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Inside how the Trump campaign plans to win Florida again in 2020

Posted: 2:44 PM, May 08, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-08 14:44:35-04
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President Donald Trump's reelection team is ramping up its game plan to win Florida again in 2020, and the campaign is off to a radically different start than last time.

In 2016, with 100 days until Election Day, the Trump campaign's ground game in Florida was virtually nonexistent: Zero offices were up and running in the key swing state and little to no strategy was in place to maximize voter turnout. Nevertheless, thanks in part to major last-minute shifts in approach, the president flipped the state red, for the first time since George W. Bush won it in 2004, with just 1.2% more votes than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

This time, the reelection team is getting a head start to ensure Florida, the president's second home isn't such a nail biter. The campaign has key staff already in place nearly a year and half before voters head to the polls in 2020 and thousands of volunteers ready to hit the pavement for the president.

Regional Director Alex Garcia, who was deputy state director and director of Hispanic initiatives in 2016 cycle, has led the 2020 efforts down in Florida, with a number of other paid staffers set to join the ranks by the end of May. But the campaign would perhaps argue a more crucial aspect to its strategy will be the thousands of eager volunteers across the Sunshine state who are currently being activated.

The campaign has been holding voter registration workshops with staffers on the ground conducting the training ahead of Trump's Wednesday rally in Florida, a campaign official told ABC News.

"This is a big part of the process in determining who our 'Neighborhood Team' leaders will be in Florida," the official said. These volunteer leaders will play a major role all across the country, especially in battleground states like Florida, working to help promote campaign messaging and recruit other volunteers in their communities.

"We have literally thousands of individuals who've gone through our program, who are still working and engaged in Florida, in their communities, and ready to really explode the program for this presidential cycle," Republican National Committee Deputy Communications Director Rick Gorka told ABC News. "The real strength of President Trump is that he brings in individuals that had never been involved in politics, that are going to be trained through the Trump Victory initiative and are going to be continually active in their communities for years to come."

The RNC is not only helping to train and designate volunteers, but this time around the party is fully backing the Trump campaign and working hand-in-hand to create a more streamlined political juggernaut. Trump Victory is set to cut down the number of points of contact between the campaign and the RNC in hopes of a more streamlined collaboration.

The lock-and-step relationship has triggered some criticism for the RNC, in particular coming from a Republican challenger, former Gov. Bill Weld, who called the committee's endorsement of Trump for president "an attempt to silence the voices of millions of Republicans across America who have every right to be heard."

"It's kind of a no-brainer that the incumbent president has the support of the Republican Party," Gorka told ABC News in response. "We didn't see those kinds of questions when [Bush] was running in 2004."

But the blurred lines between the Trump campaign and the RNC seems to have been met with optimism.

"It's a brilliant strategy," a senior Trump campaign staffer told ABC News. "A major source of friction in the last campaign was the space between the RNC and the campaign. It's like, who's in charge? Who gets to call the shots? If this works, then presidential cycles will be like this always."

The Trump campaign also will of course look to utilize key surrogates in Florida throughout the election, including rising Republican star and fierce Trump defender Rep. Matt Gaetz, who told ABC News he learned everything he knows about fighting for the president by watching his mentor Rep. Jim Jordan.

"I'm the Silk to his Diamond. Nobody does it better than Jim," Gaetz said.

Gaetz, who made headlines recently for having his mic cut off at a hearing on the Mueller report, said he's in contact with the campaign and the president regularly and will do what he can to ensure Trump wins Florida again in 2020.

"I'll go wherever they send me. I expect to go out all over the country to try to rally conservative voters," Gaetz said. During his regular conversations with the president, Gaetz says he often raises the issue of climate change, which the congressman believes could be a big factor in securing the Sunshine State in 2020. "I hope to be a very positive influence with the president about the importance of the environment, and the importance of it politically with younger voters."

And how do those environmental chats go with the president?

"It goes far better when we're talking about solar than when we're talking about wind," Gaetz chuckled. "The president's very bullish on solar. But he has an encyclopedic-level detailed critique of wind that he seems to not be coming off of."

For Democrats, Florida poses an interesting test in 2020. On the surface, the state emerged relatively immune to the blue wave of the 2018 midterms -- Gov. Ron DeSantis defeated progressive Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum, and Sen. Rick Scott picked off longtime Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

However, the overall House delegation in Florida inched closer to a Democratic majority in 2018, moving from a 16-11 Republican edge to a slim 14-13 Republican majority.

And if Democrats want to be more successful in 2020, at least in the presidential race, former Sen. Nelson said there's one candidate who can do the job.

"Joe Biden will beat Trump in Florida," Nelson told ABC News, noting that he hasn't officially endorsed the former vice president "yet."

"Florida is going to be a competitive state. And Democratic nominees like Joe Biden will beat Trump in Florida, even though Florida is a 50-50 state," the former Florida senator added. Nelson, who lost his reelection bid to Scott after the close race went to a recount, added that "more than anything, [Democrats] want a candidate that can beat Trump."