MIAMI – Conventional wisdom about the Florida electorate has long been that the inevitable political fate of Miami-Dade County was to become even more democratic as young Cuban Americans replaced former Cuban exiles who formed a mighty stronghold. republican.
This fate may not have been as predetermined as everyone once thought.
Second and third generation Cuban Americans born in the United States continued to distance themselves from the Republican Party from their parents and grandparents. But, in a trend that has gone largely unnoticed by Democrats until recently, more recent Cuban immigrants, who previously showed little engagement in US politics, have begun to identify themselves as Republicans from the United States. Trump.
They are not enough to topple Miami-Dade, which Hillary Clinton won by a record margin of almost 30 percentage points in 2016. But their potential impact on the race has led in part to an unusually started electoral battle in the county. most populous in Florida this year. , as President Trump’s campaign struggles to reduce the Democrats’ lead and make up for its expected losses elsewhere, including among older voters and suburban women.
If they can reduce Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s advantage to, say, 20 percentage points, political calculations suggest that Florida, a go-to state for Mr. Trump, could remain in the president’s column, even if the Tampa and Orlando areas look slightly to Mr. Biden.
Cutting margins at Miami-Dade would be a “huge victory,” said State Senator Manny Díaz Jr., Republican from Hialeah, the most Cuban city in the country. “How do you make it up elsewhere in the state?”
Democrats have watched with concern as Trump supporters have organized huge trailers that crawl the streets of Miami-Dade on weekend afternoons, with trucks playing popular Cuban music and displaying Trump flags, Cubans and Americans. Passengers are banging pots and pans, a celebratory display typically reserved in this city for the Miami Heat Championships.
Sometimes things got tense. Last weekend, when stragglers from a trailer organized by “Cubanos con Biden,” or Cubans with Biden, passed a Trump trailer along Southwest Eighth Street in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, men driving vehicles from the Trump trailer surrounded a Honda Fit adorned with Biden signs.
“They shouted ‘¡Comunista! ”Said Honda rider Sofia Hidalgo, an 18-year-old Cuban-American student who recently moved to Miami from Maryland.
Democratic-leaning Hispanics make up a growing proportion of Florida’s Latino electorate, including young Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Colombians and Venezuelans, and Mr. Biden is counting on them to keep his lead in Miami- Dade at around 24 percentage points. That’s what it was like when former President Barack Obama won Florida in 2012.
To that end, Mr. Obama visited Miami on Saturday and directly refuted Republicans’ claims that his former vice president, who has a track record as a moderate Democrat, is a socialist, or worse.
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“Some of the rhetoric you hear here in South Florida, it’s just made up – it’s just nonsense,” Obama said at a drive-through rally in North Miami. “Listening to Republicans, you would think Joe was more of a Communist than the Castros! Don’t fall for this trash.
“What is true,” Mr. Obama continued, “is that he will promote human rights in Cuba and around the world, and he will not pamper dictators like our current president does.”
He did not mention his administration’s decision in 2014 to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba, a rapprochement that was all but dismantled by Mr. Trump.
Extremists appreciated Mr. Trump’s setbacks. But feelings were more complicated for many Cuban Americans who arrived more recently, said Guennady Rodríguez, 39, who immigrated to Miami from Cuba in 2013.
Mr. Rodríguez, who edits a local political blog and podcast, “23-year-old Flagler,” supported Obama’s policies and opposed Trump’s backtracking. But he said other Cuban Americans less entrenched in US politics were disappointed that Mr. Obama’s re-engagement, indeed for only a few years, did not quickly soften the Cuban regime. Fair or not, that left a lingering frustration that prompted support for further sanctions, he said.
“The Cuban government has spent the last few years putting an end to freedom of expression,” he said. “People here are obviously frustrated.”
The perspective of the new generation of Cuban Americans who are more receptive to Republicans is perhaps most strongly expressed and shaped by Alex Otaola, a 41-year-old social media influencer who mixes culture and politics on a daily show in direct on YouTube. Mr. Otaola tapped his large online audience – around 100,000 viewers for his show each day – for a one-on-one meeting with Mr. Trump this month.
