TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – With early voting underway and just days until next week’s election, backers of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden are targeting Black voters as they seek to defeat President Donald Trump in the battleground state of Florida.

Efforts to pump up turnout among Black Floridians come as nearly half of the state’s registered voters had already cast ballots as of Wednesday morning.

While voters are casting mail-in ballots in record numbers, turnout among Black voters has lagged behind white and Hispanic Floridians, BlackPac executive director Adrianne Shropshire told reporters during a conference call Wednesday.

Many voters are choosing to vote by mail rather than risk exposure to highly contagious COVID-19, but only about 62 percent of Black voters who requested mail-in ballots have returned them, she said.

Shropshire said Black voters are more likely to cast their ballot in person, either during the early voting period that ends this weekend or on Election Day.

“This is part of our cultural history,” she said. “That’s just a part of the way in which Black people engage in elections, right, is to show up in person.

Even so, about 85,000 Black Floridians who didn’t cast ballots in 2016 have already voted in Tuesday’s election, she said.

Black voters are motivated by Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has been especially deadly for communities of color, and the economic havoc spawned by COVID-19, according to Shropshire.

They’re also moved by “this overarching reality that the nation is having to deal with, in terms of racism and systemic racism,” she added.

“That’s being felt by Black voters right now because it is being amplified by the president of the United States. And that is obviously motivating for Black voters,” she added.

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg recently dropped more than $4 million into an already-existing digital ad campaign funded by BlackPac, a political committee aimed at mobilizing Black voters, to support Biden and vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris.

BlackPac has also launched TV ads, teamed up with Biden super-PAC Unite the Country to air ads on Black and Caribbean radio stations in Florida and turned to influencers such as rap stars to drive up support for Biden.

The efforts to boost turnout among Black voters — especially young Black men — come as recent polls show Biden and Trump deadlocked in Florida, a state with 29 electoral votes considered critical for a White House victory.

Both candidates and their surrogates are traversing the state in the days leading up to the election, with Biden and Trump slated to appear at separate events in Tampa on Thursday and the former vice president making an additional stop in Democratic stronghold Broward County.

While Trump continues to hold large rallies that attract thousands of supporters, Biden’s campaign is opting for more intimate gatherings or drive-in events, such as appearances by former President Barack Obama in Miami-Dade County and Central Florida in recent days.

Black voters are enthusiastic about participating in the election, but it’s not necessarily because of the Democratic presidential nominee, Shropshire said.

“People are angry about what is happening in the country and I would say they are more determined than excited about what’s happening now,” she said.

Trump has stumped in Republican-dominated areas such as Northwest Florida and The Villages while also focusing on Hispanic voters in Miami-Dade County, where he continues to have strong support from Cuban-American and Latin-American voters.

Although many Trump critics have accused the president of stirring racial divisions and not being critical of white nationalists, the Republican president has repeatedly said he has “done more” for Black Americans than his predecessors.

“Nobody has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump … with the exception of Abraham Lincoln,” he said during a debate with Biden last week, adding, “I’m the least racist person in this room.”

Although Black turnout lagged when compared to other ethnicities as of Wednesday, Black voters are on pace to make record gains, according to Unite the Country CEO Steve Schale.

About 12.5 percent of voters who have already cast ballots in Florida are Black, who comprise 13 percent of all voters in the state, Schale, who led Obama’s 2008 Florida campaign, told reporters Wednesday.

Schale believes the number of Black voters casting ballots in this year’s election could outpace 2008 and 2012, when the man who turned out to be the nation’s first Black president was at the top of the ticket.

“I think it’s very doable,” Schale said.

Obama defeated Republican opponent Mitt Romney in Florida by 0.9 percentage points in 2012.

“We’ve seen really good turnout among Black voters and seeing, doing better with suburban whites and white seniors. That’s how he (Obama) won Florida,” Schale said.

Biden enters the final stretch of the campaign with a “net positive” rating among voters in six battleground states, including Florida, Priorities USA Chairman Guy Cecil said during a separate call with reporters.

Priorities USA and BlackPac joined forces for Florida television ads aimed at Black voters. The ads, announced last week, were part of Bloomberg’s $100 million investment in the Sunshine State on behalf of Biden.

Biden’s net positive rating among voters reflects a “fundamental difference” with how they felt about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the run-up to the 2016 election, Cecil said.

But Schale cautioned against comparing the contest between Biden and Trump with the race between Clinton and the Republican president, who won Florida by 1.2 percentage points four years ago.

“There’s nothing about this election at this point that looks like 2016. It’s cats and dogs,” Schale said. “I don’t think we can function on any assumption of 2016 other than the people that voted in 2016 and 2018 are probably going to vote. … Everything has changed this cycle. So we all have to just get through the election and see where we are.”

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

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