House.
Early morning rain across parts of southern Florida appeared to not deter voters who lined up wearing masks and at a respectful social distance for the start of in-person voting.
At a Miami Beach polling station, Jackeline Maurice, a writer in her 40s, was excitedly snapping selfies with an “I voted” sticker on after casting her ballot for Biden.
“I’ve been waiting four years to vote,” she said.
Maurice said she was “cautiously optimistic” about the 77-year-old Democrat’s prospects. As for Trump, she said the diehards in his base “love him, but the rest of America does not.”
Nationwide, Biden leads Trump by 8.9 percentage points, according to a RealClearPolitics average of polls, and the Democrat has a sizeable lead in half a dozen battleground states.
But the Florida race is tightening down to a knife edge; statewide polls shows Biden ahead by an average of 1.4 percentage points – compared to 4.5 points less than two weeks ago.
The increasingly diverse state is a bellwether, having voted for the candidate who ultimately won the presidency in 18 of the past 20 elections – including for Republican Trump in 2016.
Biden, fresh off a pair of events in North Carolina, another state Democrats want to flip, dispatched running mate Kamala Harris to Florida for a drive-in rally in Orlando, followed by a voter mobilisation event in Jacksonville.
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