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The State We're In connects with people in Central Florida and the greater Tampa Bay region about issues that matter to you. From the coronavirus to special coverage of politics along the I-4 corridor, it’s a chance to hear your neighbors, and better understand their experience.The State We’re In is a collaboration of WUSF Public Media in Tampa and 90.7 WMFE in Orlando and is part of America Amplified, a national community engagement and reporting initiative supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.[Join Us On Facebook]

Tampa Appearances By Trump, Biden Are A Contrast In Views, And Crowds

Joe Biden supporters gather during a rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds.
President Donald Trump spoke to a crowd of supporters attending a rally on Oct. 29, 2020, in Tampa. Many in attendance did not wear masks, as health officials recommended, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The small, socially distant gathering for Democrat Joe Biden at the state fairgrounds in Tampa looked like the antithesis of President Donald Trump's packed gathering earlier at Raymond James Stadium.

It was two tales of the same pandemic as both presidential candidates courted Florida voters in Tampa on Thursday.

Former Vice President Joe Biden held an evening campaign event at the Florida State Fairgrounds. Earlier, President Donald Trump addressed thousands at a midday rally outside Raymond James Stadium.

Biden's rally was a "drive-in" event where attendees were encouraged to stay within touching distance of their vehicles. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and fellow Democrats warmed up the small crowd, with select people sitting in, on or next to roughly 100 cars.

politician on a stage talking to people
Luis Santana/Pool photographer - Tampa Bay Times
Tampa Bay Times
Democratic candidate for president Joe Biden speaks to a crowd of supporters during a drive-in rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020 in Tampa.

That was a distinct contrast from President Donald Trump's rally in a parking lot outside Raymond James Stadium. It started just after noon and thousands of people packed the north parking lot lawn during an unseasonably hot day.

Keeping a 6-foot distance wasn't an option for the Trump supporters cheering for the president to win a second term. And while red Make America Great Again hats were in abundance, masks were few and far between.

Larry Jensen from St. Petersburg brought a mask but said he didn't feel the need to wear it since he was standing near the back of the crowd. He works for a company that transports yachts and praised how the Trump administration helped his business during the pandemic.

"When everything was shut down back in April, we got the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) money, and that really helped us,” Jensen said. “We kept everybody on our payroll the whole time, and since then we've hired more people, so it's all good."

people at political rally waving hands in air
Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media
Supporters of President Trump attended a rally in Tampa on Oct. 29, 2020

‘It's all good’ was a sentiment shared by many at the rally. Several said they were not concerned about the risk of contracting the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages people to wear face coverings and maintain a social distance of 6 feet from others.

Attendees remarked on the positive energy they felt being surrounded by others who shared their political views, like Cara Bowman of Venice. She worked as a nurse for 40 years and said she believes the COVID-19 pandemic is overblown.

Woman in a hat and man in a cat T-shirt at a political rally
Stephanie Colombini/WUSF Public Media
Cara Bowman of Venice and her friend Rick attended the Oct. 29, 2020 rally in Tampa supporting President Donald Trump.

"People from other states literally think everybody in Florida is getting sick and dropping dead because of the propaganda they hear on the other news stations that are lies and fake news,” Bowman said.

As of this week, Florida health officials report that coronavirus has infected nearly 800,000 Floridians and killed more than 16,600.

But while those numbers did not seem to weigh heavily on the people at the rally, heat-related illnesses did. There were frequent calls from the crowd Thursday for medical assistance. Standing close to others for hours in the hot Florida sun caused some attendees to collapse. Gov. Ron DeSantis stopped speaking twice to help direct medics.

Paramedics carrying person on gurney
Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media
Several people attending the Oct. 29, 2020 rally for President Trump were treated by paramedics after collapsing in the heat.

The governor's speech, and remarks from Attorney General Ashley Moody, Sen. Joe Gruters, the head of the Florida GOP, and Trump described the pandemic as "nearly over."

And like many in the crowd, they didn't wear masks and mocked Biden for "hiding" throughout the campaign and hosting socially distanced rallies.

By the time Biden took the stage six hours later, he was describing Trump’s rally as a s superspreader event sowing division and discord.

People sitting on cars
Luis Santana/Pool photographer
Tampa Bay Times
Supporters of Democratic candidate for president Joe Biden gather during a drive-in rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020 in Tampa.

The fairground gathering was the antithesis of the earlier event - 100 to 150 cars pulled in to a parking lot. No one was rubbing shoulders - one of the announcers even asked people to give each other some space.

And every person was wearing a mask.

They also were all invited guests. Jeanne Baldi of Brandon got in because her daughter works for the Biden campaign. She said Trump wants to end the Affordable Care Act, and her whole family has pre-existing conditions.

And she was OK with the socially distanced car rally.

"I think this is part of where we're at today in the world, and this is taking the safety of the people that are attending into consideration, and taking into consideration what's going to happen when they leave," Baldi said. "Having people shoulder to shoulder at a rally is unconscionable, with the numbers where they are now."

Car covered with political posters
Steve Newborn/WUSF Public Media
Supporters of Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden lined up hours ahead of a 'drive-in' rally being held on Oct. 29, 2020 at the Florida State Fairgrounds.

Bonnie Elozory of Tampa's Lake Magdalene area was the fourth car in the lot. She spent much of that time draping her car with Biden placards and flags.

"I swear it feels like going to a concert or something like that. It's that same energy and just nice to feel the positive energy," said Elozory, who has a gay daughter and said she is afraid for her rights if Trump gets re-elected.

"Everyone's been talking to each other from a distance, and I've heard a lot of good stories today about why people are here."

Biden came to Tampa because Florida is a must-win for the president, and he is betting that his message focused on shutting down the coronavirus through social distancing will win over the state.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
I took my first photography class when I was 11. My stepmom begged a local group to let me into the adults-only class, and armed with a 35 mm disposable camera, I started my journey toward multimedia journalism.
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