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Magazine: Battleground Florida

27 10 20

THERE IS no realistic path to re-election for Donald Trump without winning Florida. A win there for the Democrats will almost certainly guarantee them victory.

Right now it’s looking good nationally. Support for Trump seems to have eroded and Biden is ahead by double digits. Florida, though, is a state that comes down to 1%. So it’s likely to be tight here all the way through Election Day.

You could say there’s three different states within the state of Florida. You have the east coast, you have the southern part of the state, which has a very distinct culture, and you have the northeast, which also has a particular culture.

The northern part of the state tends to be very conservative: both religious conservatism and fiscal conservatism, and therefore a bastion for Republicans. The southern part of the state is made up of immigrants from all parts of the hemisphere. There are also lots of people who have settled here from the northeast. So this area of Florida has become a Democratic bastion.

“The northern part of the state tends to be Southern” 

The northern part of the state tends to be Southern. That sounds ironic, but the further north you get the deeper “South” you go. Then you have the central part of the state which, in recent years, has had an influx of new residents from other parts of the country and specially from Puerto Rico after the island’s financial crisis and its battering by hurricane Maria.

Now the Hispanic community in the state is also different from the rest of the country. There are a lot of countries which are predominantly Mexican, with some Central Americans in the middle. But in Florida, you have obviously large numbers of Cuban Americans who’ve been arriving ever since Castro took over in the early 1960s. You have immigrants from the Dominican Republic, too, from Puerto Rico, and from places like Colombia, plus a lot from Venezuela. And that makes for a very hard state to campaign in as a result.

Shifting from Democrats to Republicans

Over the past few years, especially the last four, there’s been a shift away from the Democratic Party into the Republican Party. A lot of that has to do with the Venezuela issue and the nexus between Cuba as well. Venezuela has become a proxy issue for Cubans in the fight against the regime back home. This has polarised things and some people have migrated back to the older ideology.

There have been several waves of Cubans. The first wave was in the 1960s freedom flights. Then you had the Cubans who came to Miami through the Mariel boatlift. Then, starting from 1994, after the Soviet Union collapsed and Cuba descended into economic distress, a new wave came. These recent arrivals had trended Obama, they voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 but then in the past four years have significantly shifted to the Trump camp.

“there’s been a shift away from the Democratic Party into the Republican Party” 

A lot of that is a function of the Trump camp actually campaigning for the past four years within that community and then obviously you have the generational shifts. There’s some pretty liberal Cubans you’re going find among that group; the younger generation, however, it’s still not a lock for Democrats.

Biden has opened up a slight lead, but it’s interesting as there seems to have been a trade of base voters between Trump and himself. Trump has made inroads with the Hispanic vote, whereas Biden has made inroad among seniors, which are the key vote in the state.

Voter suppression

Then you have voter suppression, which has been a big issue in Florida. The most recent attempt is Amendment Four, which passed two years ago, restoring voting rights for felons who have already completed their sentence and are trying to rebuild their lives. That passed with almost 65% of the vote here in Florida.

But the Republicans turned it round straight after the vote, passing a bill in the State legislature that would not restore rights to felons – unless they paid any outstanding fines or court fees that were applicable. And in many cases, a lot of those fines and fees have been lost, so it’s hard to figure out who owes what, by when and to whom.

It’s ironic how Republicans believe that felons have the right to bear arms, but not the right to vote.

“It’s ironic how Republicans believe that felons have the right to bear arms, but not the right to vote” 

Another example of voter suppression is how Republicans have fought tooth and nail to oppose a plan by Democrats to open polling places in colleges and universities, fearing that young people trend Democrat.

Obviously there are lots of groups that are trying to overcome all this through voter registration and voter mobilisation, among them Mi Familia Volta and UnidosUS (formerly known as the National Council of La Raza). They have been busy for the past year, initially registering people but now focusing on turning out the vote.

Covid-19 has obviously given us a late start. We’re very cautious about knocking on doors, given the social distancing, and all the other protocols that are in place at the moment. So we have had to adapt.

With the election almost upon us, I’m nervous but in my heart of hearts, it’s going to come down to Biden winning by slim margin. And contested in the courts!

Jose Parra (@JoseDanteParra) is CEO of Prospero Latino, a Hispanic-focused strategic communications firm built and powered by Latinos. He previously worked for former Senate leader Harry Read and as a reporter for the Miami Herald and the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

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