And then there were the big three.
The race for the Democratic nomination has come down to a battle between former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren still hanging on.
Florida, with its 219 pledged delegates up for grabs on March 17, could be the tipping point.
Biden, Sanders and Warren outlasted billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who spent tens of millions in Florida, as well as brief bursts in the polls for former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris.
Hawaii U.S. Rep. Tusli Gabbard also remains in the race, having won a single delegate.
Campaigning in Florida had barely begun as Super Tuesday ended, with neither Biden nor Sanders having run that many ads or making any recent appearances – but that will change, with both Biden and Sanders launching ads in Florida showing them alongside President Obama.
Florida had been one of Bloomberg’s strongest states, leading in many polls -- so with his withdrawal, the state is now wide open.
Where does each candidate stand on the issues important to Floridians? Who has the best chance of winning the state, not only in the party primary but in November against President Donald Trump?
Biden, 77, who grew up in Scranton, Pa., served as U.S. senator from Delaware for 36 years before becoming Barack Obama’s running mate and vice president.
Biden has swung through Central Florida for two fundraisers in 2019, and his wife, Jill, is leading the campaign’s leadup to the Florida primary with visits to Orlando and Miami this weekend.
Biden says he’s running for president – his third run including 1988 and 2008 – to “rebuild the middle class-- and this time make sure everyone comes along.”
His campaign is calling for “transformational investment” of $1.3 trillion over 10 years in U.S. infrastructure, which would “create good, union jobs that expand the middle class” by requiring federally funded projects employ workers trained in apprenticeship programs and use U.S.-sourced materials.
He also wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero, and help state and local governments plan for the use of electric cars by investing in a national electric-vehicle charging network. Such moves to battle climate change could appeal to millions of coastal dwelling Floridians who already face rising sea levels.
He also plans to push for a national high-speed rail network – similar to the plans pushed by the Obama administration, which included funds for a high-speed link from Orlando to Tampa, but rejected by Gov. Rick Scott.
As part of his focus on the middle class, Biden’s campaign talks about how they “deserve to retire with dignity – able to pay for their prescriptions and with access to quality, affordable long-term care” – positions important to a key Florida demographic of retirees.
The “Biden Plan” would repeal the “outrageous” exception allowing pharmaceutical corporations to avoid negotiating with Medicare over drug prices; limit the prices of new drugs that face no competition, as well as generic drugs; and allow people to buy prescription drugs from other countries.
Biden’s campaign also pledged to protect the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, currently endangered by a Trump administration-backed lawsuit that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
Biden also pledged to protect Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
While the Sanders campaign had criticized Biden for past statements talking about potential deals with Republicans that could include raising the age of eligibility or changing cost-of-living increases, Biden’s 2020 plan would put the program “on a path to long-run solvency by asking Americans with especially high wages to pay the same taxes on those earnings that middle-class families pay.”
It would also provide a bigger monthly check to those already on Social Security for 20 years, a minimum benefit for people who spend 30 years working and allow surviving spouses to keep a higher share of a deceased partner’s benefit.
More than 4.5 million Floridians received Social Security benefits as of 2017, according to the Office of Retirement and Disability Policy, including 270,000 widowed spouses.
Biden’s campaign also backs bipartisan legislation “protecting older workers from being discriminated against in the workforce.”
On guns, “Joe Biden knows that gun violence is a public health epidemic.”
His campaign stressed his record of having “taken on” the National Rifle Association in shepherding through the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which Biden has criticized Sanders for voting against. The Sanders campaign said he was opposed to “overreach” in creating a federal mandatory waiting period.
On immigration, Biden’s campaign criticized Trump using family separation at the border – first carried out under the Obama administration in extreme cases but massively expanded under Trump – as “a weapon against desperate mothers, fathers, and children seeking safety and a better life.”
He said he would reverse those Trump policies, including child separation and the restrictions placed on asylum-seekers.
Biden would also rescind the “un-American travel and refugee bans” and order an immediate review of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which has been withdrawn by the Trump administration for many refugees -- or yet to be implemented despite bipartisan urging, as in the case of refugees from Venezuela -- and create a “roadmap” to citizenship for undocumented residents.
Biden has also touted endorsements from 25 Puerto Rico officials and lawmakers, though both he and Sanders have not explicitly backed Puerto Rico statehood.
