The president's victory in his adopted home state has Democrats once again worrying about their future electoral prospects.
Cliff Gephart, the co-owner of a Trump-themed coffee shop called Conservative Grounds, looked across the guns mounted on the wall, the cappuccinos in paper cups and the replica of the Oval Office he built against the back of the cafe, complete with a reproduction of the Resolute Desk. It was Tuesday, and Gephart, 50, was in a good mood.
"Let me ask you a question," he shouted to a dozen or so patrons. "After the election, win, lose or draw, are you still coming here?"
"Yes!" the crowd shouted back.
It was not just inside the coffee shop: The state of Florida is feeling Trumpy.
Nationally, the presidential race is still too close to call. But President Donald Trump has at least won his adopted home state again, and not by one of those nail-biting margins so typical of Florida. This year, the president secured what was effectively a landslide here, winning by more than 3 percentage points, over twice his margin in 2016.
After a series of demoralising defeats — the presidential race in 2016, contests for the Senate and governor in 2018 and now another presidential vote — Democrats are reckoning with a dispiriting question: Will Florida ever go blue again?
"It's really hard to argue Florida is a true swing state," said Matthew C. Isbell, a Democratic data strategist in South Florida. "It's not Missouri. It's not Ohio, where Trump won by eight points. It's just more modestly Republican — kind of like North Carolina, but even a little further to the right."
Even Georgia, as it turns out, is more of a battleground.
Trump drove up his score in Miami-Dade County, shocking Democrats with his gains among conservative-leaning Cuban Americans, who voted in such big numbers that the GOP captured two Democratic-leaning congressional seats and a slew of state legislative districts.
"We're not leftists, as Cubans," said Gloria Davis, 59, a Republican who voted for Trump in Miami. "I see the leftists in the Democrat Party. He has what it takes to be president, and he's a strong man. You can't be weak in this nation."
More concerning for Democrats, however, was that Trump also did better than four years ago across the state with non-Cuban Hispanic voters, who tend to lean more liberal. Exit polls conducted for the National Election Poll showed Joe Biden falling short of 60 per cent statewide with Hispanic voters, down from the two-thirds captured by Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Luis Ruiz, 60, who is Colombian American and registered without party affiliation, said he voted for Trump despite his disappointment in the president's leadership during the pandemic. Ruiz, a resident of Miami, said Trump's policy toward Latin America probably keeps left-wing governments in the region in check.
"Trump's policy, in some way, benefits our countries," Ruiz said.
As the results came in Tuesday, vocal Democrats such as state Rep. Anna V. Eskamani of Orlando, who is a member of her party's more progressive wing, demanded a top-to-bottom rethinking of Democrats' approach to political campaigns.
"There was a bloodbath in South Florida," Eskamani said.
On Thursday, Terrie Rizzo, the chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, promised a "deep dive" into what had gone wrong.
Biden bested Trump in Miami-Dade County, but by a margin of only 7 percentage points, performing worse than any Democratic presidential candidate since John Kerry in 2004. In 2016, Clinton won Miami-Dade by nearly 30 points.
Biden improved on Clinton's performance in other places, including Duval County, home to Jacksonville; Seminole County, near Orlando; and Pinellas County, home to Largo, all of which flipped from Republican to Democratic. But those were modest gains at best, with Trump building on his lead even outside of vote-rich Miami-Dade.
Democrats had thought their chances had improved with Biden as their nominee. After all, he had been on the ticket with former President Barack Obama when he twice won Florida. But that was before the coronavirus pandemic froze Democrats' efforts to register voters, campaign in person or lure Biden and his top surrogates to visit.
At the same time, Florida Republicans continued to do as they always do: register voters, knock on their doors and get their people to the polls. Trump also flew in frequently for rallies, including a boisterous event at midnight on Sunday near Miami that resembled a huge block party.
"Our data suggested that close to half of Trump voters that were going to vote were going to vote on Election Day," said Ryan D. Tyson, a Republican pollster in Tallahassee whose surveys hewed closely to the final results in 2016, 2018 and this year. On Tuesday, "my math said that we had won the election at 11am," he said. "Everything else was gravy."
Florida Democrats require more infrequent voters, including immigrants and Black and Hispanic Americans, to turn out in big numbers to do well, which is far more difficult than the Republican game plan of depending on reliable, "high-propensity" voters. The Republican Party is also typically better funded, which is crucial in an expensive state with 10 television markets.
This year, not even a US$100 million investment from Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, was enough to win the state. The effort began too late, according to several Democrats involved. By then, the Biden campaign and the party had failed to heed warnings about Biden's troubles with Hispanics, hire specialized staff or bring on prominent figures to introduce Biden to the Latino community.
Democrats need a better, locally tailored message, several Democrats said. An amendment to the state Constitution raising the minimum wage to US$15 an hour passed Tuesday with 61 per cent of the vote, but the party did not campaign on it, said John Morgan, the Orlando lawyer and political donor who financed the ballot measure.
"If you're a Democrat in America and you're on the fence about a living wage, then you need to move to the other party," said Morgan, who is registered without party affiliation but contributed heavily to Biden. "The Florida Democratic Party is a joke."
The Trump campaign in Florida essentially never ended after 2016, with the president traveling to the state throughout his term and shaping his Latin America policy with an obvious eye at winning votes in the Miami area.
But some Republicans cautioned that Florida's changing demographics made it hard to count it as a reliable red state.
"We are making some inroads, but to say this is becoming less of a swing state is very hard when you have such fluidity in the people voting," said Mark Gotz, the Republican Party chairman in St. Lucie County. "We love them to come down here and bring their money, but we would like to let them leave their voting habits where they came from."
In Largo, Gephart, the coffee shop owner, has taken his calling to the Trump campaign with the gusto of a political evangelist.
He was an early supporter, attending one of Trump's first rallies in Sarasota, where he was impressed by a diverse line that stretched on for blocks and by Trump's dramatic arrival by helicopter.
Gephart organised what he called the "Mother of All Boat Parades" in the president's honor this summer and is now trying to get it listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. He is even seeking to erect a bronze statue of Trump in the Golan Heights, a disputed territory controlled by Israel.
But it is Gephart's coffee shop in Largo, west of Tampa, that encapsulates his vision of Florida: A space where wearing a MAGA hat, raising scepticism about a mask mandate or admiring the president is not an aberration but normal.
"We've heard stories of hats being taken off people's heads, or drinks thrown in their faces," he said. "That won't happen here."
The crowd in the cafe the day after the election sat glued to their phones watching for updates in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, expressing certainty that the president would prevail in them all. (By Thursday, Michigan and Wisconsin had been called for Biden.)
Dea Kotthaus, a recent transplant from Southern California, said Florida's conservatives had allowed her to find the kind of like-minded neighbours that she didn't have in the liberal cities where she previously lived.
After arriving six months ago, she began volunteering with conservative activists and spent the 15 days before the election waving flags as part of a group called Penny's Trump Train. She stayed up well past 2 a.m. to watch Trump's speech on election night.
"I didn't get what MAGA was initially," she said. "But now I get it."
Written by: Nicholas Casey and Patricia Mazzei
Photographs by: Eve Edelheit, Scott McIntyre and Doug Mills
© 2020 THE NEW YORK TIMES