Amid debate, Democrats and Republicans ramp up Hispanic outreach in Miami-Dade County

Former President Donald Trump compared the various criminal charges against him to political prosecutions in Latin America during his Wednesday night rally in Hialeah, arguing that “just like the Cuban regime, the Biden regime is trying to put their political opponent in jail.”

Just a few hours earlier, in neighboring Doral, top Democratic Party officials met with Hispanic community leaders and activists over café con leche for a listening session on the 2024 elections.

The politicking coincided with the third Republican presidential debate, which took place in Miami on Wednesday night. Together, the events marked a notable escalation in both parties’ efforts to court Hispanic voters in Miami-Dade and South Florida more broadly — a voting bloc that both Democrats and Republicans see as critical to their political power in the state and in Washington.

“The only way that Florida can win, Joe Biden can win, and the nation can win is if in fact we are understanding and recognize the importance of the Hispanic community, not just here in Florida but across the nation,” Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried said on Wednesday. “I know that we, as Democrats, haven’t always done a good job at that.”

Fried’s admission — that Democrats had struggled in recent years to win over Florida Hispanics — touched on a difficult political reality for her party. Republicans have made consequential inroads with Hispanic voters in the Sunshine State, especially in Miami-Dade, where more than half of the electorate is Hispanic.

Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton carried the county in 2016 by nearly 30 percentage points over Trump. In 2020, President Biden won Miami-Dade by just over 7 points. Last year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis became the first Republican gubernatorial candidate in 20 years to win Miami-Dade County.

READ MORE: DeSantis rides huge boost in Hispanic support to historic Miami-Dade victory

For all Democrats’ hand wringing over their recent losses in South Florida, Democratic leaders and Biden campaign officials insist that they have no intention of permanently ceding the state to Republicans. Biden’s team is targeting Florida as part of an effort to expand the president’s path to reelection in 2024, his campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said on Wednesday.

“We see Florida as an important part of our strategy this election,” she said. “We know there’s prime opportunity for Democratic voters here in the state, and we’re going to do the hard work that we need to to reach them.”

Biden-Harris 2024 National Campaign Manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez speaks during a press conference at the SEIU 1991 on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, in Miami, Fla. The event was held ahead of Donald Trump’s trip to Hialeah and the third GOP Primary Debate on Wednesday.
Biden-Harris 2024 National Campaign Manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez speaks during a press conference at the SEIU 1991 on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, in Miami, Fla. The event was held ahead of Donald Trump’s trip to Hialeah and the third GOP Primary Debate on Wednesday.

READ MORE: Biden camp rails against DeSantis, ‘extremist’ Republicans in Miami ahead of debate

There are at least a few early efforts underway. Biden’s campaign took out a pair of Spanish-language ad buys in South Florida to run on broadcast television and the streaming service Tubi during Wednesday’s Republican debate, while the Democratic National Committee paid for a mobile billboard ad slamming Trump to drive around near the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday as Republicans readied for the debate.

Yet reversing the rightward slide among South Florida Hispanics won’t be easy. While Republicans have long had a lock on Cuban-American voters, who wield significant political power in Miami-Dade County, other Hispanic groups have also moved toward Republicans in recent years.

At Wednesday’s Republican debate, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott attributed the GOP’s recent success with Hispanic voters to the party’s “foundation of faith” and emphasis on “Christian values.” U.S. Rep. Carlos Gimenez, a former Miami mayor and a supporter of Trump, said that Hispanic voters have simply come to align more with Republicans, especially when it comes to kitchen-table issues like the economy, taxes and the role of government.

“Hispanics are like everybody else,” Gimenez said Thursday from a La Carreta in his district where Fox News had set up shop for the morning. “What do we want? We want a better future for our children. We want opportunity.”

Trump’s rally in Hialeah, a Miami suburb in which more than 90% of the population is Hispanic and nearly three-quarters were born outside of the United States, was widely seen as an effort to build on his support among South Florida Hispanics. He was joined on Wednesday by Hialeah Mayor Esteban “Steve” Bovo, who announced that he would seek to have an avenue named after the former president.

“We’re so humbled that he picked Hialeah to do this rally, because Hialeah loves Donald Trump,” Bovo said ahead of Trump’s speech.

Gimenez said that the rightward tilt of South Florida Hispanics is a “bellwether” for a larger shift among Hispanic voters across the country. A recent poll from The New York Times and Siena College found that Biden’s lead over Trump among Hispanic voters in six key battleground states – Nevada, Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – had narrowed to just 12 points. By comparison, exit polling conducted by Edison Research showed Biden winning those voters nationally by more than 30 points in 2020.

“What you’re seeing with Hispanics actually kind of started over here,” Gimenez said.