Florida Latino voters central to 2020 elections

Florida Democratic Party Hispanic communications director, Luisana Pérez...
Florida Democratic Party Hispanic communications director, Luisana Pérez Fernández, and Trump re-election campaign leader, Alex Garcia, discuss Latino voter outreach in this battleground state. (Source: GrayDC)(GRAYDC)
Published: Mar. 12, 2020 at 12:50 PM CDT
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With the Florida primaries coming up, campaigns are fighting for the Latino vote. Pew Research Center estimates Latinos now make up about 20 percent of Florida’s electorate, and that community continues to grow. Alana Austin is in Florida to break down the competing political strategies of Democrats and the Trump campaign.

“The party who is helping immigrants like me, Latinos like me, is the Democratic Party," said Luisana Pérez Fernández, Hispanic communications director for Florida Democratic Party.

Fernández fled Venezuela seven years ago. Now, she’s working for the Florida Democratic Party -- hoping to persuade fellow Latinos to defeat President Donald Trump.

“When you see the way that immigration is being treated by this administration, it’s a clear choice," said Fernández.

Fernández is a guest on a Spanish-speaking radio show, 'Democracia al dia', airing across South Florida and Orlando. Each week, activists and hosts discuss pressing issues affecting Hispanics, like immigration, the economy and health care access.

"We are just trying to make that connection on the things that are affecting everyday life for Latinos," said Fernández.

The Democrats are also expanding their operations every day in Florida to defeat President Trump. Florida Democrats recently hired additional organizers and staff, making it the largest state party campaign operation in the nation.

Democratic Latino advocates are criticizing the President’s tone and rhetoric toward Hispanic immigrants, but one political expert in Florida says that issue may not necessarily be top of mind for most Florida Latino voters.

“The Hispanic community is not a monolithic voting bloc," said University of Central Florida Professor Aubrey Jewett.

Jewett says although the Latino community at large leans Democratic, Republicans are making inroads and he says the economy is boosting their pitch.

“I wouldn’t count Donald Trump out or sell him short when it comes to attracting votes because he actually did quite well in Florida in 2016, according to the exit polls," explained Jewett. "He got a majority of the Cuban Hispanic vote, and so he did better – he outperformed what most analysts thought he would do.”

Jewett adds Trump's comments and policies on migrants from Mexico may hurt him more among Latino voters in other states. The majority of Florida's Latino vote is comprised of Cubans and Puerto Ricans, so Jewett says immigration may be less of a driving factor for those groups.

"Our Hispanics are not as motivated by immigration rhetoric and they’re more concerned about bread and butter issues like the economy," said Jewett.

Experts like Professor Aubrey Jewett emphasize the Latino population in Florida is very rich, with diverse sub-groups, such as Venezuelans, Colombians, Nicaraguans, and more. The story and cultural background of each family and voter influences policy priorities and voting trends.

Meantime, both the Democrats and Republicans are actively working to register as many voters as possible, and drive up turnout. Many operations on both sides of the aisle will target areas with high populations of Latino voters, such as Orlando and South Florida.

The margin of victory could come down to a handful of votes. And with about one thousand people moving to Florida every day, that population explosion poses an opportunity for both sides.

"Jobs are number one," said Alex Garcia, regional political director for the Trump campaign in Florida.

Gray DC got an exclusive look inside a Trump campaign training session in Orlando.

“Engagement is the key," said Garcia. "Being part of the fabric of the community is basically our strategy.”

Trump campaign staffer Alex Garcia’s family escaped Fidel Castro’s regime at gunpoint. He believes the GOP represents a freer and more prosperous society.

“What we hear from voters, is they don’t want those socialist policies to be enacted here, because we have living proof that it doesn’t work," said Garcia, who grew up in Miami and is proud of his family's Cuban roots.

The Trump training sessions around the state are designed to prepare campaign volunteers for door-knocking, voter registration drives, as well as hosting community events. Garcia says the campaign aims to connect with key leaders in the community, who then spread the message about Trump's record on the economy, national security, and important local issues, like school choice.

Trump campaign staffers say the Republicans began making a more active, concerted effort to recruit and engage Florida Latinos after then-Presidential GOP nominee Mitt Romney's loss in 2012.

"Volunteers are talking to voters on a peer to peer level. That’s the best way you can change someone’s mind is really getting to know somebody, having a conversation with them and explain to them why you are a Republican," said Garcia.

On a mass scale, Garcia says it is as simple as having neighbors engage with other neighbors about the GOP message.

The Pew Research Center estimates by November, 32 million Latinos will be eligible to vote, making them the largest racial or ethnic minority group in the nation’s electorate.

Another reason why Florida is so important, President Trump won the state by just one percentage point in 2016.

The Presidential candidates have already heavily invested time and resources early in the state. On the Republican side, Trump and Vice President Pence have held events and rallies across the state. The re-election campaign was officially unveiled in Orlando, while Evangelicals for Trump was kicked off in a mega-church in Miami.

On the Democratic side, Presidential candidates have notably held various events that started early in the campaign season. Roundtable discussions with communities impacted by issues like gun control, sea level rise and severe weather, all made headlines.

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