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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Democrats have outvoted Republicans in Florida in vote-by-mail ballots by a margin of over 400,000 as of 11am on Wednesday, according to state election data.

Why it matters: This is the first time Democrats have led over Republicans during this stage of an election, though states are expecting an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots due to the pandemic. Typically, Republicans are ahead by a slight margin in absentee ballot returns, according to Politico.

Yes, but: Republican officials say they are confident they can catch up by Election Day.

  • “Voting in Florida is a marathon. And what you’re seeing is a bit of a sprint from the Democrats,” the director of Trump's campaign in Florida, Susie Wiles, told Politico.
  • "But we have far more high-propensity voters on our side. That should be noted in all the hype about the Democrats’ lead. We’re not finished. We’re turning our sights to early in-person voting and to Election Day.

The big picture: President Trump has publicly attacked mail-in-voting, calling it fraudulent and baselessly claiming the election will be "rigged" because states that don't usually conduct vote-by-mail elections have adopted new pandemic-era systems.

  • In Florida, however, Trump has encouraged his supporters to vote by mail because "they’ve been doing this over many years, and they’ve made it really terrific."
  • House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy told Axios that Republicans "could lose" as a result of Trump's war on mail-in voting, saying that he's spent hours telling the president that this preoccupation will hurt his own re-election chances.

The bottom line: Florida, which Trump won in 2016 but looks to be a competitive race in 2020, is crucial to his re-election chances. Since 1996, every presidential candidate that has won Florida has won the election.

Go deeper

Florida requiring proof of residency to get coronavirus vaccine

A man receives a COVID-19 vaccine from a health care worker at a drive-thru site at Tropical Park on Jan. 13 in Miami. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Florida's surgeon general issued new guidelines on Thursday requiring people seeking COVID-19 vaccines to provide proof of permanent or seasonal residency.

Driving the news: Of the more than 1 million people who have received the first dose of the vaccine in Florida as of Wednesday, over 39,000 reside out of state, per data from the Florida Department of Health. The number and reports of out-of-state recipients have caused concern over what many have described as "vaccine tourism."

Off the Rails

Episode 6: Last stand in Georgia

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Drew Angerer, Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 6: Georgia had not backed a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992 and Donald Trump's defeat in this Deep South stronghold, and his reaction to that loss, would help cost Republicans the U.S. Senate as well. Georgia was Trump's last stand.

On Air Force One, President Trump was in a mood. He had been clear he did not want to return to Georgia, and yet somehow he'd been conscripted into another rally on the night of Jan. 4.

Off the Rails

Episode 2: Barbarians at the Oval

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 2: Trump stops buying what his professional staff are telling him, and increasingly turns to radical voices telling him what he wants to hear. Read episode 1.

President Trump plunked down in an armchair in the White House residence, still dressed from his golf game — navy fleece, black pants, white MAGA cap. It was Saturday, Nov. 7. The networks had just called the election for Joe Biden.