WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Tuesday lashed out at Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis as “Donald Trump incarnate,” zeroing in on a potential 2024 GOP presidential contender as he campaigned for Democrats facing uphill fights in next week’s midterm election.
In a final-week sprint for Democrats before Election Day, Biden will campaign in New Mexico on Thursday, California on Friday and Pennsylvania on Saturday. By many accounts, Democratic control of Congress and several statehouses is in peril, and Biden is trying to stem that tide.
In Florida, a state famously popular among retirees, he focused on federal programs for elderly people and the less well-to-do. He declared that the current crop of GOP candidates “ain’t your father’s Republican party" and said that he prayed God would deliver his opponents “some enlightenment."
After those remarks in Hallandale Beach, he headlined a fundraiser for gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist in Golden Beach. He capped his day in Florida with a rally at Florida Memorial University, a historically Black university, for the state’s Democratic Party, including Crist and Senate candidate Val Demings.
At the event for Crist, Biden made the stakes personal against DeSantis, a major adversary of the Biden White House. Biden suggested DeSantis was just another version of former President Trump and criticized him for “demonizing the LGBTQ population.”
“This to me is one of the most important races in the country,” Biden said. “Charlie is running against Donald Trump incarnate.”
Crist noted that DeSantis wouldn't commit at a gubernatorial debate last week to serving out his full four-year term if reelected.
“Governor DeSantis only cares about the White House, he doesn’t give a damn about your house," Crist told the audience.
The president's sharp attacks on DeSantis starkly contrasted with their cordial meeting earlier in October when Biden visited Florida to see the devastation caused by Hurricane Ian. In front of the cameras, Biden said DeSantis was doing a “good job” handling the storm recovery. The Republican governor formally welcomed Biden to his state and praised the collaboration between officials on the ground and the federal government in Washington.
But Tuesday in Florida, Biden took shots at DeSantis.
At one point, during his evening remarks at Florida Memorial, Biden recalled that Crist — who previously served as governor from 2007 to 2011 as a Republican — "was a great governor before and will make an even greater governor again because of who he is going to be replacing.”
Minutes later, Biden noted that the nearby Port of Miami recently received a $16 million federal grant due to one of his biggest legislative wins: the $1 trillion infrastructure legislation. He then pivoted toward DeSantis.
“I’m sure your governor will take credit for it somewhere along the line," Biden said.
The president also blasted Republicans who made light of the attack against Paul Pelosi, the husband of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He asked how such a political assault could happen and "nobody in that party condemns it for exactly what it is.”
In Hallandale Beach, he dinged Demings' Republican Senate opponent, incumbent Marco Rubio, for failing to back his Inflation Reduction Act, passed in August by the Democratic-led Congress.
It includes several health care provisions popular among elderly people and the less well-off, including a $2,000 cap on out-of-pocket medical expenses and a $35 monthly cap per prescription of insulin. It requires companies that raise prices faster than overall inflation to pay Medicare a rebate.
“Not one single Republican voted for it in the United States Senate," Biden told a crowd at a Hallandale Beach community center. “Every single solitary Republican in Congress voted against these savings, including Sen. Rubio."
Biden's appearances with Crist and Demings came after some of the Democrats' most embattled candidates, including Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock and Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly, have opted not to appear with him.
Still, the president's advisers insist he can be helpful by talking about GOP policies they believe voters find objectionable.
Meanwhile, Republicans are bullish on their prospects across Florida as voter registration trends and demographic shifts suggest the state will continue moving to the right.
Democrats are particularly concerned about the trend in Miami-Dade County, home to 1.5 million Hispanics of voting age. It has been a Democratic stronghold for the past 20 years, but the GOP made significant gains in the past presidential election. Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, are predicting the region will turn red on Nov. 8.
Should Democrats lose Miami-Dade, it could virtually eliminate their path to victory in statewide Florida contests, including presidential elections, moving forward.
Biden has seized on Florida Sen. Rick Scott's February proposal to sunset all federal legislation after five years, which the president says would require Congress to reauthorize Medicare and Social Security, as emblematic of what he's termed the “ultra-MAGA” agenda Democrats are running against.
Biden, who often ends his speech by asking, “God to protect our troops” offered a salty addendum with his remarks in Hallandale Beach.
“God, give some of our Republican friends some enlightenment," Biden said.
Associated Press National Political Writer Steve Peoples in New York contributed to this story.
Follow the AP's coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections