TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — We all know that Florida is a swing state -- but it hinges on just a few counties. The red, blue, and purple parts of the map could decide who takes the state and perhaps the White House.
This week, not one but two presidential candidates stopped in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area. It's no shock as to why.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Elections 2020
The area is near Florida’s "swingy-ist" swing county, Pinellas. Voters there supported Barack Obama in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016.
For 2020, the margin in Pinellas County is tight for registered voters. Democrats hold only a percent edge over Republicans this cycle: (Republican: 250,463 and Democrat: 255,497). That's while 27%, 194,098 voters, of the county's electorate remain independent, a crucial group that both parties need to win.
"The gap between registered Democrats and Republicans has narrowed to where it's only around 134,000 out of 14 million registered voters," said Dr. Susan MacManus, a former University of South Florida professor and political expert.
MacManus said nabbing independents, which total more than 3.7 million statewide, will be vital. Many independents live in purple counties that could be in play.
Some of the tightest counties include:
- Seminole ( >1% Republican)
- Polk (+2% Republican)
- Volusia (+5% Republican)
- Duval (+6% Democrat)
Republicans and Democrats also can't get complacent with their bases. There are dark red and blue spots on the map that are equally important to maintain.
Reliably red Sumter County is one of them. Democrats there trying to eat into Trump's support among older Floridians.
Conversely, the GOP is working to erode deep blue zones like Miami-Dade County, where Biden has minority support.
While neither county is likely to flip, parties will need to offset any losses. MacManus said turnout is the key.
“It's going come down to which party and which candidate has the best get-out-the-vote message -- No. 1," said MacManus. "No. 2, the best way of encouraging people to actually turn up and vote."
Voting by mail and voting early has already seen historic turnout. As of Friday morning, the state reports more than 7.8 million Floridians have cast ballots. That is an increase of more than 400,000 from the previous day.
Democrats still have the upper hand in raw ballot submissions by a margin of about 164,000. It is a lead slowly shrinking in recent days as GOP voters continue to outpace Democrats at early vote locations.