Breaking the status quo

Miami’s Cuban-American voters leave the hardliners behind

November 8th, 2012 | Posted by William Vidal in Cuba travel | Hard-line hijinks | US Politics

For years, defenders of the Cuban embargo have pointed to the re-election of hardliner Cuban-Americans in Congress as evidence of our community’s support of their isolationist policies.  Last night’s election killed that myth dead and suggests that Miami politicians who continue to espouse it do so at their on peril.

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We’ve long argued that over the past several years our community has left the hardliners behind, and now we have the votes to prove it.

Democratic candidate Joe Gacia beat – excuse me, pulverized - David Rivera by 11 points.  One could argue that this is due to the countless scandals surrounding Rivera, but the key point here is that for the first time in the history of the exile community, a Cuban-American staunch supporter of family and people-to-people travel got elected to the U.S. Congress in the heart of Miami-Dade county with 54% of the vote.  This is a direct challenge to the hardliners’ claim that our community only supports candidates who embrace the pressure cooker approach toward bringing change to Cuba.

Suck on that, Ninoska.

Also celebrating last night was Democratic candidate for State Rep., Jose Javier Rodriguez, another firm supporter of President Obama moderate Cuba policy, who prevailed – excuse me - made mincemeat out of establishment hardliner and career politician, Alex Diaz de la Portilla, 54% to 46%, and in a district that includes Little Havana, no less.

Most exquisite of all are the exit polls and how they point to a sea change in Cuban-American voter attitudes. As Phil Peters over at The Cuban Triangle notes:

Cuban Americans have long been the only reliably Republican segment of the Latino electorate.  When you add the fact that the hard-line Cuban vote is located mainly in the important state of Florida, and the fact that it generates considerable campaign donations for the Republican Party, it has earned a favored position in Republican politics.

But this is changing. Look at Miami-Dade County, where the Cuban vote is concentrated, with a population that is 65 percent Latino: Al Gore won 53% of the Miami-Dade vote in 2000, John Kerry won 53% in 2004, President Obama won 58% in 2008 and 62% yesterday.

In yesterday’s Florida exit polls, the Cuban vote split evenly: Obama 49-Romney 47 (NBC News) and Romney 50-Obama 47 (Fox News).  The rest of Florida’s Latino vote went for Obama, 68-32.

So there are problems for Republicans.

First, the old reliable hard-line Cuban Americans are no longer capable of delivering a majority of their own community’s votes for the GOP.  The community is changing.  Half of Cuban Americans – Obama’s Cuban Americans – are either not single issue “anti-Castro” voters, or they support the President’s policies that give them the freedom to decide how often they can visit their families in Cuba and how much money they can send to support them.  Who would have imagined that President Obama could liberalize Cuba policies and increase his Miami-Dade margin by four points?  The Cuba policy that Governor Romney proposed – reverting to Bush policies that limit visits to once every three years and remittances to $100 per month – is incapable of making this situation better for the GOP, and can only make it worse over time.  Each year for the past four years, an average of 39,521 Cubans have become legal permanent residents of the United States.  These are not people who are 80 years old, who left Cuba in 1960, and have no connection or affection for those they left behind.

Inexplicably, the Obama campaign refused to boast about the Administration’s Cuba policy this year.  My guess is that the Chicago boys simply don’t understand the issue and preferred not to risk the sort of backlash that history would suggest is still possible in our community.

Yet this election should make one thing crystal clear: the Cuban-American community supports -at best, or accepts, at least- the steps taken by the Obama Administration to reduce the isolation between Americans and the Cuban people. Two questions remain to be answered: (1) will the President seize this political space and take further steps to increase the flow of contacts and resources between the U.S. and Cuba? (2) can a Democratic candidate break 50%?  Last night’s election suggest its possible should Democrats continue to push forward on this issue.  Republicans should take note.

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