Sanders, 78, a New York native, served as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and later served 18 years in the U.S. House before being elected to the U.S. Senate as an independent in 2006. He unsuccessfully ran for president in 2016, coming in second to Hillary Clinton.
He hasn’t campaigned in Central Florida since his appearances on behalf of Andrew Gillum in 2018, the first of which helped Gillum with college-age voters in the gubernatorial primary. The second was an awkward appearance at UCF with Gillum’s running mate Chris King, who declared he and Gillum were not self-described “socialists” like Sanders.
Sanders volunteers opened a Central Florida office in Winter Park in mid-February.
Sanders’ signature proposal is Medicare for All, a “single-payer, national health insurance program … free at the point of service. No networks, no premiums, no deductibles, no copays, no surprise bills.”
Sanders has been criticized by Biden and other candidates over the details of how it would be paid for, but Sanders’ campaign proposed several possibilities including imposing a 7.5% income-based premium paid by employers, exempting the first $1 million in payroll to protect small businesses; eliminating health tax expenditures; and raising the top marginal income tax rate to 52% on income over $10 million.
Medicare coverage would also be expanded to include dental, hearing, vision, and home- and community-based long-term care, in-patient and out-patient services, mental health and substance abuse treatment, reproductive and maternity care, and prescription drugs.
More than 4.5 million Floridians were enrolled in Medicare as of 2018, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Costs for drugs would be capped at $200 a year under Sanders’ plan, and he would eliminate “all of the $81 billion in past-due medical debt held by 79 million Americans --one in every six Americans.”
Another key platform is the Green New Deal. It would “transform our energy system to 100 percent renewable energy and create 20 million jobs needed to solve the climate crisis,” his campaign states.
Sanders would provide $200 billion to the Green Climate Fund, rejoin the Paris Climate Accord that Trump withdrew from, and invest in conservation and public lands.
His plan for tuition and debt-free public colleges is another signature proposal and key to his popularity among younger voters. His campaign also wants to cancel all student loan debt, about $1.6 trillion, for 45 million Americans and place a 1.88% cap on student loan interest rates going forward.
Sanders has been looking to expand his viability with older voters, who have mostly swung towards Biden, by focusing more on his plans to expand Social Security benefits and quadruple funding for the Older Americans Act.
On immigration, Sanders would institute a moratorium on deportations “until a thorough audit of past practices and policies is complete,” in addition to reinstating DACA and developing a “humane” asylum policy.
He would also break up ICE and Customs and Border Patrol and redistribute their functions to other agencies, and dismantle “cruel and inhumane” deportation programs and detention centers.
Sanders is showing a boost in support among Hispanics in early primaries, including Nevada and California, according to exit polls, and his campaign has been critical of Biden for the number of deportations during Obama’s presidency.
But in Florida, Hispanic Democrats with backgrounds in Cuba, Venezuela and other countries with socialist governments have been critical of Sanders’ past supportive statements of socialism.
Warren, 70, established and ran the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under Obama and was elected to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts in 2012.
Warren was the first Democratic candidate to open an office in Orlando in early February.
Her key platform, the Ultra-Millionaire tax, would apply only to households with a net worth of $50 million or more -- “roughly the wealthiest 75,000 households, or the top 0.1%.”
The tax would bring in $3.75 trillion in revenue over 10 years, her campaign stated.
Her plan for Medicare for All would include a longer transition period than Sanders’. In the first 100 days, she would “use the tools of the presidency to start improving coverage and lowering costs – immediately.”
She would try to fast-track a bill through the budget reconciliation process – which is allowed once a year – to create a public option for health care, including allowing those 50+ the choice to enter Medicare.
Coverage under the new Medicare for All option will be immediately free for children under the age of 18 and for families making at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.
Her Economic Patriotism plan would create a Department of Economic Development, which would have “the single goal of defending good-paying American jobs and creating new ones.”
Warren was an original cosponsor of the Green New Deal resolution and has proposed investing $10.7 trillion towards “rebuilding our water, transportation, and building infrastructure,” which she says would create 10.6 million jobs.
Her Green Manufacturing Plan would also invest $2 trillion over the next 10 years in green research, manufacturing and exporting.
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