With one week to go: Southwest Florida’s state of play today

Cindy Banyai and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) in Forth Myers on Saturday, Oct. 24. (Photo: Banyai campaign)

Oct. 27, 2020 by David Silverberg

Today marks one week before the General Election and while there’s saturation media coverage of national politics, there’s little publicly available data to determine the exact state of play in Southwest Florida.

Still, the national situation provides some context, particularly when it comes to Southwest Florida’s premier federal electoral contest, the battle to fill the seat of retiring Republican Rep. Francis Rooney in the 19th Congressional District.

But it’s not just politics that tells this year’s story because the COVID-19 virus has a vote—and this year, it is exercising that franchise in Lee and Collier counties.

The battle in the 19th

In the 19th Congressional District, the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island, Cindy Banyai, Democratic candidate for Congress, has maintained a vigorous campaign schedule, is active on social media and has racked up numerous new endorsements.

“Things are going very well and we’re optimistic heading into the last week of the elections,” Banyai told The Paradise Progressive. “We had some very promising polling numbers come back and our team is running through the finish line.”

After testing positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 16, prior to President Donald Trump’s visit to Fort Myers, Byron Donalds, her Republican opponent, announced yesterday, Oct. 26, that he had tested negative for COVID-19 and positive for antibodies and would return to the campaign trail for the last week of campaigning.

Donalds has not been running any advertising and the outside political action committees like Club for Growth that powered his primary bid are nowhere in evidence now.

While Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka came to Southwest Florida to campaign, neither mentioned Donalds during their appearances nor did anything to boost his campaign. His website has not announced any new endorsements since the primary.

From Minnesota with love

On Saturday, Oct. 24, Banyai and other Fort Myers Democrats welcomed Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to Fort Myers for a get-out-the-vote rally and speech.

Klobuchar, who arrived in a massive Biden/Harris campaign bus, said in an interview with Fox4 News: “People should not assume that areas like this that have traditionally been Republican, that everyone thinks the same. A lot of people have decided: ‘I’m going to put my country first and maybe I don’t agree with everything Joe Biden says but he’s a good person and he has competence.’”

“It was great to hear from Sen. Klobuchar,” observed Banyai. “She gave us some insight on how to win hearts and minds across party lines.”

Since the Aug. 18 primary, Banyai has been endorsed by numerous individuals and organizations. Other Democratic candidates include Andrew Ellison, Democratic congressional candidate in the 17th Congressional District; Jacquelyn McMiller, Democratic candidate for mayor of Fort Myers; Sara McFadden, Democratic candidate for Florida House District 106; Joshua Lopez, Democratic candidate for Florida House District 77; Shawn Williams, Democratic candidate for Florida House District 78; and Todd Truax, Democratic candidate for Lee County Commissioner District 3.

Organizations endorsing her candidacy include: the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida; the Progressive Club of the Islands; the Democratic Women’s Club of Florida; the LGBTQ Democratic Caucus; the Lee County LGBTQA Democratic Caucus; Votewater.org; the Sunrise Movement; and America Youth Climate Action.

The broader context

If either local candidate is able to ride the coattails of the candidate at the top of the ticket, the advantage would seem to go to Banyai.

Nationally, former Vice President Joe Biden and running mate Kamala Harris have an 87 percent chance of winning the presidency, according to the website FiveThirtyEight.com’s Election Forecast. This site aggregates and analyzes numerous polls and data sources to reach its conclusions, making it more authoritative than just individual polls. What is more, rather than make hard predictions, FiveThirtyEight deals in probabilities, which is a much more reasonable way to project future outcomes.

Trump’s chances will likely also be hurt by the dizzying 615.19 point drop in the Dow Jones average that occurred yesterday on news that a compromise stimulus bill looked unlikely to be passed before the election.

In Florida, FiveThirtyEight.com projects Biden/Harris as “slightly favored” to win with a 66 percent chance of flipping the state.

Focusing on Southwest Florida’s Lee and Collier counties, 252,237 voters, or 51.56 percent of the electorate have voted in Lee County and 137,619 or 59.39 percent of voters have turned out in Collier County.

Ten days before the election, Collier County Democratic turnout was the highest in Florida, according to Florida Politics, and Democrats were turning out in record numbers in other traditionally Republican counties.

Likely to add to the urgency of Democratic voting was the Senate’s confirmation last night of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court in a rushed process to beat the election.

“Congratulations on our newest Justice, Amy Coney Barrett, on her confirmation to the United States Supreme Court,” tweeted Donalds following the confirmation. “Justice Barrett will honor the rule of law and uphold the Constitution.”

“It’s truly disappointing to see Senate Republicans ram through a Supreme Court nominee so close to the presidential election when they denied an early election year appointment to Obama,” Banyai told The Paradise Progressive. “We should be concerned not only with the record of Barrett, who puts corporations ahead of people and threatens women’s rights and equality, but the jeopardy our democracy is put in when we no longer have an unbiased judiciary.”

The impact of COVID

Beyond the normal political considerations of an election campaign, the COVID pandemic continues to have an impact on everything: daily life, campaigning, and political passions—as witness Donalds’ infection.

Florida is seeing a rise in new cases, despite official efforts to dampen the impact of the statistics.

As of this writing, the Florida Department of Health lists 771,989 cases in Florida and 16,449 deaths overall since the start of the pandemic.

However, Rebekah Jones, the dissident data scientist who left the department, charging that the state government under Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) was deliberately underreporting the impact of the plague, puts the overall number of state cases at 854,256 and deaths at 16,652.

In Lee County the Department of Health puts the cases at 22,541 and deaths at 506 with new cases at 172 yesterday. It does not provide the daily number of deaths.

However, Rebekah Jones puts Lee County’s toll at 24,009 cases and 516 deaths, with 176 new cases yesterday and no deaths.

In Collier County the Department of Health puts the cases at 13,972 and deaths at 253 with new cases at 48 yesterday and no daily reporting of deaths.

By contrast, Rebekah Jones puts Collier County’s toll at 15,413 cases and 260 deaths, with 48 new cases yesterday and no deaths.

With two largely unmasked gatherings to celebrate the visit to Fort Myers of Trump and then his daughter Ivanka, local COVID cases are likely to surge in the days ahead.

On Oct. 22, the Collier County Commission voted 3 to 2 to extend its mask mandate another six months. Donalds testified against the mandate when it was first considered in July. The Paradise Progressive reached out to the Donalds campaign to request his comment on the Commission’s latest decision but has not received a response.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

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