Trump flies in to woo Florida, but the grey vote might be turning against him

There was no acknowledgement of vulnerability from the president as he touched down on Air Force One at Sanford International Airport – whipping the crowd into a brief frenzy as they applauded his predictably grand return.

Eleven days after announcing he had coronavirus, Donald Trump was punching the air triumphantly, claiming he was immune, throwing masks into the audience and offering to kiss “the guys and the beautiful women”.

If he managed to get through the tightly-packed crowd, it’s not implausible to imagine some actually taking him up on the offer.

But aside from the fact Mr Trump is now COVID negative, according to his doctors, everything else felt quite 2016: the music, the applause lines – I felt like I was walking into a time warp.

There was the same enthusiasm I’ve seen for four years covering Trump. But it wasn’t quite as feverish, he didn’t seem quite as animated or forceful.

Image:Some say the president’s handling of the pandemic could see him lose Florida

He still excites people here and plenty of those I spoke to cast him as a mighty survivor, dispelling what they describe as myths pedalled by liberals about coronavirus being deadly.

Many in the crowd think the virus has been exaggerated and that the president is living proof of how quickly one can bounce back.

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A political bounce is what he needs. Some polls have him trailing significantly here, others put him neck and neck with Mr Biden.

In reality, the state is often won or lost by razor thin margins. The fact the president is back in the state on Friday suggests he isn’t taking anything for granted. There is no real Republican path to victory without Florida.

Residents of The Villages call it “Disneyland for the elderly”, but away from the manicured lawns and congenial smiles there’s a war being waged… on golf carts – the vehicle of choice here.

Image:Usually this is a reliably Republican stronghold – but there’s a shift afoot

Usually, this is a reliably Republican stronghold – but there’s a shift afoot.

Last week, about 100 of the little four-wheelers had the audacity to cruise around under the banner of “Ridin’ for Biden”. It is a warning sign for a president who did so well from the elderly vote in 2016.

Pollsters say Mr Trump’s response to the pandemic and how he managed his own encounter with it have damaged his standing with voters 65 and over.

Efrain, who takes me for a ride in his rainbow-coloured Biden wagon, says the president’s response to the pandemic “will be a huge factor with voters”.

He believes it’s enough to topple Mr Trump in Florida.

The ultimate guide to the 2020 US presidential race

The ultimate guide to the 2020 US presidential race

I ask a group of 10 women – dancing in all kinds of uplifting neon – who they’re voting for.

Six say Biden, four for Trump. Some tell me they’ve had enough, that it all comes down to character and the ability to govern.

One describes Mr Trump as “totally inept.”.

But Ginni Mantel is convinced this area, like the country, will go for Mr Trump once again.

“This is Trump territory,” she says. “We have 600-700 carts and then two weeks later Biden turns up and they’ve got 100. They’re doing Ridin’ with Biden because they can’t do the Trump train.”

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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