Polls suggest some retirees are shifting from having supported President Trump to voting for Joseph R. Biden Jr. But they are rare in Florida’s Republican heartland.
Dave Niederkorn said he voted for President Trump in 2016. But his disgust with Mr. Trump built quickly, especially over family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border and during the pandemic.
FORT MYERS, Fla. — For Joseph R. Biden Jr. to capture Florida, he would need a lot of voters like Dave Niederkorn, a retired businessman who cast his ballot for President Trump four years ago and soon came to regret it.
And like Gerry Miller, a retiree who wrote in his own name for president in 2016 to protest the choice between Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton and is appalled by how Mr. Trump has handled the coronavirus pandemic.
Both say they voted for Mr. Biden in the unlikeliest of places: Southwest Florida, a Republican bastion that has helped elect Republican candidates in election after election and was pivotal for Mr. Trump in 2016. Switch voters know that they are rare finds, though they have recently shown up in polling and sporadic interviews.
Whether Florida’s older voters will shift away from the president in large numbers remains unknown, in a state filled with many unknowns. Even if only some retirees change allegiances to vote for Mr. Biden, that could be enough to swing Florida, which is why that prospect is so tantalizing for Democrats and a subject of fixation for the two candidates.
But while siphoning off older voters from Mr. Trump is viewed as perhaps the best path to victory for Mr. Biden in Florida, the enthusiasm for the president in Fort Myers shows how difficult that feat might be.
In 2016, Mr. Trump won Lee County, home to Fort Myers, and Collier County to the south, home to Naples, by formidable double-digit margins.
On a recent weekday morning, the line at a downtown early voting site popular with retirees was between 60 and 90 minutes long, with nearly every person willing to be interviewed saying they had voted for Mr. Trump.
Four years ago, David Allgood, 60, briefly hesitated before voting for Mr. Trump “because he was an unknown quantity,” he said after casting his vote in a strip mall next to a Robb & Stucky furniture store.
Now? “I’m a Trump man,” Mr. Allgood said.
Voters waiting in line last week in Fort Myers, Fla. In 2016, Mr. Trump won Lee County, home to Fort Myers, and Collier County to the south, home to Naples, by formidable double-digit margins.
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“We know that we need counties like Miami-Dade and Palm Beach and Broward and Orange to turn out Democratic voters, but we’re playing defense,” said Annisa Karim, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party in Collier County, which Mr. Trump won by 26 percentage points in 2016.
In Lee County, which Mr. Trump won by 20 points, Jim Rosinus, 68, the vice-chairman of the Democratic Party, said he stopped counting the number of volunteers this year after it reached 1,000. In 2016, that number was about 200, he said. The party’s crammed office space features a framed portrait of former President Barack Obama, a cutout of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and $5 sunglasses — “Joe aviators.”
Among the people picking up Biden-Harris yard signs one day last week was Ava Roeder, a 69-year-old retired art teacher originally from upstate New York. (“I went to Woodstock,” she said.) Earlier in the campaign, she said she bought 10 yard signs for $10 apiece, parked her car with her trunk popped and gave them away to neighbors. She was surprised by the interest.
Doris Cortese at the headquarters of the Lee County Republican Party, in Fort Myers, Fla. She dismissed polls indicating that some older voters had moved toward Mr. Biden.Credit…Eve Edelheit for The New York Times
“People aren’t divulging necessarily who they’re going to vote for,” Ms. Roeder said. That morning at the eye doctor, she had seen another patient with a Biden-Harris baseball cap.
“I said to him, ‘I like your cap,’” she said. “And then someone said to him, ‘I like it, too.’”
The excitement is even more palpable, however, among Republicans.
Last week, Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior adviser, rallied supporters at an outdoor venue just east of Interstate 75 in Lee County. Thrilled fans left with big smiles, posing for photographs and gabbing with other attendees. Only some wore masks. Almost all said they had no qualms about how the president handled the pandemic.
“I just like the energy of this crowd,” said Gail Mount, 68, of Port Charlotte. “They’re just very upbeat people.”
At the Republican Party headquarters in Fort Myers, nestled in a strip mall between a pizza place and an escape room, Doris Cortese, the party’s 81-year-old vice chairwoman, sported a red, white and blue manicure with the letters T-R-U-M-P spelled out on her nails.
Ms. Cortese said people of all ages had volunteered — “We’re getting millennials!” she said — and predicted that retiree support for Mr. Trump would grow, not diminish.
“I’m in the office four days a week, and we’re getting more and more seniors,” she said. “The fact that Trump is going to lower prescription prices” — a goal he touted in Fort Myers this month — “that’s a big one with seniors, because some of them almost have to make a choice between eating and having their medicine.”
Ms. Cortese dismissed the polls indicating that some older voters had moved toward Mr. Biden. “We’re not seeing that here at all,” she said.
Annie Brown contributed reporting.