Hispanic Vote in Florida May Come Down to Biden’s Ability to Overcome Socialism Stigma

One does not have to walk far from the outdoor coffee window at Versailles Restaurant in the heart of Little Havana to hear impassioned words about politics, socialism, and Cuba, Washington Examiner writes.

Cuban American voters often weigh which candidate has the tougher stance on the communist country before casting their ballot in a state where each of the last four presidential elections was decided by less than 1% of the vote.

“Biden is no good, leftist, communist, garbage,” Cuban American Osvalda Hernandez, 55, told the Washington Examiner in a Spanish-language interview in a tone of voice that could best be described as shouting.

In between sips of oil-black Cuban coffee from a small Styrofoam cup in one hand, and with a surgical mask in the other, Hernandez was certain that presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden had no chance of winning Florida.

“Trump is the best in the United States, very good, very tough,” the Cuban-born registered Republican said of the President’s hard stance on Cuba. “Communist I am not.”

Just a few feet away from the normally crowded window in pre-coronavirus times stood Carl Franz Muller, director of operations for Miami-Dade Cuban-American Democrats.

“He’s completely wrong,” said Muller, 55, sweating in a tan guayabera, the traditional Cuban dress shirt with four large pockets, worn untucked. “The Cuban American vote is about 50-50, maybe 55-45 in favor of Democrats.”

He continued, “Biden is a stable leader who the American people have confidence in.” Muller said Obama-era policies of engagement with Cuba helped his family and others by allowing more remittances to small-scale entrepreneurs.

Arguments by Cuba hard-liners that the money sent to families goes straight to government coffers did not consider the circular black-market economy that many Cubans survive on, he said. He also said that Biden’s Cuba stance was balanced in the right way.

“He’s hard on the government, but open to the people, helping the civil society but very critical of the government,” he said.

Florida political commentator and University of South Florida professor Susan MacManus told the Washington Examiner it’s too early to tell which way Florida will go, but perceptions that Joe Biden is soft on socialism may hurt him with Hispanic voters from countries including Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and to a lesser extent, Colombia.

“Anything can turn Florida,” she said, noting that Hispanics make up 17% of Florida’s 12.5 million registered voters. “Socialism is a very big mobilizer for a lot of people, not just Cubans, coming from other countries that have been repressive.”

MacManus said Biden has two strikes against him with the Cuban hard-liners: He is associated with President Barack Obama’s policy of engagement with Cuba, and his debate performance associated him with socialist policies that Cuban hard-liners despise.

“The Cuban vote definitely these days is somewhat split generationally, and it’s the older Cubans that lean more Republican and are more concerned about foreign policy and communism,” she said. “But they are very high turnout voters.”

MacManus emphasized, however, that Hispanics do not vote in a block like Florida’s 12% African American voting population, and Hispanic voter turnout is lower than both blacks and whites in the state.

Congressman Darren Soto, a Democrat from Orlando, explained to the Washington Examiner just how complex the Hispanic vote in Florida will be this election but said that Biden still had the edge.

“We saw him win the Hispanic vote overwhelming during the primary just a few months ago,” said Soto, citing a 25% increase in turnout since the 2016 Democratic primary.

“When you’re looking at Cuba policy, obviously, we want to continue [to] put the pressure on Cuba — they’re not our friends. They’re a communist regime that has a dismal record on human rights,” he said. “I caution the Biden campaign not to go too far on the business issues because we don’t want that money to go in the hands of folks who are allies of the regime.”

Soto then listed issues for different Hispanic populations in Florida that he said all favor Democrats, from Trump’s refusal to embrace temporary protected status for Venezuelans to insufficient Hurricane Maria and earthquake assistance to Puerto Ricans like himself.

“When you look at the Hispanic community, there’s at least five different Hispanic demographics that all have various different issues. All of these groups are big enough to swing an election,” he said. “Talking tough on Twitter is not going to be enough to cut it.”

Even a tough stance on Cuba and Venezuela is not everything, agreed MacManus.

“Education and the economy are top issues for Hispanics year in and year out,” she said, noting that Biden also helped make inroads on healthcare for many Florida Hispanics.

But the political scientist reserved judgment on who currently has the edge in Florida.

“I don’t think I know yet because I have not yet seen Biden on the campaign trail,” she said. “Florida will be close.”

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