Three gringos in Coral Gables launch Biden-Harris Latino campaign. (Sad trombone.) | Opinion

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the one recently in the Miami Herald of Florida Democratic Party chair Nikki Fried, Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff and Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava — introducing the Biden campaign’s Hispanic outreach initiative — says it all.

Three gringos launching “Latinos con Biden-Harris” in posh Coral Gables.

Sad trombone.

Strategically, the optics made no sense in a county where the Republican Party effort to recruit voters is year-round and personal — and ex-president Donald Trump’s presence is a staple.

And we’re supposed to believe the Democratic Party hasn’t given up on Florida?

Thanks to Republicans, kids are losing their Medicaid, minorities their right to live in peace without fear of being arrested for taking an undocumented person to the hospital, and public education is in jeopardy.

It should be fertile ground for the opposition. Yet, the stars of the election, President Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, are in other Hispanic-populated states like Arizona. Also missing are the party’s top surrogates and sufficient party campaign funds.

Tennis isn’t an issue

Sending the Second Gentleman, as charming as he is, means we aren’t an important state. He isn’t a top presidential campaign surrogate in the party like the Obamas and Clintons. He’s not a rising star relevant to Latinos like California Senator Alex Padilla, son of Mexican immigrants and climate change combatant, credited with passage of the POWER On Act to address disasters. Or like eloquent New York congressman Hakeem Jeffries, in line to be speaker of the House if Democrats regain the majority.

Emhoff’s remarks at the Miami Open tournament, talking up tennis and promoting a healthy lifestyle in the land of beautiful people who pack gyms, were unremarkable.

“With your help, President Biden, Vice President Harris and the entire Biden-Harris administration will continue to make progress in the fight to end hunger and build healthy communities in America,” he said.

Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff waves towards attendees as they arrive for the Miami Open Tennis Tournament at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida on Wednesday, March 27, 2024.
Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff waves towards attendees as they arrive for the Miami Open Tennis Tournament at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida on Wednesday, March 27, 2024.

That’s nice.

But, for Florida voters, the election is about the economy, immigration, the six-week abortion ban imposed on the majority by a minority and the big ideological battle over education. Definitely not tennis or looking good. To talk about feeding the hungry, Democrats should recruit powerhouse Chef José Andrés of World Central Kitchen fame. He’s actually doing it.

READ MORE: Florida’s lost its battleground sheen. Biden is courting its Hispanic voters anyway

What Dems could’ve done

Democrats could have brought to town Biden’s education secretary, Miguel Cardona, a respected educator born in Connecticut of Puerto Rican parents. He could’ve eloquently taken on the diminishing value of a Florida education based on GOP political indoctrination, the way the state is alienating instead of embracing minorities, and the appointments of the governor’s cronies to important education posts.

The highest-ranking voice in education providing a contrasting view to Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz would’ve made news.

Democrats also could have brought to the launch Biden’s Cuban American Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas — and pushed back very publicly locally on the sham effort by Republicans, including the Cuban Americans from Miami in Congress, to impeach him.

READ MORE: Why is the highest-ranking Cuban American in government being impeached? Politics | Opinion

Mayorkas could’ve done interviews in English and Spanish, and again, made some news, immigration being one of the top topics of interest for not only Hispanics, but all of Florida. Because the anti-immigrant governor has made it so.

That’s called showing fight.

That’s called campaigning with energy.

That’s called combating Trump fanaticism and misinformation that travels way faster than truth can catch up.

But what Latinos for Biden-Harris offered as a campaign starter was a small group of Democrats opening a small office on Miracle Mile.

At least, the location is aptly named.

While the local Democratic groundwork in once solidly-conservative Jacksonville is delivering results in North Florida, it will take a miracle to turn things around for the once-dominant Democratic Party in Miami-Dade. Playing it safe isn’t the answer.

To reverse Trump’s gains with Hispanic voters, Dems will need a lot more than staging a conga line down Calle Ocho. They need to actively participate in civic life and dish out substance where the voters are, glued to TV and radio shows, and not only political ones.

Emhoff, for example, might have made more gains talking about the consequences of a potential national abortion ban under a second Trump mandate — maybe on Univision’s celebrity gossip show, “El Gordo y La Flaca” — than speaking to the privileged in Key Biscayne. Photos from the event show his emotions, engagement and genuine joy, things ordinary voters need to see at the street level.

Likewise for the connection Harris displayed in Phoenix, yet seldom achieves in Miami.

Voters need more

In Florida, Democrats seem intimidated by Republican dominance.

Leaders don’t seem to fully grasp loyalty is earned with constant outreach, that presence is required in some of the least obvious places. Engagement needs to happen personally and controversial issues must be addressed head-on.

Voters are listening.

They need — and some desperately want, they tell me — well thought-out reasons to believe that another Biden-Harris term is worth something to them.

The informed know that Trump is a proven threat to democracy, but ordinary voters need more than apocalyptic descriptions of a second Trump term. They need to know, for example, that those dollars their Republican representatives voted against and are claiming as wins are actually coming from the Biden administration.

Sure, there are effective Democrats like Levine Cava, who’s up for reelection. She knows how to work across party lines, thus attracting challenges only from weak Republican candidates. That political savviness, however, seldom transcends her office.

It’s as if Florida Democrats have developed an inferiority complex in the process of losing so much political ground. But they need to get over it fast — and learn to campaign like a Miami Republican.

Gloves off.