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Donald Trump to return to Central Florida less than 24 hours after Monday night’s debate

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The U.S. Presidential election returns to Florida’s I-4 corridor early next week, with Donald Trump speaking at a rally at Orlando Melbourne International Airport on Tuesday at 7 p.m..

The GOP presidential nominee’s appearance will come less than 24 hours after he and Hillary Clinton engage in the first of their three scheduled debates before the November 8 election.

The trip is another occasion for Trump to focus on Florida’s crucial I-4 corridor, the swath of Central Florida that goes from the Tampa Bay area in the west to Daytona in the east. In another indication of how they’re focusing on this critical part of a critical battleground state, the Trump campaign moved their state headquarters from Sarasota to Orlando last week.

Susan Wiles, the recently named director of the Trump campaign in Florida, said that while  “there is no part of this state that isn’t important to Donald Trump…there is also no denying that the I-4 corridor is crucial and we wanted to be there.”

The Trump campaign now has 27 offices operating throughout the state. While that pales in comparison to the campaign infrastructure that the Clinton campaign has established in the Sunshine State (which has 65 offices), it hasn’t been hurting Trump in the polls. The Real Clear Average of polls in Florida on Saturday shows Trump with an infinitesimal .01 percent lead over Clinton.

Trump is also doing better than ever in the national polls. Some analysts are attributing his improving numbers to the fact that more Republicans are “coming home” to backing the controversial nominee.  That’s certainly the case in Southwest Florida, where both Tom and Francis Rooney are getting behind the Trump Train.

Francis Rooney is running for Congress in Florida’s 19th Congressional District. He’s been a formidable fundraiser and was the former ambassador to the Vatican under President George W. Bush. At a rally nearly Fort Myers last week, Rooney gave his enthusiastic backing for Trump, calling him “a proven leader, a person with a record of accomplishment a mile long,” according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s Zac Anderson.

Anderson also reports that South Central Florida Congressman Tom Rooney (no relation to Francis), is also now backing Trump, saying at a GOP dinner in Venice that, “We need everybody to come together to vote for Donald Trump or else – and you know what the or else is – or else its Hillary Clinton.” Rooney served as the Florida chair for Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign and was a close ally to former House Speaker John Boehner.

Not everything is turning up roses for Trump in Florida, however. Police in South Florida are reporting a “person of interest” in the theft of a naked Trump statue that was taken from the Wynwood arts district in Miami on Thursday. Similar naked Donald Trump statues were unveiled in New York City, Cleveland, San Francisco and Seattle last month. They were created by INDECLINE, a self-described anarchist group.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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