MIAMI — The Florida Hispanic vote has historically been reliably Republican, but Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has a good chance of getting more of that important voting bloc than Republican Donald Trump this year.
This break from the Republican Party among Cuban Hispanic voters isn’t unique to 2016 — it was in the works before Trump’s run for the Oval Office.
When asked to make a choice between Clinton and Trump, 63 percent of Florida Hispanics opt for the Democratic nominee compared with 23 percent favoring Trump, according to projections by the National Association of Elected and Appointed Officials released last week. Included in that group of Hispanics supporting Clinton are some Republicans.
“According to our polling, It seems very possible that Secretary Clinton could win the majority of the Latino vote in Florida — and that could win her the state,” NALEO executive director Arturo Vargas said.
It used to be that first-generation Cuban Americans would deliver Florida’s Hispanic vote to GOP candidates — until President Barack Obama narrowly beat GOP nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 among Florida Cuban voters, 49 percent to 47 percent, according to the national exit poll.
This year, Clinton and Trump were tied at 41 percent among Cubans in Florida, according to a Univision poll.
The numbers from 2012 and now show the political implication of the changing demographics of Florida’s Latinos — who comprise 15 percent of the state’s registered voters. Among registered Hispanic voters in the state, about 500,000 are Republicans and 740,000 are Democrats, according to official numbers from August. In 2008, the state’s Hispanic population was majority Republican and even in 2012, the party divide was close.
One reason for the Democratic tilt is that Cuban Americans are becoming a smaller percentage of Florida’s Hispanic vote and among Cubans, the younger generation is often more Democratic-leaning. Puerto Ricans, who are overwhelmingly Democrats, are the fastest-growing Hispanic group in Florida, comprising 27 percent compared with Cuban Americans’ 31 percent.
Along with the increasing diversity within the ranks of the Latino population, the number of Hispanics registering as independents has surpassed the number registered as Republicans, according to Clarissa Martinez-de-Castro, deputy vice president of The National Council of La Raza, which registered 51,174 Latino first-time voters in Miami and Orlando.
Miami resident Rudy Fernandez was a special assistant to President George W. Bushand a Republican National Committee staffer who worked on Latino outreach for the Bush campaign in 2004, when it captured 44 percent of the Hispanic vote nationally. It has been painful for Fernandez to watch Hispanic support for Republican candidates slip over the years. He said the party needs to redefine its strategy for its Hispanic constituents.
After years of voting for Republican candidates, Fernandez will vote for Clinton this year.
“I have 100 policy difference with Hillary Clinton,” Fernandez said, “I’m not a fan of her, but I think she’s the one serious candidate. I have to vote for her because Trump does not respect minorities, freedom of press or the electoral process.”
Other so-called “never Trump” Republican Hispanics can’t bring themselves to cast ballots for Clinton. Instead, they are supporting third-party candidates or not voting. Juan-Carlos Planas, a former Republican state legislator, wrote in Jeb Bush on his early ballot.
“This is solely a rejection of Trump.” Planas said. “I can tell you the intention of the never Trump Hispanic Republicans is that on Nov. 9, we begin to take back our party. We can never be the party of anti-immigration homophobes. We need to bring the party into the modern century.”
Latinos may be the fastest growing minority in the United States, but the Republican share of their votes is declining. In its autopsy of Romney ‘s 2012 loss, the party said it needed to invest heavily in appealing to Latino communities. Nominating someone “who insults Latinos and offers draconian immigration policy” not only defeats that purpose but threatens the Republican Party with losing the demographic all together, according to Phillip J. WIlliams, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at University of Florida.
“There’s a possibility you can’t get [Latinos] back,” said Williams, “You could lose them forever like what happened with the African-American vote, with 90 percent of them now voting Democrat. That’s a risk Republicans have with Latinos. It’s been trending that way and Trump is like the nail in the coffin.”
Argentina-born Gonzalo Ferrer, chairman of the National Republican Hispanic Assembly, which was created by President Richard Nixon to attract Hispanic voters to the Republican Party, blamed the GOP for “not having strong stances” attractive to Latinos.
“This isn’t an active collapse of Republican Hispanics,” he said. “We’re just preparing for post-election. We need to reposition.”
Planas said that he believes the combined message of a laissez -faire economic model and immigrant story of making it in America after starting with very little, can attract Hispanic voters to the Republican party. Republicans will have to prove to Latinos that they care about them.
“We should not be afraid to lose some elections in the short term to make a long-term investment in the Republican Party,” he said.