Latino voters drive the parties in Florida, Arizona to victory.
By: Jonathan Edwards
Hispanic voters played a key role on Tuesday in Florida and Arizona, consolidating Republican control over one state and toppling a former GOP bastion in the other.
The divergent paths are a clear example of the diversity of Latin American voters and how different campaign messages and campaign reach interact with different subgroups of this demographic.
President Trump’s popularity among Latinos increased throughout the country, but especially in Florida. He won the state and drove two of his allies to win seats in the Democratic House in Miami-Dade County.
The mayor of Miami-Dade, Carlos Giménez, beat Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.) in an expectedly close race, and former television reporter Maria Elvira Salazar beat Congresswoman Donna Shalala (D-Fla.) in a neighboring district.
“The Shalala district took me completely by surprise,” said Dario Moreno, professor of political science at Florida International University.
One factor that helped Giménez and Salazar is the fact that they are both Cuban Americans in a city where about a third of the population is of Cuban descent and where the city’s political and cultural identity is closely linked to its Cuban heritage.
Mucarsel-Powell, who was born in Ecuador, angered some Cuban Americans by saying that the “Cuban-American mafia” in Tallahassee was after her, said Moreno.
“It was true that the Cuban legislators in Tallahassee wanted to get rid of her because she was a democrat and it is party politics,” Moreno said.
“By calling her the ‘Cuban-American mafia,’ she angered many Cuban voters and raised the question that Debbie was not Cuban, and that hurt her,” he added.
But the Republicans’ success in Florida went beyond Cuban Americans, and Trump’s numbers among Latinos improved across the board, not just among Cubans.
According to the American Election Eve Poll, a biannual survey that measures minority voter attitudes immediately prior to each national election, Trump was supported by 38 percent of all Latinos in Florida in 2020, compared to 31 percent in 2016.
Part of Trump’s success in 2020 was that he focused his campaign on the economy rather than on immigration, an issue where his 2016 stance discouraged many Latino voters.
And Florida Republicans successfully fought to ensure that Trump was uniquely positioned to fight socialist governments in Latin America, particularly in Cuba and Venezuela.
“Shalala and Debbie both made anti[Venezuelan President Nicolás] Maduro statements, but they were not visible enough,” said Moreno, adding that the two Democrats overestimated the extent to which young Cubans were distancing themselves from the issue that had dominated politics in the region for decades.
Trump became deeply involved in this issue during much of his first term, creating a constant link with the Hispanic voters in Florida on whom Republican campaigns could rely.
In Arizona, a consistently red state that the Democrats won for the first time in 24 years, Democratic candidate Joe Biden made a similar long-term commitment to the state’s Latinos, but instead of coming from the party or the candidate, he came from grassroots movements.
“It’s not like, ‘Oh my God, what was Biden doing in Arizona? No, a lot of it has to do with the work of the people behind the scenes,” said Clarissa Martínez de Castro, deputy vice president for politics and advocacy at UnidosUS, the largest Latin American civil rights organization in the country.
Arizona’s Latinos played a key role in the handover of the state to the Democrats and drew comparisons with the way Hispanic voters transformed California into a democratic bastion.
“In Arizona, many of the Latinos are California immigrants,” Moreno said.
The predominantly Mexican-American Hispanic community in Arizona has been particularly politically active over the past decade, largely in response to the state’s anti-immigration law S.B. 1070.
The political rise of California Latinos was a reaction to Proposition 187, the first nationwide immigration restriction law passed in 1994.
This level of community organization created a structure that the Democrats could orient themselves by, and made Trump’s pivot away from immigration, which voters in Florida e