ORLANDO, Fla. — Saundra Kaczenski drove to Orlando from Michigan to be in line at 5 a.m. — not for a rock concert, but for a big political campaign rally.
- Trump expected to announce re-election bid Tuesday in Orlando
- Supporters were lining up more than a day ahead to get a seat
- Analysts say Orlando is the heart of the battleground state
"It’s like high-energy crowds atmosphere," she said Monday, amid a line of tents in the heart of hot, humid downtown Orlando.
Kaczenski was just one of a group of people camping outside for first-come, first-serve seats at the Amway Center, well more than 24 hours before President Donald Trump was expected to take the stage and formally launch his bid to win the White House again in 2020.
"Camping out gets you right in front of the podium," Kaczenski said.
An estimated 20,000 people are expected to pack the Amway Center on Tuesday night. Thousands more supporters — and protesters — are expected outside.
While the campaign's own leaked internal polls show the president trailing Democratic challengers, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said recently in an exclusive interview with Spectrum News that they're not worried.
"This president is in a much better position than in 2016," said Parscale, who added that Florida will play a key role in next year's election.
Florida is crucial for both Republicans and Democrats — it's a state that has correctly picked the winning president in all but two elections since 1956. Both are eyeing Florida's 29 electoral votes as Trump formally launches his bid for re-election earlier than any American leader, in the state he's visited most since taking office. He was in the state just six weeks ago for a rally in Panama City.
"I think part of the reason he is doing so well in Florida is because he's spent so much time there, he's made the hurricanes a priority," Republican strategist Alex Conant tells Spectrum News.
There are more than 13 million voters statewide, and at least four million of them are along the I-4 corridor. Democrats have just 60,000 more registered voters than Republicans.
Within the state, "Orange County is the belt buckle of the I-4 corridor," says Charles Hart, the chairman of the Orange County Republicans. "We have the most votes that are in play, simple as that."
With so little wiggle room, unaffiliated voters are expected to push the balance of the election — which for Republicans, will kick off in the heart of Orange County, a place that traditionally leans Democratic.
"I think Orlando is just a much bigger media market," Conant said. "While it’s a swing district, there’s a lot of Trump voters there as well. Being able to communicate with them, turn all of them out, gets the most bang for his buck."
Hart says that for Trump to win those voters, it will come down to a record of success, policies, and personality.
"A lot of people get upset with him, (saying), 'You said something inconsistent or said something that’s inconsiderate,' " Hart said. "It's not that he's inconsiderate (and) it's not that he's not kind. This is a guy that is basically used to saying what he thinks."
Democrats — whose first debate among their presidential candidates takes place next week in Miami — say they, too, have a plan to win.
"It’s not only about what we’re against when it comes to Trump’s message of hate and bigotry, it’s also about what do the Democrats stand for," Florida state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) said. "We stand for fairness, we stand for quality, we stand for access to health care."
Meanwhile, Conant, a former adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio during his presidential bid, said he expects Florida will be a tight race — even after Republicans managed to hold on to the governor’s mansion, defeat a three-term incumbent senator, and dominate the state legislature.
"You can’t ignore Florida. If Trump doesn’t win Florida, then there really is no pathway for him to win re-election," Conant said.