It’s time for election season to heat up

The political clock is starting to tick faster. We’ve just passed a milestone: The 2020 presidential election is now less than a year away. In less than four months, early voting will start in Florida’s presidential primary. In three months, Iowa and New Hampshire will hold the nation’s first nominating contests. In one month, President Donald Trump is expected back in Central Florida to headline the Republican Party of Florida’s annual fundraising dinner. This month has already seen his son, Donald Trump Jr., launch a nationwide book-signing tour that included a stop in The Villages on Friday. Next week, the Democrats will debate for the fifth time.

Here’s a look at what’s ahead for an election that will be here before you know it:

The Contenders 

Seventeen Democrats are still battling for their party’s nomination. At least one more is weighing whether to throw his hat into that crowded ring. Nine have dropped out.

Former Vice President Joe Biden continues to enjoy frontrunner status in the polls, with an average lead of 7.7 percentage points over Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is the only other candidate consistently polling in double digits.

Trump has three challengers for the Republican nomination, at least on paper. National polling has him ahead by more than 80 percentage points as none of the other campaigns has generated any traction.

Sunshine Spotlight

Florida heads into the election as the largest battleground state and the swingiest of swing states. But the state’s preeminence in the November election won’t be matched in the primary. That’s because Florida’s Democratic primary on March 17 is the 24th contest on the calendar and takes place two weeks after Super Tuesday. Democrats still in the race at that point are likely to be more focused on those 15 states — which include Texas and California — with the survivors dashing to Florida afterward.

Florida will mail out more than 1 million vote-by-mail ballots starting Feb. 6, according to the state Democratic Party. That’s a quarter-million more Democrats receiving mail ballots than in 2016.  

Trump’s Advantages

Trump enters the final 12 months of the election with some major advantages over his eventual challenger. He’s raising money at a record pace, with a haul of $125 million in the third quarter — more than all the Democratic candidates combined — and he doesn’t have to crack open his war chest to win the nomination.

Not facing a serious challenge for the nomination also has allowed him to pay more attention to Florida voters than any of the Democrats. He launched his campaign in Orlando — the center of the crucial I-4 corridor that is the most up-for-grabs part of the state — signed an executive order on Medicare in The Villages and even announced plans to change his residency from New York to Florida. 

The impeachment inquiry led by Democrats in the House has also fueled a backlash among Trump’s base, and his campaign has tapped into that anger to boost fundraising.

The X-Factors

But it’s impossible to predict what twists and turns the impeachment effort will take and whether it will derail Trump’s re-election bid or boost it. Trump has predicted that it will backfire on Democrats and help the GOP retake the House.

Other major unknowns that will affect the election outcome include: 

Who will win the Democratic nomination?

Will the economy continue to roar along or suffer a setback?

Will there be an “October surprise” that throws either candidate for a loop? 

Plenty More On Ballot

The presidential race will be the top of the ticket next November, but there will be plenty more on your ballot. That could include several more proposed constitutional amendments, at least six of which have cleared the first hurdles to reaching the ballot.

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, whose district includes The Villages, is up for reelection, as is state Rep. Brett Hage, whose district includes all of The Villages. 

Locally, voters will decide on county sheriffs, property appraisers, tax collectors and supervisors of election.

Nationally, 35 seats are up for election in the Senate, where Republicans hold a slight advantage. All 435 seats are up for grabs in the U.S. House, where Democrats have control.

And in November, once the dust settles from all of those races, you’ll barely have time to peel off your “I Voted” sticker before the campaigning starts for the 2022 and 2024 elections.