TALLAHASSEE — Twenty Democratic presidential hopefuls are about to square off in Miami during two nights of nationally televised debates, as they get an early chance to stand out in the crowded primary.
But some candidates also are visiting political hotspots in Florida, a swing state that will be crucial for any of them to win the White House.
So far, the Homestead migrant detention shelter, the Everglades and Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood have been among the places picked for visits by candidates such as former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
Inslee, who has made climate change a focus of his campaign, visited the Everglades on Monday and planned Tuesday to stop in the Little Haiti neighborhood to talk about how “climate change is exacerbating economic equality” in that community.
As another example, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was scheduled to hold a town hall at Miami’s Ocean Bank Convocation Center on Tuesday, a day before she goes on stage for the first night of the debates.
With the debates drawing focus to the state, Florida Democrats have made suggestions to presidential hopefuls about places they should visit and topics they should cover as they try to court Floridians in the coming months.
“Given the current situation, with a massive fire in the Everglades, I expect to hear much about climate change and each candidate’s plan for addressing the issue,” said state Sen. Janet Cruz, a Tampa Democrat who was referring to a 17,000-acre wildfire that started Sunday.
Cruz said she would also like to hear the candidates talk about the “egregious detention of children and separation from their parents,” an issue that has drawn heavy attention because of undocumented immigrant children being housed at the Homestead detention center.
State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said she would like to see candidates visit Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland or the Pulse nightclub in Orlando to pay respects at two sites where mass shootings have taken place.
Sean Shaw, a former state House member from Tampa who was the 2018 Democratic nominee for attorney general, said it is crucial for candidates to see the Homestead detention facility and places in the state impacted by climate change.
The two-hour debates will be held Wednesday and Thursday night at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, with 10 candidates participating each night. The debates, the first of the 2020 primary campaign, will be televised by NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo.
With the crowded stage, the candidates will have to look for ways to quickly try to stand out and focus on key issues.
Shaw said talking about how the candidates hope to mitigate the effects of climate change is a must.
“If you’re in Florida and you’re not talking about climate change, you’re doing it wrong,” said Shaw, who has endorsed South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg for president.
It will be equally important to talk about the political fate of Latin American countries, like Venezuela and Cuba, which are hugely important issues to the immigrant communities in Florida, said state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando.
“Seventy percent of the population in Miami is Hispanic, so Democrats would be well-advised to discuss the issues important to our community while here. They need to be talking about issues related to Cuba, Venezuela and much more,” Smith said.
Eskamani said she wants to hear candidates talk about their policies on abortion access, ending “corporate welfare” and addressing climate change. On a more personal note, Eskamani, who is Iranian-American, wants to hear about the candidates’ plans on foreign relations amid escalating tension between Iran and the United States.
“I want to know, how will they lead in diplomacy and repair broken relations,” Eskamani said.
Overall, Shaw said he wants candidates to ditch the “talking points.”
“Policy, vision and the ability to deliver on your promises — —that’s what I’m hoping to hear in this week’s debates, and I think that’s what most Democrats are looking for,” he said.
Cruz said she will also be listening to see who “resorts to name calling and personal attacks.”
“I’d like to see decency and honor restored to the highest office in our country,” she said.