DeSantis Is So Popular With Florida Latinos He May Turn Dem Strongholds Red

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is on the verge of becoming the first Republican to win the Latino vote statewide since Jeb Bush back in 2002.

His success isn’t just among predominantly GOP-leaning Cuban-Americans, either.

The governor’s ability to make inroads with other Latino demographics in the Sunshine State, including the growing Colombian-American vote, could bode well for any 2024 presidential ambitions of his if he’s able to deliver on Election Day.

How DeSantis got to this point is all the more remarkable considering he lost among Latino voters by 14 points to Democratic challenger Andrew Gillum in 2018.

Recent polling also shows DeSantis performing better than Republican Sen. Marco Rubio among Latinos in the Sunshine State, both in the latest Telemundo poll and another conducted by Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio for Americano media. The Telemundo poll also found 50 percent of Latino respondents were in favor of the governor’s decision to send Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, with 43 percent opposed.

It’s not only the product of long-term investments from the GOP in both Spanish-language media and resource centers for newly registered citizens, but also the result of “a thousand cuts” for the Democrats that accelerated over just a few election cycles, as veteran Florida pollster Brad Coker described it.

“There's no one big overriding issue,” Coker, a pollster with Mason-Dixon who conducted the Telemundo survey, told The Daily Beast. “It’s three, four, five different things at varying degrees that have made it start to happen, and it’s probably been accelerated at the top of the ticket in Florida this year, just because the governor’s race is such a mismatch.”

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His popularity has made Florida Republicans increasingly bullish about Miami-Dade County, which has gone for Democratic presidential candidates since 1992. Roughly two-thirds of the population in Miami-Dade identifies as Latino, with Cuban-Americans making up just shy of 36 percent of the county, according to Florida International University’s annual Cuba Poll.

“We actually think that Miami-Dade County might end up voting for DeSantis outright, like 50 percent plus one—which would be historic,” Peter Feaman, a Republican National Committee member representing Florida, told The Daily Beast.

Feaman attributed DeSantis’ success to his handling of the pandemic and culture-war issues, but also pointed to longer term GOP investments in the state.

Coker added that Rubio could also carry Miami-Dade County for the first time in his career, with “coattails from DeSantis” helping the party down-ballot and hampering Democrats.

“They’re having trouble all up and down the ticket and even down into the state legislative races and state senate races and commissioner races,” Coker said of Democrats.. “So this isn’t something that’s happening at the surface… It’s more visible because you’re seeing it at the top of the ticket.”

An internal poll from Democratic House candidate Annette Taddeo’s campaign had DeSantis up by 6 points in Miami-Dade County, while she only led her opponent by 1 point, according to Politico.

The majority support for the Martha’s Vineyard gambit also encapsulates some of the conundrums for Democrats organizing in Latino communities.

“I think it is related to this gatekeeping or people whose families benefited from asylum status not wanting to see other communities benefit from the same protections, which I think is alarming, in particular in the Cuban-American community,” Andrea Mercado, the executive director of Florida Rising, told The Daily Beast.

Mercado, whose organization has been shooting for 1,200 voter contacts in Black and Latino neighborhoods per day with 13,000 doors targeted daily, also pointed to the pandemic as a continued sore spot.

“And I would say on COVID, we know that Latino families were disproportionately impacted by layoffs and when the economy shut down,” she said.

Then there’s the influence of Spanish-speaking talk radio.

“Every day you will hear election deniers still justifying the insurrection on January 6, or outright lying and blaming January 6 on Antifa or Black Lives Matter,” Mercado said, adding that misinformation on Facebook among older Latino voters also tends to go unchecked.

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“The difference is disinformation isn’t as monitored in Spanish language, so the kind of posts that will get taken down on Facebook in English will stay up in Spanish.”

Behind Floridians of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent, Colombians are the third-largest sub-Latino group in the state and part of the reason why DeSantis is enjoying his success as the most-liked politician statewide among Latinos.

Coker described Colombian-Americans in Florida as “the one swing group” among the state's Latino electorate, and the one that could put DeSantis over the top. University of Miami professor Michael Bustamente, a historian focusing on the Cuban-American diaspora, placed them in a longer running arc of Miami as “a more right-leaning slice of Latin America.”

“I don’t think of that group per se as ‘swing,’ I think of them as part of a broader and increasingly prominent right-leaning constituency,” Bustamente said. “What I think is different there is the size of the Colombian community has grown, the amount of time in the U.S. they’ve had has grown, so you have more citizens who have the right to vote.”

Bustamente described Miami as “the place where people who had the most to lose when a government of a leftist persuasion came to power, they came here.”

While DeSantis didn’t start the GOP’s investment in courting the Latino vote, particularly the Cuban vote, Bustamente said his culture-war tactics have given him an extra boost.

“Honestly—and it’s a sad thing, from my perspective—but some of his culture-war rhetoric ironically is kind of repeating in the inverse some of the same kind of cultural rhetoric that is part and parcel of what the Cuban government does every day,” the professor said, specifically referring to the governor’s interventions in education policy.

“Some of this culture-war stuff is working with them,” he continued, “because there’s also a deep sort of social conservative in many Latino communities, not just Cubans.”

The combination of the pandemic, culture wars and longer running demographic trends have resulted in the perfect storm for Democrats this cycle.

Coker didn’t mince words when it came to the party’s outlook if DeSantis’ polling with Latinos holds this strong.

“The Democrats have to start from scratch,” he said.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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