Mr Otaola became well known in Cuban-American Republican circles for telling his audience how he voted for Mrs Clinton and has since changed his mind, citing a left turn of the Democratic Party personified by Representative Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez from New York.
Among its problems is criticism of Cuban artists who are friends of the island government for attempting to perform in Miami, a fight that has stirred anti-Communist sentiment in that city for decades.
During his October 15 meeting with Mr. Trump, Mr. Otaola wore a green turban and a swarm of bracelets. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, Republican from Miami, served as his interpreter. Mr Otaola asked the president if he could send him a list of 60 Cuban artists and celebrities with suspected ties to the Cuban government, so that the Trump administration could consider revoking their US visas.
“So these are people you don’t want to have,” Mr. Trump said, according to a video of the meeting released by Mr. Otaola. “We will get there.”
In an interview, Mr. Otaola said he was speaking on behalf of young Cubans who have experienced communism over the past two decades.
“I’ve been here for 17 years,” he says. “We went through the same things. We speak the same language. And we are living the same signs that we have seen in the flesh in our country. So we recognize the things that are happening.
These views are shared by people like Giancarlo Sopo, a Cuban American who rose to prominence in Miami in his twenties for working in Democratic politics. He now works as a campaign spokesperson for Mr. Trump.
“Our families have fled socialism, we are culturally conservative, the president’s policies are popular in our community and we love his mano dura against the left, ”Sopo said in a statement, using the phrase for iron fist. “Democrats have always had far-left voices, but their leaders were once wise enough to keep them at bay. Now they are touting them as the “future” of the party, which is why many of us see ourselves as part of its past.
Guillermo J. Grenier, professor of sociology at Florida International University who conducts a biennial survey of the Cuban-American community in Miami, found for the first time this year that a majority of Cubans arrived between 2010 and 2015, the most most recent to qualify as US Citizenship, register as Republicans. Cuban Americans born in the United States “go the other way,” he said, with 40% Republicans, 35% Democrats and 24% without party affiliation.
“The Republican Party is really well established in Cuban communities, and when new Cubans come in now, they don’t see a muted Republican Party like you did under Obama,” said Dr Grenier.
His poll also showed that Cuban-American attitudes tend to oscillate with the policies of the party that holds the White House: they opposed diplomatic relations under former President George W. Bush, reversed their feelings under Mr. Obama and returned to Bush again. attitudes of the time under Mr. Trump.
“What it shows is that Cubans are adapting,” said Dr Grenier. “Whoever is in Washington, Cubans reflect foreign policy – they don’t create it.”
That leaves room for persuasion, said Carmen Peláez, a playwright and filmmaker who helps direct Cubanos con Biden. Ms Peláez said she tried to have cordial conversations with fellow Cuban-Americans to challenge their views on Democrats.
“There are people who came from Cuba three years ago, and their strong memories – the only thing they know as a politician – is what they saw in Cuba,” she said. “So when we tell them with certainty, ‘This is how you can fight communism,’ they can’t help but respond. For me, this is where we need to listen.
Mrs Peláez, 49 years old, wrote an article on social media who declared that Cubanos con Biden was “100% anti-communist, 100% anti-fascist and 100% con Biden”. The slogan is now printed on the back of the “Cubanos con Biden” site signs.
Democrats like Mr. Biden have resisted proclaiming they are not socialists “for the same reason he made no proclamation not to be a werewolf – because it’s ridiculous,” said Ms. Peláez.
“You never want to confirm a lie by denying it,” she added. “But Cubans are as stubborn as jackhammers, and we went through a revolution that was very duplicative, where neighbors lied about neighbors. So when I saw my message take off, I was like, we really just got to throw the gloves off and say, “ Come to me, brother. ” I am so sick of my family calling me a communist.
Now, she says, several older Cuban Americans have told her they intend to vote for Mr. Biden. Even if they won’t tell their family.