Republican efforts to woo the Hispanic vote may pay off in Florida

(TNS) — Becoming a U.S. citizen wasn’t at the top of Ovidio Rodriguez’s to-do list this year, although the Hialeah resident recently became eligible to apply after leaving Cuba five years ago.

But when one of his co-workers told him that her son was teaching citizenship clinics organized by the Republican Party, Rodriguez jumped at the chance and prepared to take the test.

“I already have all the notes, audio and videos, I know where to take the exam. So I already have all the material I need to do that,” Rodriguez said in August during a symbolic graduation ceremony at the Republican National Committee’s Hispanic Community Center in Doral.


Like his peers at GOP-sponsored naturalization clinics, Rodriguez will not be able to vote in this election. But once he becomes a citizen, he says he will consider himself a Republican.

“I believe I should always look at both sides before making a decision. But when I see how terrible things are happening since the election that just passed, this representation of the Democratic Party, how badly they are doing… I just see an incredible similarity to the things that are happening in my country and in the rest of Latin America,” Rodriguez said .

The RNC civics clinics, held in a county that is 72 percent Hispanic, are just one example of how national and state Republicans are planting the seeds of their party’s future in Hispanic communities in the battleground state’s most populous state.

Despite the party’s efforts to crack down on immigration to the US, the Republican Party is playing the long game with Latinos, even those who are not yet eligible to vote. And it seems to be working, pushing Miami-Dade, the state’s most populous county, to the right and pushing Florida out of Democratic reach.

Evidence is mounting in this election that a Republican ground operation — specifically in Hispanic communities — could help Gov. Ron DeSantis become the first Republican governor to win the county since Jeb Bush, who spoke Spanish, owned a Coral Gables condo, and was married to a Latina wife , she did in 2002.

“It’s not only possible, but it’s really on track right now,” said Devon Murphy-Anderson, co-founder of Democratic voter outreach organization Mi Vecino, which polls year-round in five Florida counties. .

Local Republicans are getting bolder. On the first day of early voting, Miami-Dade Republican Party Chairman René García said during a rally at the John F. Kennedy Library in Hialeah that the predominantly Cuban-American city is home to the “state’s Republican base.”

And Gov. Jeanette Nuñez — a Cuban-American from Miami and the state’s first Latina in the role — said last week that she expected Hispanic voters to help win the county for her party.

“We’ve seen so many Hispanics flock to the Republican Party here in Miami-Dade County,” Nuñez said at a get-out-the-vote rally at the Doral Community Center last week. “And I’m going to make a prediction right now — and those of you on the news can quote me on this: We’re going to win Miami-Dade County on November 8, 2022.”

Gov. Jeanette Nuñez joins a group of GOP leaders including, from left, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott and U.S. Congresswoman María Elvira Salazar
Gov. Jeanette Nuñez joins a group of GOP leaders, including U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, left, and U.S. Congresswoman María Elvira Salazar, during a rally aimed at motivating Hispanic voters to support Republicans at the RNC Hispanic Community Center in Doral, Fla., Tuesday, 18 .October 2022.

(Pedro Portal/Miami Herald/TNS)

The Trump Effect

It’s been two years since former President Donald Trump won Florida with heavy support from Hispanic voters, ending a trend of close top-ticket contests in the state. After Trump won Florida despite being crushed in Miami-Dade in 2016, he won the best margin a Republican presidential candidate has seen in Miami-Dade County in 16 years.

Although the Miami-Dade Republican has done well for decades with Cuban-American voters, who tend to be conservative, Trump has also found support in districts populated by Colombians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans, who historically act as swing voters. Even so, left-leaning Miami-Dade County still lost to Joe Biden by 7 points.

This year, the explanation for DeSantis’ popularity is twofold: Like Trump, DeSantis’ campaign is investing a lot of time and money in reaching Hispanic voters in South Florida, regardless of party affiliation; and is gaining increasing numbers of Latino Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters without party affiliation.

One recent Telemundo/LX News poll found that Hispanic voters favor DeSantis over his Democratic challenger, Charlie Crist. A separate poll by Mi Vecino found similar results among Hispanic voters in Miami-Dade County, where 25 percent of Hispanic Democrats said they would vote for DeSantis and just 20 percent said they would support Cristo.

Hispanic voters who are shifting to the right appear to be swayed by wallets, even if they are more aligned with the social values ​​of the Democratic Party, said Alex Berrios, also a co-founder of Mi Vecino.

“To me, that means a lot of Latino voters can still be convinced if the message gets through,” Berrios said. “We have to make an effort, and at this point in the election, that ship has probably sailed.” We’re pretty close to election day.”

In an interview last week, Berrios said it was “surprising” to see how much DeSantis’ campaign has done to reach Democratic voters in Hispanic communities.

“We’re talking to voters, and while we’re canvassing, we’re seeing Ron DeSantis literature on Hispanic Democrats’ doors,” he said.

