Biden To Florida Voters: Six-Week Abortion Ban Is Trump's Fault

US President Joe Biden arrives to speak about reproductive freedom in Tampa, Florida, on April 23, 2024.
US President Joe Biden arrives to speak about reproductive freedom in Tampa, Florida, on April 23, 2024. ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS via Getty Images

President Joe Biden swooped into Florida Tuesday, hoping to parlay the state’s new restrictive abortion law — as well as a ballot initiative that could undo it — into a campaign issue that could give him the state’s trove of electoral votes come November, effectively locking up his reelection.

“There’s one person responsible for this nightmare, and he acknowledges it and he brags about it: Donald Trump,” Biden told a boisterous crowd in a gym at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa.

He attacked Florida’s six-week abortion ban — approved in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision overturning Roe v. Wade and ending a national right to abortion — and reminded voters that it was the coup-attempting former president’s three appointees to the high court that paved the way.

“It was Donald Trump who ripped away the rights and freedom of women in America,” he said. “We’ll teach Donald Trump and extreme MAGA Republicans a valuable lesson: Don’t mess with the women of America.”

Political consultants from both parties, while skeptical that Biden will actually win Florida, agree that forcing Trump on the defensive in a state he cannot afford to lose and which he only won by three percentage points in 2020 is a smart move.

“I don’t think he’d be in Tampa today if they didn’t see it as good place to make a contrast,” said Steve Schale, who ran former President Barack Obama’s successful Florida campaign operation in both 2008 and 2012. “There’s nothing more valuable, particularly for an incumbent, than a candidate’s time.”

Trump’s campaign did not respond to HuffPost’s queries.

In 2016, Trump made an explicit deal with evangelical voters who distrusted him that, in exchange for their support, he would only appoint anti-abortion Supreme Court justices from a list that Christian groups had pre-vetted. He now openly boasts about how he was able to get Roe overturned.

While many Republicans are confident that Florida is solidly in their column, the state’s history in presidential contests may offer Biden reason to hope. After Republican George W. Bush won a controversial, 537-vote contest there in 2000, Democrats poured money into the state, only to see Bush win it again in 2004, this time by five points. Heading into the 2008 presidential cycle, many Democrats decided that Florida could not be won.

Despite this, Obama invested heavily there and wound up winning by three percentage points — an eight-point swing in four years. He went on to win Florida a second time in 2012, although then by just one point.

Some now see the abortion issue as again putting Florida up for grabs. Following a Florida Supreme Court ruling last month, the new six-week ban will take effect on May 1, making abortions illegal before many even realize they are pregnant. However, voters could put a right to an abortion directly into the state Constitution by approving a ballot imitative in November with a 60 percent vote.

“The ballot initiative is a game-changer,” said David Jolly, a former GOP congressman from Tampa. “It’s opened a lane for Biden, and one he has to explore.”

Other Republicans, though, said that a ballot question that would insert a right to an abortion into the Florida constitution won’t, on its own, flip a state that two years ago re-elected Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in a 20-point blowout.

“Support for the ballot initiative may narrow the margin of Biden’s loss, but it is more likely to get the 60% of the vote required to pass than he is to get 50%-plus-one,” said Mac Stipanovich, a longtime Republican consultant who turned against his party when it embraced Trump.

One top state Republican, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Biden’s hiring of some staff in the state and opening a new office does not by itself signal the kind of commitment that would be necessary. “Not without real money that they don’t intend to spend here,” he said.

Biden would need to “spend $3 to $5 million a week for ten to 12 weeks on television, spend $30 to $40 million on turnout operations,” the Republican said. “They start from down a million in voter registration and that’s a lot for them to overcome.”

Schale, who in 2020 and again this election is working for a pro-Biden super PAC, said that even voters who specifically come out to vote for the abortion amendment may not necessarily back Biden. He pointed to a successful initiative to increase the minimum wage in 2004, passed in a year when Bush still carried the state, and an anti-gay marriage amendment from 2008, when Obama still won.

“Until one does change an election, I’m not convinced one will,” he said — though he acknowledged the abortion ballot question is the first addressing a right that has been taken away. “This could be the one that my whole theory is blown up on.”

Stipanovich said a key question is how well the amendment does, and whether it brings out low-propensity voters who, once in the voting booth, also punish Trump. “If the ballot initiative really rings the bell [and gets], say, 65%, then maybe,” he said. “Biden winning Florida would not be a unicorn, but it definitely would be a black swan.”

In any case, spending several million dollars now, particularly given his current fundraising advantage over Trump, is a low-risk, high-reward tactic, Schale said.

“I think they’re smart to invest here early. The more paths to victory they give themselves is a good thing. Let’s see where things are in May, June and July,” he said.

Florida Democratic Party chair Nikki Fried, who attended the opening of a new Biden campaign office in Tampa following his speech, said she is optimistic after speaking to him. “He is in the trenches with us here. He thinks Florida is winnable,” she said. “We have been instructed to start hiring.”

Democratic pollster Fernand Amandi, though, said he doubts anything will come of Biden’s Florida play.

“I’ve learned to never say never, but unless there is a radical shift in the statewide polling over the summer, President Biden has already proven in 2020 that he can easily get to 270 electoral votes without carrying Florida, and I suspect his campaign will take the same approach in 2024,” he said.

On Tuesday, nevertheless, Biden spoke as though he was serious about trying to win the state. He reminded his audience that voters in states from Ohio to Kansas had come out in droves to support abortion rights. “This November, you can add Florida to that list,” he said.