Joe Biden
Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, speaks during a campaign event at Miramar Regional Park in Miramar, Fla., Oct. 13, 2020. Image Credit: NYT

Pembroke Pines: Joe Biden turned his attention Tuesday to older Americans, making a case in South Florida that President Donald Trump viewed seniors as “expendable” and that they were paying the price for the president’s poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The only senior that Donald Trump cares about - the only senior - is senior Donald Trump,” Biden said in a speech at a community centre in Pembroke Pines, a city in the vote-rich Democratic stronghold of Broward County.

Older people are a crucial voting bloc in Florida, a haven for retirees, and they were an important part of Trump’s winning coalition in 2016 across the nation’s battleground states. But waning support from seniors now poses a serious threat to the president’s reelection bid, and Biden’s pitch to them Tuesday was his latest attempt to maximise his standing with those voters.

Biden, 77, who wore a mask during his speech, offered an unsparing critique of Trump’s management of the nation’s monthslong public health crisis and also assailed the president over his own behaviour. “I prayed for his recovery when he got COVID, and I had hoped at least he’d come out of it somewhat chastened,” Biden said. “But what has he done? He’s just doubled down on the misinformation he did before.”

He went on to say that Trump’s “reckless personal conduct since his diagnosis is unconscionable.”

“The longer Donald Trump is president, the more reckless he seems to get,” Biden said. “Thank God we only have three weeks left to go.”

And he alluded to the Rose Garden ceremony held at the White House last month for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Some of those in attendance, including Trump, 74, and the first lady, Melania Trump, later tested positive for the coronavirus.

Joe Biden supporters Florida
In this file photo taken on August 21, 2020 residents of The Villages, Florida, take part in a golf cart parade, to celebrate the nomination of Joe Biden for Democratic presidential candidate and Kamala Harris for vice president. Image Credit: AFP

“While he throws super-spreader parties at the White House where Republicans hug each other without concern of the consequences, how many of you have been unable to hug your grandkids in the last seven months?” Biden asked.

He said in his speech that two of his grandchildren lived near his Delaware home, adding that he bribed them during socially distanced visits with Haagen-Dazs bars. “I can’t hug them,” he said. “I can’t embrace them. And I’m luckier than most, because they’re nearby.”

Trump also invoked older Americans on Tuesday, declaring at an evening rally near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, that “Biden’s agenda would be a catastrophe for seniors” and asserting that Biden “cares more about illegal aliens than he cares about your senior citizens.”

The president later undercut his own outreach to seniors by tweeting a meme that mocked his rival’s age, with Biden’s head superimposed on a picture of people at a nursing home.

Stronger position

Nationwide, Trump won voters age 65 and older by 7 percentage points in 2016, according to exit polls, and no Democratic presidential nominee has won among those voters since Al Gore in 2000. But Biden appears to be in a considerably stronger position with seniors than Hillary Clinton was with older Americans in 2016, both nationally and in Florida, where a victory is critical to Trump’s reelection chances.

In Florida, Trump won by 17 points among voters 65 and older in the 2016 election, exit polls found. But a recent New York Times/Siena College poll of likely voters in Florida showed a tight contest this time around within that age group, with 47% supporting Biden and 45% backing Trump.

During his visit to the state Tuesday, Biden also held a drive-in rally in Miramar, another city in Broward County, where his remarks were repeatedly met with the honking of car horns. “You can determine the outcome of this election,” he said. “We win Florida and it’s all over.”

Biden stressed the importance of voting. “You elected me and Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and I’m asking for your trust and support again in 2020 for Kamala Harris and Joe Biden,” he said, adding, “You are the American people and you will decide our future, not Trump.”

Third trip to Florida

The trip was Biden’s third to Florida since becoming the Democratic nominee.

He has stepped up his travel to battleground states in recent weeks, and he is poised to gain a high-profile supporter on the campaign trail: Obama. A spokeswoman for Obama said Tuesday that he would campaign for Biden in person, but she did not specify when or where.

Outside the community centre, nestled on a tree-lined street between an elementary school and duplexes in Pembroke Pines, a half-dozen Biden supporters, many of them in their 60s, gathered in the early afternoon to try to get a glimpse of the candidate. They held Biden-Harris signs and wore campaign T-shirts, but most said that they had never before stood under the blazing South Florida afternoon sun to stump for a politician. “First time I ever donated money to a campaign, too,” said Kathy Sells, 73, who wore a Biden-Harris hat, button and mask, and carried a sign she had made at home. “I hate that we are laughed at by the nations of the world.”

“If we want to keep the nature of our democracy, we need Biden,” added Sells, a Democrat who said she had already voted by mail. “We need some peace out of this chaos,” agreed Daisy Hensley, 68. “We are exhausted.”

Hensley is a Democrat, but she said her husband was a lifelong Republican, “and he backs Biden 100%.” The couple used to see their grandchildren, ages 12 and 10, every day. During the pandemic, Hensley said, she has seen them only from afar. “It breaks our heart,” she said. “All the grandparents - we are suffering.”

Ana and Frank Butaric fled communist-controlled countries as children - Cuba for her and Croatia for him - and said they were fed up with Trump’s attempts to portray Biden as a socialist.

Frank Butaric, 65, said he had previously not followed politics but thought he could no longer afford to be “politically naive.” His mother is in her late 80s and his in-laws are in their 90s and late 80s, and he is worried about the coronavirus. “If they get it, they won’t survive it,” he said.

Frank Butaric said of Trump, “It’s very nice that we can afford the best health care for him,” adding sarcastically, “I have a helicopter standing by to take me to the hospital, too.”