TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi implored Republican Party volunteers in Tallahassee to stress the positives of mail-in-ballots as a campaign bus tour for President Donald Trump swung through Northwest Florida on Wednesday.

Trump campaign senior adviser Corey Lewandowski also signaled the party will try to paint California Sen. Kamala Harris, who was announced Tuesday as Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s running mate, as being part of the “far left.”

“I don’t know what she brings to the ticket,” Lewandowski said while on the bus. “We weren’t concerned about potentially losing the state of California. I will concede the fact Donald Trump is not going to win in California. But we have to look at her record, both as a prosecutor and as a United States senator. She voted against Donald Trump’s tax cuts that help everyday working Americans. She votes for the Green New Deal.”

Speaking to the party volunteers, Bondi repeated a refrain that Florida’s “absentee” ballot process is different than a “universal” vote-by-mail process that has been derided by Trump in other states as “inaccurate and fraudulent.” Trump appears to be singling out states that have decided to send mail-in ballots or applications to all registered voters, while Floridians have to request mail-in ballots.

“It (Florida’s process) is safe, especially for older people who don’t want to leave their homes, for people who are worried about getting sick,” Bondi said.

Early voting is underway at polling places throughout the state in next week’s primary elections. But it has been dwarfed by people voting through the mail amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Early voting is safe. Plenty of people have already early voted. I think they’re keeping social distancing, keeping it safe,” Bondi said. “But for those who don’t want to do that, you know, we just need to stress to all the people that we’re coming into contact with, that you have to request a ballot in Florida. You have to sign it. You can even track that ballot the whole way in. So, for people that don’t feel comfortable voting, that’s the way to do it in our state.”

As of Wednesday morning Democrats had cast 859,606 vote-by-mail ballots in the Aug. 18 primaries to 609,929 by Republicans. Republicans led among people voting at early-voting sites by a margin of 151,383 to 105,235.

Florida is expected to be a key battleground for Trump and Biden in the Nov. 3 general election. The Trump bus tour started Monday in Orlando, with the president’s son Eric Trump and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez making appearances.

Lewandowski, who was a campaign manager for Trump in 2016, contended Wednesday that Harris would not be ready to take over for Biden.

Lewandowski said that when Vice President Mike Pence was selected as Trump’s running mate in 2016, “We found the person who, if something was going to happen to the president, was ready to go to the job on day one.”

The Trump campaign also is holding a bus tour in Pennsylvania, another battleground state. As the Florida tour kicked off in Orlando, Democrats quickly criticized it.

“Today, the Trump campaign begins their Magical Mystery Tour, where they pretend the coronavirus will just go away and leave voters guessing as to the president’s national testing plan,” U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., said Monday in a conference call. “Meanwhile back in reality, a pandemic and recession rages on in Florida, and Trump’s selfish and incompetent leadership is fanning the flames.”

State Sen. Victor Torres, D-Kissimmee, in the same call described the Trump bus tour as a “gimmick.”

Harris is the first Black woman on a major-party presidential ticket, and Biden received heavy support from Black voters in locking up the Democratic nomination. But Lewandowski on Wednesday contended that Biden has taken the African-American vote for granted.

Before the Tallahassee stop, Republican volunteers planted numerous “Black Voices for Trump” signs at the site west of Florida State University, which drew a Black jogger to scoff “you’ve got to be kidding me” as he passed.

Leon County Republican Party Chairman Evan Power said the bus tour stop helps recharge volunteers and local campaign efforts.

“In this time of COVID, where we can’t have rallies, it’s great to be able to have these intimate opportunities for them to meet surrogates from the campaign,” Power said.

(©2020 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.)

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