Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was booed off a stage in Orlando this week by a crowd at a street festival in Orlando that focuses on people of Puerto Rican heritage. Rubio’s parents were born in Cuba, and it was in an effort to establish rapport with fellow Latinos that he made the appearance at the Calle Orange festival. Gaining the loyalty of Latinos is an uphill climb not only for Rubio but also for Republicans across the board in swing-state Florida.
Volunteers wearing Rubio campaign T-Shirts were on hand while musicians played traditional Puerto Rican music. The candidate greeted supporters and others in the crowd before mounting the dais at the event. It was there that he was greeted with boos. The boos only became louder and more assertive when the emcee introduced the candidate, who is running for re-election to the U.S. Senate. In Spanish, the emcee greeted the audience, saying "I introduce to you a man who represents Latinos, no matter where you are from.” As the emcee promised that Rubio is “a Latino like you and me,” the boos grew louder, drowning out a handful of supporters.
Thanking the organizers for having him at the event, Rubio told the crowd in Spanish, “We’re not going to talk politics today. Thank God for this beautiful day, and for our freedom, our democracy, our vote, and our country. God bless you all, thank you very much." He then left the stage and was followed by more boos and jeers. Festival goers were reportedly incensed by Rubio’s support for Donald Trump’s candidacy.
The Orlando area, among Latinos, trends towards the Democratic party, while Miami (from where Rubio hails) is distinctly Cuban and Republican. But there are changes afoot. Younger Cuban-Americans are trending towards the Democratic Party, while Puerto Ricans have traditionally been Democrats, whether in Puerto Rico or the mainland. Additionally, Puerto Ricans have been coming in the thousands, and many of them settle in the Orlando area. Additionally, Florida has large populations of Colombians, Brazilians, and Venezuelans, in additional to growing numbers of Mexicans and Central Americans. Rubio’s ad campaign deftly negotiates the various issues for each of the various Latino subsets.
The still unfolding debt crisis in Puerto Rico has been the cause of the most significant exodus from the island in decades. Many Puerto Ricans are coming to Orange and Osceola counties, where they find work and an amenable climate. Hillary Clinton’s campaign has been working the area to register voters and garner support among the arriving Puerto Ricans who are by birth American citizens.
In 2012, President Barack Obama won 60 percent of Florida’s overall Hispanic vote as compared to the 39 percent garnered by Republican Mitt Romney. Some polls have estimated that support among Florida Latinos for Trump is around 20 percent. Both Clinton and Trump have made numerous visits to the state: Trump has scheduled several this week, as has Clinton. Currently, there are about 2 million Latinos who are registered to vote in Florida, which is about 16 percent of registered voters in the state. The task for the Clinton campaign has been to register the incoming Puerto Ricans to vote in Florida.
The WikiLeaks hacking organization offered a glimpse into the Clinton campaign’s thinking when it exposed what it says are messages stolen from campaign chairman John Podesta’s email account. The campaign analytics team found that nearly 25 percent of the work required to win Florida was in simply registering new voters. The is an effort undertaken not only Florida’s Democratic Party, but also by nonprofit nonpartisan (supposedly) such as the National Council of La Raza. (A recent report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Institute suggests that groups such as La Raza receive funding from the Department of Justice that is re-routed from fines paid by financial institutions such as the Bank of America.)
Despite a reputation of being a swing-state, in 2012 Florida voted for Obama in a ballot universe of 8 million cast. While Trump may rely on votes from men over the age of 50, other demographic groups appear to be in Clinton’s column. For example, there are about 30 percent more women in Florida who lean Democrat than to the GOP. If Clinton can get her entire coalition to turn out, plus garner Latinos who have voted for Republicans in the past, she could win Florida without the help of a single persuadable voter.
Today, the Clinton campaign says it has good news in Florida. The campaign reported that an "unprecedented" 133,000 Latinos cast early ballots. This means a 99% increase in Latino voters compared to the same point in 2012, BuzzFeed News reported. The 133,000 votes consist of vote-by-mail and absentee ballots in advance of the November 8 Election Day. In Florida, early voting began yesterday. Today, Florida’s Division of Elections released numbers showing that 1.6 million Floridians have already voted in the election. The Clinton campaign greeted the number, having noted that Latinos constitute 17% of the electorate.