Hispanics make or break presidential elections in Florida

Fears of communist rule, socialism divide many Hispanics
Posted at 11:35 AM, Oct 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-29 19:01:31-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Hispanic vote in Florida is make or break for winning the state, a key battleground in the race for president.

Both candidates are angling their messages to make big gains with this key voting bloc, but it's not such a simple decision, nor is it easy to navigate.

Claudia Mendoza, a Democratic activist who was born in Colombia, makes daily visits to heavy Hispanic voting locations. Her goal is to encourage Hispanics to vote.

"Your vote is your voice," Mendoza said. "Every vote counts. Florida is a very important state."

Mendoza said she believes the pandemic is turning more Hispanics to vote blue.

"We are suffering so much," Mendoza said. "We have kids without the school and parents who need to send parents to school. This is incredible. I don’t know what else the Hispanic people need to get out and vote."

Kevin Wagner, who works for Florida Atlantic University's political science department, said any attempt to group Hispanics will be wrong.

"Historically, Cuban-American voters have aligned with the Republican party, but there are a few caveats with that. Much stronger with first-generation Cuban-American voters," Wagner said.

Wagner said other Hispanic groups, like Mexican Americans and those from Central America, tend to be a little less associated with the Republican Party, and they tend to vote more consistently with the Democratic Party.

"Many Puerto Ricans have registered as a no-party affiliation," Wagner said. "There is a belief they will align Democratic, but it depends on turnout."

At Box Gallery in West Palm Beach, curator Rolando Chang Barrero said he's not stepping off the pedal to get Hispanics to vote blue.

"I always tell people when they ask me, 'What is the temperature of the Hispanic community?' And I'm like, 'Of which country and of which class?'" Chang Barrero said.

Rolando Chang Barrero
"I always tell people when they ask me, 'What is the temperature of the Hispanic community?' And I'm like, 'Of which country and of which class?'" Rolando Chang Barrero says.

Chang Barrero said there is a certain urgency in the Hispanic community, noting his is the president of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Palm Beach County and has his finger on the pulse.

"Many of them have died or gotten sick, because they didn't believe that there was an urgency," Chang Barrero said. "They believed the president that there was no crisis, didn't safeguard themselves and they do blame President (Donald) Trump."

Chang Barrero said he believes that fear of being forgotten with COVID-19 and otherwise will drive the Democratic vote in Florida.

"Republicans seldom come around to acknowledge Hispanics until one or two months before the vote," Chang Barrero said. "But Democrats are always hands-on throughout the year."

According to the Pew Research Center, a record 17% of registered voters in Florida are Hispanic. That's a slight uptick from four years ago. The importance of this voting block can’t be understated.

In Florida, the Cuban vote sets the Hispanic vote apart from the rest of the country. According to the Pew Research Center, 54% of Cubans in Florida voted for Trump in 2016.

RELATED: Hispanic voters in Miami have mixed views on presidential election

"My view is that we have to vote for Donald Trump because coming from Cuba, we know what happened in Cuba. We know the destruction in Cuba," Elaine Fandino, a Cuban native and Republican living in Palm Beach County, said.

"What are the things about Joe Biden that makes you think about the communism in Cuba? Why do you feel like those two are connected?" WPTV NewsChannel 5's Michelle Quesada asked.

"Because of the way he talks, Medicare for all," she said.

Like many immigrants in South Florida who fled dictatorships, progressive and socialism are trigger words for Fandino who has been in the U.S. for decades. Those words are used in Trump's Spanish ads comparing Joe Biden to the communist regime with which Fandino and other Hispanics are all too familiar.

"I am going to go down as one of the most progressive presidents in American history," are words spoken by Biden and played in an ad approved by Trump.

"We have to be scared of socialism," Elba Kufdakis Rivera, a Puerto Rican and Republican in Palm Beach County, said. "I remember what was happening to Cuba and everything coming from Cuba to Puerto Rico and I have many friends from Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela was rich. I remember having friends and they would bring gold and emeralds from Colombia and now they are hungry."

Elba Kufdakis Rivera
"We have to be scared of socialism," Elba Kufdakis Rivera says.

But the election is not clear cut for all.

"In Palm Beach County, you have representation of over 21 from Latin America and the Caribbean,"Juan Pagan, director of the Hispanic Political Action Committee of Palm Beach County, said.

Immigration, healthcare, religion, education and the economy all rank differently for Hispanics even within the same nationalities.

"There's a perception and, especially in the Anglo population, the custom has been always that one size fits all. Well, that's not the case," Pagan said.