DeSantis and his governor, Nuñez, also built a coalition of local supporters. Nuñez is a frequent guest on Spanish-language radio shows and spent much of her campaign time promoting the administration’s agenda in gatherings large and small and in South Florida beyond Miami-Dade.

At one recent gathering at a coffee shop in Weston, a suburb of heavily Democratic Broward County where half the population is foreign-born, a group of about 30 Latino Republicans held a breakfast meeting to talk about the upcoming election. Their guest of honor at the “Mamasitas for DeSantis” event was Nuñez, who criticized Cristo and his choice for lieutenant governor of Karla Hernandez-Mats, a teacher union leader who is of Honduran descent.

“Charlie Crist and his classmate were in favor of keeping kids out of classrooms, out of schools, and I think she was referring to parents who, you know, had the nerve to go to the school board, that they’re crazy, that they’re out of control, ” Nuñez told a group of women at Caffe Gourmet in Spanish. “When we see what’s happening in this country, when we see what’s happening in the schools, it’s something we’re not going to allow.”

The meeting was hosted by the Republican Amigos, a local group of Republican Party volunteers and dues that meets in Weston, often referred to by locals as “Westonzuela” because of the concentration of Venezuelans. The group has about 67 active members, one of the founders said.

“We have a really good attitude. And we’re trying to promote activism that doesn’t speak its mind, but actually does,” said Marta Mesa, a Colombian-American who has lived in the US for 23 years and is one of the co-founders of Republican Amigos. “A lot of people joined in saying, ‘We’re outnumbered in this area.’

Republicans aren’t always eager to support their efforts. After Nuñez left the event with her entourage, the organizers who invited a Miami Herald a reporter and photographer covering the meeting said the DeSantis campaign called and demanded they leave.

Republican US Senator Marco Rubio shares with supporters during a campaign rally in West Miami
Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio shares with supporters during a campaign rally in West Miami, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022.In West.

(Pedro Portal/Miami Herald/TNS)

A mixed bag on immigration

Republican success with Hispanic voters comes as the party expands its reach across the state in unprecedented ways. In September, the Republican Party reached a new milestone: officially leading Democrats by more than one percentage point, according to Division of Elections data analyzed by the bureau through the end of August Miami Herald.

Those gains have started to show in Miami-Dade, where the percentage of Hispanic voters registered with the Democratic Party has dropped about 2 percentage points since October 2020, it says Announce analysis. Meanwhile, the share of voters registered with the Republican Party and voters with no party affiliation each increased by just under one percentage point.

One of the biggest issues dividing Hispanic voters in South Florida is immigration, with reactions to the topic varying by country of origin and region of the state.

That seems to be the case with DeSantis’ migrant relocation program. While Cubans approved of the governor’s efforts, Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics — including Colombians, Venezuelans, Mexicans and Central Americans — disagreed with him on immigration, according to a Telemundo/LX News poll.

Murphy-Anderson said Hispanic voters polled by Mi Vecino had a “gut reaction” to the effort. She said most thought it was “downright wrong”.

“However, there were still voters who said I’m going to vote for Ron DeSantis because he’s taking action,” Murphy-Anderson said.

That’s not to say DeSantis hasn’t faced backlash. In October, the Spanish weekly El Venezolano ran a full-page ad condemning the migrant relocation program that sent 48 migrants — mostly from Venezuela — to Martha’s Vineyard.

The ad, paid for by The Venezuelan American Caucus, read: Con los Venezolanos no se juega. In English it means “You don’t play with Venezuelans”.

Adelys Ferro, co-founder of the Venezuelan American Caucus, is skeptical that DeSantis can win Miami-Dade, in part because of his immigration platform.

“In my personal experience, I haven’t seen what those polls reflect,” Ferro said in an interview Tuesday. “I’m not saying they’re not true, I want to make it clear, but we can see on the ground that people were sad and outraged by what happened.”

Many of those people she spoke to are ineligible to vote, Ferro said. Those eligible have “been disgusted” by efforts to relocate migrants.

“I think it’s important to point out that while there are differing opinions on what Governor DeSantis did, what he did was wrong. What he was doing was playing politics with human beings,” she said.

Still, the surge in support for Republican policies across South Florida is palpable to longtime residents of the area. Tomás Regalado, a former Cuban-American mayor of Miami, said he believes DeSantis’ support is likely a result of day-to-day issues like inflation rather than DeSantis as a political figure.

“DeSantis hasn’t campaigned that much here in the Hispanic community, and neither has Charlie Crist, by the way,” said Regalado, who is a Republican.

If DeSantis wins Miami-Dade County, Regalado said, he will likely draw comparisons to Bush, the last Republican gubernatorial candidate to win in Miami-Dade. Far from having similar styles, however, Regalado believes another advantage for DeSantis in this environment is that Hispanics tend to place blame for economic issues on the federal government, rather than any other political figure.

“DeSantis is lucky that the Democrats failed for so many Hispanics,” he said. “DeSantis is simply a vehicle for expressing the frustration of so many people.

©2022 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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