Friday, December 4, 2020

The Fight for Hispanic America in 2020 General Election

By on November 5, 2020

Editor’s notes: The following was first published in the Nov. 5-11 issue of Caribbean Business.

The Associated Press had former Vice President Joe Biden leading with 264 Electoral College votes Thursday morning, to President Donald Trump’s 214.

Although U.S. President Donald J. Trump turned conventional electoral wisdom on its head in his strategy to look beyond Hispanic voters along the I-4 corridor in the 2016 general election, the incumbent’s strategy in 2020 was to look at all Hispanic bastions in Florida with rhetoric that went beyond Puerto Rico. 

“There are people from Puerto Rico who are trying to sell the president on having to support statehood to get the backing of Puerto Ricans along the I-4 corridor, and we have dissuaded him of that,” said one source with knowledge of the Trump campaign’s strategy in important toss-up states. “They are saying that there are Democrats who would vote Republican, if Trump supported statehood for Puerto Rico. And, that is just bullshit. So, the strategy as pertains to Hispanics is that they are not all concerned about the same things. And, the answer is that they are not all the same. In Miami, the president is talking about things that are important to folks that came from countries in Central, South America and the Caribbean who were escaping socialism and communism—Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and so on.”   

In the race for Florida’s 29 electoral votes, Hispanics cast 430,000 more votes in 2016 than the 482,620 early votes in 2012. Latino turnout had expected to be an indicator in the final tally especially along the I-4 corridor, where newly arrived Puerto Ricans were expected to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“It is an impressive surge in Hispanics among those voting early,” said then-co-chair of Puerto Rico’s Democratic National Committee, Roberto Prats, during a telephone interview that took place while he was en route to the Javits Center in New York, where Clinton would eventually learn of her defeat to Trump much later that evening.

In 2020, the GOP source added, the reason many Puerto Ricans are in Central Florida is because the government was marred by irregularities in the handling of disaster relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017. “The reason there are so many Puerto Ricans in Orlando is because of the corruption in the island’s government. So, he may say that people do not like his rhetoric regarding Puerto Rico statehood, but the truth is that the government was corrupt. So, the messages are not the same.”

It is yet to be seen whether the Latino vote in South Florida, where Cuban American voters had typically aligned with the Republican Party, share the same sentiment or whether Puerto Ricans along the I-4 corridor will once again vote in sufficient numbers to offset white working-class voters who voted for Trump in 2016.

Grassroots volunteers recruited by the Democratic National Committee waged a dogged fight in Kissimmee, Florida, where Clinton was locked neck and neck with Trump. “Every single Puerto Rican vote was key—in Poinciana, Kissimmee, there was a significant portion in Broward County and Miami Dade that could have helped swing the election,” said Federico De Jesus, an experienced campaigner who touted Clinton’s acquaintance with Puerto Rico’s issues in that contest. It was not enough in 2016.

“The state of Florida is much more than just the I-4 corridor,” the GOP source added. “There are some people who lead you to believe that folks who have familial ties to Puerto Rico in Central Florida have the ability to make or break campaigns—and I think that has been proven wrong.”

The source pointed out the performance of the electorate in the I-10 corridor “from people, particularly in Miami, who have benefited greatly from the “America First” policy. They see it in their wallet and their pocket book. There are even people who are  Never Trumpers who know why those policies make sense.”  

In 2020, the campaign has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic because of the political divide over the handling of the coronavirus. 

“Republicans across the country do not subscribe to the notion that the answer is to be locked up at home and try not to be prescriptive with what people should or should not do with their lives and what the economy should or should not look like,” the source told Caribbean Business. “I think that most of us would like to think that we have a brain and that we can make important decisions.”

And the Winner is…

Trump is on the record saying that he would like to see a winner on the night of the election. That goal is looking like a tall order in some states because of the differences in the handling of an avalanche of early votes that is estimated to tower at 100 million. That is nearly a 10-fold increase in the early vote total in 2016.

“Of course, what the president is saying is aspirational; we would all like these things to get done,” the Republican source added. “So, you have a state like North Carolina, where a judge ordered the early votes to be counted for seven more days after today [Tuesday]. What the president is trying to do is set the stage for them to start counting right away.”

As an example, there are states such as Georgia where absentee in-person ballots are counted right away. Reportedly, some of the six closest states that Trump won in 2016—among them Arizona, Florida and Michigan—have commenced counting early votes, while others such as Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin could take several days. “The thing all of those states typically have in common is that they are led by Democratic governors. So, the governor of North Carolina goes to court to get more time. So, you eventually wind up in court,” the source concluded. “If the president gets beat today by some unbelievable blue numbers, he is not going to fight that. But if it is neck-and-neck and we are waiting for seven days for votes to be counted, you are going to court.”