Florida pensioners ride golf buggies into final battle to dislodge Trump
Around 400 golf carts took part in the parade of former Vice President Joe Biden - AP
Hundreds of residents of America's largest age group wearing Ridin’withBiden T-shirts and Biden-Harris 2020 bumper stickers, staggered in a convoy of golf carts to cast their ballots.
Such a large turnout for a Democratic presidential candidate would have been unthinkable four years ago here in The Villages, a traditionally conservative suburb of 125,000 retirees in central Florida.
"I really wasn't expecting that many, I always thought it was a small club," said 66-year-old Casey Marr, who was sitting next to his buggy with Linus dog and wearing a Vote for Biden collar. "I think a lot of people just don't like what they've seen in the past six months."
The Villages voters have always been a key cohort in the battlefield state of Florida. This week, their loyalty has been brought into the spotlight.
Casey Marr and dog Linus with homemade anti-Trump signs at The Villages, Central Florida - Josie Ensor
The president is believed to have mishandled the coronavirus of seniors. His reckless face-to-face encounter with Covid-19 may have exacerbated their views. A poll conducted after Mr Trump's diagnosis shows rival Joe Biden is 21 points ahead of the 65+ age group, the largest Democrat leadership in 25 years.
In the Sunshine State, Mr. Trump is 15 points behind the former Vice President, in large part due to his handling of the pandemic. If Florida - the country's largest Bellwether state - calls it for Mr. Biden on the night, it will likely be over for Donald Trump.
“Florida is a percent state. Trump only won one percent, and so did Obama, "said Chris Stanley, president of The Villages Democratic Club." If as many as six percent of The Villages switch, it could make all the difference. "
Retirees have long flocked to Florida's warm climate and white sandy beaches, where they have gained immense political influence.
Voters here care about protecting government programs like Social Security and Medicare, and reducing the cost of prescription drugs. The Covid-19 crisis has significantly alleviated every problem.
Pro-Biden supporters line up on their way to the local polling station to cast their vote during the early voting - AP
"Of course the virus is scary to us," Marr, a Pennsylvania Sunbird who recently retired from a job as a regional manager at Honda, told The Telegraph. "I rarely go out now, but when I do I wear my mask and keep my distance."
Mr Biden has worked hard to woo seniors who now make up a whopping 30 percent of the state's electorate. In a statement from the Tampa Bay Times, Mr Biden wrote about "Donna and Roger" from "The Villages" and how the president's abuse of the pandemic resulted in their inability to see their grandchildren.
"Jill and I feel the same way when we don't see our grandchildren as often as we want," he says.
Ms. Stanley said up to 100 registered Republicans have walked through the doors of Democratic Party headquarters in the past few months. "For some, the virus was the last straw, for others it was the incessant tweeting, for many it is its wage tax postponement that they fear will hit their social security."
Joe Biden supporters, including Ed McGinty (right), sit with their anti-Trump signs outside a local golf course at The Villages - Josie Ensor
"They tell me that they will never give up their Republican membership, which seems to be part of their heritage, but this time they can't bring themselves to vote for the man at the top of the ticket."
Mr Trump, who likely read the latest polls during his brief stint at Walter Reed Hospital, tweeted a video address Thursday calling seniors his "favorite people in the world."
"I'm a senior," he joked. “We take care of the seniors. You are vulnerable to this one thing (...) and I want you to receive the same care that I received, ”he said, promising to release the experimental drug that“ cured ”him.
The Trump campaign throws everything it has into a must-win state. Mike Pence, Vice President, was at The Villages on Saturday and is followed on Sunday by Donald Trump Jnr, who is taking a short break in Orlando, an hour south. Mr Trump himself is expected in the city for his first personal election campaign event since contracting the coronavirus.
Mr Trump still enjoys considerable support at The Villages, a sprawling 32 square mile property developed by GOP mega-donor Gary Morse in the mid-1980s and described as the political kingmaker for a generation of Republican candidates.
Mr Trump, an honorary Florida resident, has been calling the state at home since moving his primary residence from New York to Mar-a-Lago, his resort in Palm Beach, last year.
"See what Trump did today?" Says Cathy Newman, 59, excitedly between sips of sticky ribs at Cody's Roadhouse. "Only he could catch the virus and look stronger."
Floridians take part in a golf cart parade to support the re-election of President Donald Trump - Alamy
Ms. Newman, a retired bank teller from New Jersey, does not wear a mask as she believes the novel coronavirus is no worse than the flu. "The hospitals have an incentive to say that people died of Covid because they got more money from the government," says the grandmother of two.
"People who died in The Villages all had diseases, they had cancer or heart problems, that killed them."
She accuses heads of state of overreacting to the outbreak that has so far killed 15,000 Floridians - half of them senior citizens. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis closed the state in March, leaving retirees spending their days playing golf, swimming, and lunching with little to do.
John Calandro, chairman of the Sumter County Republican Party, which includes part of The Villages, said he thought a national mask mandate that Mr Biden proposed was not the answer.
Jill Biden, Joe's wife, is running a women's drive-in rally in Biden, Florida - Getty
"The more you tell people to do something, the more they don't want to do it. We're used to being a free nation," Calandro told The Telegraph over a cup of coffee.
He believes the media was unfair to the president for dealing with a one-time disaster. "We have made tremendous progress in just six months. He ticked all the right risk management boxes. But they tend to think about failure."
Residents say the difficult election cycle left The Villages, which calls itself "Florida's friendliest hometown," more polarized than ever.
Ed McGinty, a friend of Mr Marr's who sits outside his local golf club every afternoon with a buggy adorned with Biden 2020 signs, says he has lost countless Republican friends and his neighbors no longer speak to him.
Ed McGinty, a registered Democrat, stands on the side of the road with Biden signs every day - Josie Ensor
"First it was the quiet words that told me not to wear my Elizabeth Warren hats in the neighborhood, then the threats," said the 71-year-old retired real estate agent who was a registered independent until 2008. "I was even warned, 'You should have good health care.' I'm a big guy - 6'3 and over 220 pounds, but it's scary."
In June, The Villages, which historically attracted conservative white voters from the upper Midwest, made national headlines after Mr Trump retweeted and then deleted a video showing a trailer driving in a golf cart and "white." Power "shouts at a group of demonstrators.
"If you are voting for Trump at this point, you are one of four things: a racist, a fanatic, a greedy SOB, or just plain stupid," he said.
An older woman is driving by at this very second and yells "F *** you" out of the car window. There was significantly more honking than profanity, however, which surprised Mr McGinty, who has now become a local celebrity for his one-man protests.
"When I started doing this nobody gave us a friendly honk, but that has completely changed - it would be called in the last six months. It's almost taboo to be a democrat in the villages so I think that people are slowly gaining confidence to talk about it. "
Mr McGinty predicts that 60 to 65 percent of the registered voters in The Villages will appear for Mr Trump on November 3rd. In 2016, 68 percent of Sumter County went to Mr. Trump and 29 percent to Hillary Clinton.
Ms. Stanley, who cracked the numbers, doesn't think the Vice President will be able to subtract that exact number, but hopes that this will be enough to turn the state blue.
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