Election Updates: Summer Lee fends off a centrist challenger, and Pennsylvania’s Senate race is set. (2024)

President Biden on Tuesday strongly condemned a six-week abortion ban that will soon take effect in Florida, saying it would force women to endure “unbearable pain and cruelty” and blaming former President Donald J. Trump for their suffering.

“Let’s be clear. There’s one person responsible for this nightmare,” Mr. Biden said in a speech to roughly 200 supporters at a community college gymnasium in Tampa. “And he’s acknowledged it and he brags about it: Donald Trump.”

The Biden campaign has made abortion a top issue, as polling shows it is one of the few subjects in which voters place more trust in Mr. Biden than Mr. Trump. Democrats have sought to tie Mr. Trump to laws like the one in Florida, labeling them “Trump abortion bans” and arguing that the former president would seek to curtail reproductive rights if he regains the White House.

Throughout his brief remarks, Mr. Biden signaled his intention to make the election a referendum on Mr. Trump’s first term as much as his own.

“Now in America today in 2024, women have fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers had — because of Donald Trump,” he said.

While the president campaigned on Mr. Trump’s home turf, Mr. Trump had spent the day in a Manhattan courtroom, where prosecutors laid out what they called the “Trump Tower conspiracy” — an effort by Mr. Trump and his allies to conceal negative or unflattering stories, including a p*rn star’s claim of a sexual encounter with Mr. Trump, during the 2016 campaign. Mr. Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to hide a payment to the p*rn star, Stormy Daniels. Mr. Trump has denied the claim of a sexual encounter, and has pleaded not guilty to the charges in the case.

Mr. Biden has said little about the criminal charges Mr. Trump faces. But his campaign aides believe the contrast between Mr. Trump sitting at the defendant’s table and Mr. Biden campaigning will resonate with voters.

His speech in Florida was an attempt to sharpen his national message on a crucial issue for his re-election campaign even in a state that he may not win. Although Florida has voted reliably for Republicans in recent elections, Mr. Biden’s team has expressed optimism that the state could be in play this year. They point to the fact that in November, Floridians will vote on a ballot initiative that would guarantee access to abortion “before viability,” or at about 24 weeks, and overturn the six-week ban.

While the vote could motivate liberal and independent voters to come to the polls, Mr. Biden would have to invest heavily in Florida to defeat Mr. Trump, which his campaign has not yet done.

“The idea that Donald Trump has the state in the bag could not be further from the truth,” said Michael Tyler, the Biden campaign’s communications director. “He owns not only the state of abortion rights across the country, but he owns the restriction that we’re seeing play out in Florida. And so yes, that means there’s an opportunity for us.”

Nationally, Democrats have been energized after an Arizona court upheld a near-total abortion ban in that state, arguing that it illustrates the stakes of electing Republicans. They have said that Mr. Trump is responsible for the restrictions in Florida, Arizona and other states that have imposed bans since Supreme Court justices appointed by the former president helped overturn Roe v. Wade. “Trump did this” has become a frequent messaging slogan from the Biden campaign.

“It’s going to absolutely turn people out,” said Whitney Fox, a Democrat seeking to flip a Republican-held congressional seat in the Tampa area.

Mr. Trump has criticized the bans in Florida and Arizona but also said that decisions about the legality of abortion should be left up to the states. He has said that he no longer supports a national abortion ban, reversing his previous position, and he has blamed Republican losses in recent elections on stringent anti-abortion positions.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the six-week abortion ban last year as he courted right-wing voters in his failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination. The Florida Supreme Court upheld the ban this month. It goes into effect on May 1, one week after Mr. Biden’s speech in Tampa. Speaking in Naples, Fla., just before the president took the stage, Mr. DeSantis said that “Floridians are not buying what Joe Biden is selling and in November, we’re going to play an instrumental role in sending him back to Delaware where he belongs.”

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Democratic former congresswoman from Miami seeking to challenge Senator Rick Scott, a Republican, said the Biden campaign should not give up on the nation’s third-largest state.

“Florida is a purple state,” Ms. Mucarsel-Powell said. “It’s an independent state.”

Competing in Florida will be difficult for Democrats, even with abortion as a motivating factor. Mr. Biden seemed to acknowledge that when he addressed Ms. Mucarsel-Powell in the audience, joking that he would “campaign for you or against you, whatever would help the most.”

Mr. Trump handily carried the state in 2020. Mr. DeSantis won overwhelmingly in his re-election bid two years later. And the number of Republican voters in the state has skyrocketed since Mr. Trump entered politics, overtaking the number of Democrats.

The state is also extremely expensive to advertise in. Although the Biden campaign has a significant financial advantage over Mr. Trump’s operation, it has not spent heavily in Florida compared with the major battlegrounds. Campaign aides have been vague about how much they plan to spend in the state.

“The president is traveling there,” Mr. Tyler said when asked how much the campaign would invest in Florida. “We’ve got staff on the ground. You’ve seen our paid investments begin to pop up in the state of Florida. It is one of the pathways that we have to 270 electoral votes, and we’re going to take it very, very seriously.”


Democrats nationwide have had unexpected success protecting abortion rights at the ballot box since the demise of Roe, including in red states such as Kentucky, Kansas and Ohio.

But unlike many other states, Florida requires more than 60 percent support for amendments to pass. To reach that high threshold, supporters of the constitutional amendment need to appeal to a broad coalition of voters, including independents and Republicans.

“The focus right now cannot be on how this impacts electoral turnout,” said Lauren Brenzel, director of the Yes on 4, the main group supporting the amendment. “The focus is going to be on how this policy significantly harms and puts these women at risk.”

Alex Andrade, a Republican state representative who voted for the six-week ban, said Democrats were fooling themselves if they thought abortion was going to “fix things for them” after losing Florida in 2016 and 2020 and seeing Mr. DeSantis flip traditional Democratic strongholds like Miami-Dade County.

“Their political apparatus is clueless,” Mr. Andrade said.

Florida voters have approved liberal-leaning ballot questions in recent elections while also electing Republican politicians. But those successful initiatives — for medical marijuana, restoring felons’ voting rights and raising the minimum wage — have not faced the sort of organized opposition campaign that detractors of the abortion measure are expected to mount.

Mr. Trump, a Florida resident, has not said how he will vote on the abortion referendum.

Although Mr. Biden spoke on Tuesday under a banner that read “Restore Roe,” he offered few specifics about how he would accomplish that, beyond asking voters to deliver him a Democratic Congress.

An 81-year-old practicing Catholic, Mr. Biden can sometimes seem uncomfortable talking about abortion in detail, and often relies on surrogates to do so. His speech on Tuesday lasted roughly 13 minutes, a surprisingly rapid address given the importance of abortion to his re-election.

In Tampa, he was introduced by Kaitlyn Joshua, a Louisiana woman who said she was denied medical care in that state when she experienced a miscarriage. Mr. Biden’s campaign has featured the stories of several such women in its ads and events, and he brought up the criminal penalties that medical professionals could face in Florida.

“It’s criminalizing reproductive health care before women even know whether they’re pregnant,” Mr. Biden said. “I mean, this is bizarre.”

Election Updates: Summer Lee fends off a centrist challenger, and Pennsylvania’s Senate race is set. (2024)


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